Lentils are small, disk- shaped legumes that grow on an annual bush- like plant native to central Asia. They’re used throughout the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, and they’re especially popular in India where they’re mixed with spices and cooked to a purée called a dal.
There are at least 50 varieties of lentils, in addition to the brown variety most common in the west. The ancient Greeks used them for making bread, and the crisp Indian crackers known as pappadams that are often served with lentils are made from lentil flour.
But lentils’ real claim to fame— and the reason they got a “star” in my book, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth— is that they are positively loaded with fiber, especially soluble fiber. Soluble fiber provides food for the good microbes in your gut, and helps control blood sugar by delaying the emptying of the stomach and slowing the entry of sugar into the bloodstream. That’s why high- fiber foods such as lentils have such a low glycemic load. Because fiber slows down digestion, it can help blunt the spikes in blood sugar and insulin that can cause you to be hungry again an hour after a low- fiber meal. Those blood- sugar spikes can also contribute to diabetes, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome, while making weight loss very difficult.
High- fiber diets have been consistently associated with better weight management, as well as improved glucose control for both diabetics and non- diabetics. High- fiber diets are also associated with lower risks for cancer and heart disease.
In addition to whopping 16 grams of fiber, a cup of lentils also provides about 18 grams of protein. Lentils are also a good source of at least seven minerals.