If there is one top food under the radar many of us are overlooking, it is lentils.  One of the most nutritious and versatile plant-based sources of protein around, lentils are now linked to significantly lowering blood glucose (aka sugar) levels helping to manage or even prevent diabetes.

A new study from the University of Guelph in Canada and published in the Journal of Nutrition, suggests that swapping potatoes or other starchy grains such as rice with lentils could lower blood glucose levels by more than 20 percent. If a person chooses a full serving of lentils over potatoes, blood glucose levels are lowered by up to 35 percent.  This finding adds more credibility to the already substantial health benefits lentils are known for.

A year-round staple, lentils are one of the oldest known sources of food dating back over 9,000 years ago. A member of the legume family, lentils are lens-shaped edible seeds or pulses which probably are why they are named Lens culinaris in Latin.  Lentils are regularly consumed in Asian countries and are a perfect substitute for animal protein as they have the second-highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, after soybeans.  Related to health-promoting peas and beans, lentils contain high amounts of protein, fiber, calcium, iron, manganese, folate, vitamin B6, and thiamine.

Not only do lentils rank as a top superfood, better yet, they are convenient, affordable, and incredibly versatile and even eco-friendly to boot.  Lentils require less water than other protein sources to grow and they even enrich the soil in which they are grown in.

In this latest study, researchers tested the blood glucose levels of 24 healthy adults fed four dishes throughout the experiment of white rice only, a mix of white rice and larger green lentils, white rice and smaller green lentils, and a combo of white rice mixed into split red lentils. Blood glucose levels were measured both before and two hours after eating.  The levels were measured once again after adding white potatoes to the same mix of lentils and rice. Replacing half a serving of white rice with lentils caused blood sugar levels to drop by 20 percent. Replacing white potatoes with lentils led to a 35 percent drop.

Why would lentils show such a dramatic reduction in blood glucose levels?  Lentils and other pulses contain components inhibiting enzymes involved in absorption of sugar and along with the fiber found in lentils, this encourages production of short-chain fatty acids which can reduce blood sugar levels. Together, this aids digestion by slowing down the release of sugar from starch during digestion. When the breakdown of starch is slowed, this delays absorption of sugar preventing an instant spike in blood glucose.  Instead of a “flood” of glucose rushing into your bloodstream causing your blood glucose to rapidly rise, the release is slowed to more of a slow “trickle” of glucose entering into the bloodstream, preventing blood sugar spikes. Too many frequent blood sugar spikes can eventually lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Lentils unique nutritional profile makes them an important ally in helping control blood sugar and insulin levels while regulating hunger and fostering healthy gut bacteria.  It’s time to start making satiating lentils a regular part of your mealtime additions.

For more information on lentils and recipes on how to use them, visit cooking with pulses.

Categories: DiabetesDietHealth

Cheryl Mussatto

Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City, an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, Ks where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and is a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi and nutroutine.com, an online market place connecting nutrition experts with customers worldwide. She can be contacted here.

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