Canadian Lentils: A Heart-Smart Food

Information from Gloria Tsang, RD, author of Go UnDiet: 50 Small Actions for Lasting Weight Loss and the founder of HealthCastle.com

Numerous health organizations recommend eating pulses and lentils on a regular basis. Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating meat alternatives such as lentils on a regular basis to reduce the amount of saturated fat intake. As pulses are naturally high in fibre and protein, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also made a similar recommendation when they announced their new MyPlate icon. For better health, they recommend varying your protein food choices to include more beans and lentils, up to three cups per week.

Lentils and Lowering Cholesterol

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommends a heart-healthy diet with foods that are high in fibre and soluble fibre to help lower cholesterol. Lentils are an excellent source of fibre. Just 100 grams of green lentils packs in 28 grams of fibre – that’s more than a whole day’s worth of the fibre you need!

How Do Lentils Compare to Other High-Fibre Foods?

 Fibre (grams)Percent Daily Value
Lentils, cooked (1 cup)15.662%
Chickpeas (1 cup)12.550%
Kidney beans, cooked (1 cup)11.345%
Prunes (1 cup)9.438%
Bran flakes (1 cup)7.128%
Whole wheat bread (2 slices)3.815%
Instant oatmeal (1 package)2.610%

Indeed, researchers from the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine reviewed 10 randomized clinical trials and found that people eating a high-legume diet reduced their total cholesterol by 11.8 mg/DL and their LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) by 8.0 mg/DL!

Lentils and Blood Pressure

In addition to the high fibre level, lentils are also good sources of potassium. Just 100 grams of split red lentils has more potassium than a large banana! Potassium is a vital mineral that aids in regulating blood pressure. The landmark Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) study identified that a diet rich in produce, pulses (including lentils), and whole grains, and low in sodium, was associated with an impressive reduction in blood pressure.

Lentils and Heart-Disease Prevention

Recent scientific studies identified C-reative protein (CRP) as a marker of acute inflammation recognized as an independent predictor of future cardiovascular disease. A 2006 study found that the risk of having elevated levels of CRP was 63 percent lower among participants who ate a diet high in fibre. As lentils are an excellent source of fibre, that’s certainly good news for lentil lovers!

In addition to the high fibre content, lentils are also a Hidden HealthyTM superstar in folate content! In addition to preventing neural-tube defects, folate also plays an important role in lowering artery-damaging homocysteine, a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Out of all the plant foods, lentils contain the most folate!

Want one more reason to love heart-friendly lentils? How about their good content of magnesium! Magnesium is like a natural calcium channel blocker medication. Studies have found that high intake of magnesium is associated with lower risk of sudden cardiac arrest. One hundred grams of lentils provides about one-third of your daily magnesium needs.

Overall, intake of beans and lentils is an important part of a dietary approach to preventing coronary heart disease. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Epidemiologic Follow-Up Study found that people eating legumes four times or more per week had a 22 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those eating legumes less than once a week.

Lentils are truly Hidden HealthyTM superstars. Preparing lentils is as easy as 1-2-3: Just rinse, boil, and season. Unlike beans, lentils do not require soaking at all.

Check out our Super-Easy Guide to Cooking Canadian Lentils for more cooking tips.

References
Bazzano LA, Thompson AM, Tees MT, et al. Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2011 Feb;21(2):94-103. Epub 2009 Nov 25.
Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Nov 26;161(21):2573-8.
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