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 Cereals and Pulses
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One of the staple foods in India, lentils have remained a very important source of diet for many people because of the richness of protein. Lentils, also known as 'dal' or 'pulses', are annual leguminous plants that are grown primarily for their lens shaped seeds. The plants are at least 15 inches tall and the lentils grow in a pod that contain a maximum of two lentil seeds. Lentils are available in many sizes like round, oval, etc. as well as in many colors like yellow, orange, black, etc. All the varieties have a more or less nutty flavor, with very slight difference in each variety.

History of Lentils

Lentils have a history that goes back to as far as the prehistoric times. Their cultivation is believed to have been started in Southwestern Asia and North Syria. During the Neolithic times, the cultivation of lentils spread to Greece and Bulgaria, and to the Mediterranean region during the  Bronze Age. In the Bible, lentils have been mentioned as products that Jacob traded to Esau in exchange for his birthright, and these lentils were also included in making breads during the Babylonian times when the Jewish people were held captive by the forces. The seeds of lentils have been found in the tombs of Egypt.  

Lentils, along with barley and oats, were being eaten by people for millions of years. Lentils were introduced in India by the 1st century AD. In many Catholic countries, lentils were used as a staple food during the period of Lent, a period of forty days during which Christians keep a fast until the start of Easter.

Types of Lentils

There are many varieties of lentils eaten throughout the world. However, there are three common forms of lentils that are consumed on a large scale. These three varieties are:

  • Brown Lentils: Brown lentils are also known as Egyptian lentils and contain many important nutrients like Vitamin A, important B vitamins, iron, calcium, copper, zinc, protein, etc. All these nutrients make them very low in fat and rich in dietary fibers. They have a mild flavor and do not break easily when cooked. Because of this quality, they are not required to be soaked in water. They are also much smaller and more plump as compared to other forms of lentils
  • Green Lentils: Green lentils are one of the finest range of lentils, yet at the same time are very expensive. They have a very firm texture and peppery flavor. Their property of being very delectable, of retention of shape after cooking and their richness in terms of health, makes them the most preferred forms of lentils
  • Red Lentils: Red lentils are slightly sweeter in taste than brown lentils and they also take less time to cook. They however tend to break when cooked and are thus ideally suitable for making soups and stews. The color of these lentils is not actually red but pink-salmon, and when cooked, these lentils turn golden in color.
Nutritional Components in Lentils

Lentils are also high in many vital nutrients and perhaps this is the reason why it constitutes the staple food for many people throughout the world. Some of the major nutrients found in lentils are protein, fibers, folic acid and trace minerals. They also contain major vitamins like Vitamin A, B vitamins like Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, etc. Many dietary fibers are also found in lentils that provide fruitful in mitigating ailments. The trace minerals found in lentils include selenium, manganese, calcium, iodine, etc.
Major Health Advantages of Lentils
Lentils prove to be very healthy because of the presence of important nutrients that help in maintaining a fit body. Following are some of the advantages associated with lentils:
  • Since lentils are high on the contents of fibers, they help a lot in lowering the level of cholesterol and also help in preventing the level of blood sugar from shooting up immediately after having a meal
  • Lentils are very low in calories and thus, do not lead to obesity. A single cup of lentils is enough to fill your stomach without having to worry about gaining unwanted fats
  • Being a rich source of iron, lentils are a must for those who suffer from iron deficiency. It is specially recommend to pregnant women, infants and adolescents
  • The highly soluble fibers present in lentils help in fighting off diabetes by providing maintaining the sugar levels while at the same time providing slow burning energy
  • The flow of blood to the heart is increased because of the presence of folate in lentils. This in turn helps in keeping the heart healthy, thereby avoiding many cardiovascular diseases.