How Eating Lentils Daily Can Improve Your Metabolic Health

Fast Facts

Daily Lentil Intake About three-quarters of a cup can lower LDL cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Health Benefits Regular consumption reduces cholesterol, improves metabolic health markers, and decreases inflammation.

No Severe GI Issues Participants reported either no or mild gastrointestinal symptoms during the study

The Nutritional Power of Lentils

Lentils may be tiny, but they pack a significant nutritional punch. This is why researchers are increasingly interested in the effects of regular lentil consumption.

Study Findings on Lentils and Metabolic Health

The latest study, published in the journal Nutrients, suggests that lentils may have substantial health benefits for individuals at high risk for metabolic disease. Metabolic disease is characterized by a larger waist circumference and high levels of post-meal triglycerides. The study specifically found a link between consuming lentils daily for 12 weeks and lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, total cholesterol, post-meal blood sugar, and inflammation in this at-risk population.

Health Risks Addressed by Lentils

High levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation are critical factors in the development of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses. The study’s authors noted, “This information further informs the development of pulse-based dietary strategies to lower disease risk and to slow or reverse metabolic disease progression in at-risk populations.”

Understanding Pulses

Pulses, a term that includes lentils and other edible dried legume seeds like kidney beans, dry peas, and chickpeas, are the focus of this research.

Study Limitations and Expert Insights

Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist and the United States medical director of ZOE, pointed out that the study had limitations, such as a small sample size of only 38 participants, all of whom were at high risk for metabolic disease. However, he noted that the findings align with previous research on similar measures.

Lentils for Lunch A Detailed Examination

While many studies have explored the health effects of lentil consumption, few have focused on their impact on broad measures of metabolic health. To fill this gap, scientists designed a 12-week trial comparing the effects of lentil-based and meat-based meals on metabolic outcomes.

Study Design and Participant Details

Researchers instructed half of the participants to consume seven prepared midday meals each week, containing about three-quarters of a cup of lentils. This amount exceeds the United States Department of Agriculture’s recommended weekly intake of 1.5 cups of cooked pulses for adults consuming 2,000 daily calories. The other participants ate similar meals but with turkey or chicken instead of lentils. Participants also underwent blood tests and completed surveys about their eating habits and health statuses.

Key Findings and Gastrointestinal Health

The study found that lentil-eaters had improved metabolic health markers without experiencing severe gastrointestinal issues. Both groups reported either no or mild symptoms. “Our results suggest that daily lentil consumption may be helpful in lowering cholesterol and postprandial glycemic and inflammatory responses without causing GI stress,” the authors wrote.

Sodium and Processed Carbohydrates

Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT, an Indiana-based registered dietitian and owner of One Pot Wellness, noted that the improved metabolic markers could also be attributed to the lower sodium and processed carbohydrate content in the prepared meals. “The changes in postprandial and triglyceride markers may be reflective of the compositional changes of the meal,” she said.

Why Lentils May Improve Metabolic Health

Several factors may explain why lentils improve metabolic health. Bulsiewicz explained that fermentable fiber in lentils interacts with gut microbes to produce short-chain fatty acids like propionate, which help improve insulin sensitivity. Additionally, dietary fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the diet, resulting in better blood sugar control throughout the day.

Effects on Blood Sugar and Cholesterol

The protein and resistant starch in lentils also contribute to better blood sugar control. Soluble fiber in lentils lowers cholesterol levels by limiting its absorption and aiding its elimination during bowel movements. Lentils are rich in saponins, bioactive compounds linked to lower cholesterol levels. Polyphenols, plant compounds in lentils, are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, which further enhance their health benefits.

Incorporating Lentils Into Your Diet

Given their high nutritional content, incorporating lentils into your diet is an excellent idea. They are a versatile ingredient that can be added to soups, stews, pastas, salads, and more. For a tasty snack, blend lentils into a hummus-like dip and enjoy them with pita bread or your favorite chips.

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