They’re pretty low in calories.
When you think about Paris, you probably call up images of freshly baked croissants, rich buttery escargot, and cheesy onion soup. Drool! But when I think of the best meal I’ve ever had in the City of Lights, it’s a lentil salad from a little restaurant near the Louvre. I recreate it at home all the time—and not just because it takes me back to strolling cobblestone streets. It’s because lentils are hella healthy.
The little brown legumes might not look like much, but they’re low in calories (230 per cup) and high in nutrition. They’re super versatile—you can put them in soups, curries, and salads, whip them into burgers—and so easy to cook (just boil in water for a few minutes). You can even grab lentil chips or gluten-free pastas made from the legume.
Need more convincing? Check out these bona fide lentil benefits.
1. They’re ace sources of fiber.
I know fiber isn’t sexy, but it is important. Lentils are packed with soluble fiber, the type that fills you up and helps with gut motility (you like to poop on the regular, right?). A high-fiber diet can also help lower blood cholesterol, since it helps prevent your digestive tract from absorbing the waxy, fat-like substance. Getting enough fiber might even help prevent colon cancer and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
One cup of cooked lentils contains 16 grams of fiber—half of the 25 to 30 grams of your recommended daily intake. Boom.
2. They’re full of folate.
Lentils are also a great source of folate, a B-vitamin that helps support red blood cell formation and proper nerve functions. A half-cup of tiny legumes contains 180 micrograms of the nutrient, according to the USDA. Lentils have been shown to be a great dietary source of folic acid, a form of folate that’s particularly important for pregnant women—or women who are thinking about getting pregnant in the near future. Folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects in babies.
3. Lentils have tons of magnesium.
A cup of lentils has 71 mg of magnesium (your goal: around 310 to 320 mg per day), per the USDA, a nutrient that improves blood flow and oxygen in the body. Low magnesium levels can make you feel numbness or tingling, flu-like symptoms, and can even put you at higher risk for a seizure or heart issues.
4. They’ll keep your bones strong.
Yogurt, schmogurt. If you’re looking for non-dairy sources of calcium (looking at you, vegans), lentils should be at the top of your list. One cup packs 38 grams of the nutrient, per the USDA.
Watch Jenna Dewan taste-test this vegan fast food:
5. They’re packed with protein.
Eighteen grams per cup, to be precise, according to the USDA. That’s about the same as three ounces of salmon. Grill the fish and serve it on top of a bed of the legumes and you’re at least halfway to your daily target of between 50 and 75 grams of muscle-building protein.
6. They’re full of polyphenols.
Polyphenols offer protection against everything from ultraviolet rays and radiation to osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancer. One study even found that polyphenols can help you live longer. And guess what: Lentils are rich in the compound. Did someone just say Meatless Monday?
7. Lentils are full of iron.
There’s 6.6 milligrams of iron in a cup of lentils, per the USDA—about one-third of your daily needs. Your body needs iron to help pump oxygen throughout your body. If levels get really low, you could develop a condition called iron-deficient anemia (about 1-2 percent of Americans have it, according to Harvard Medical School), where your body doesn’t have enough iron to be healthy.
So yep, definitely time to start including more lentils in your life.