Why Lentils May Be the Next Big Superfood

Public Domain. Unsplash (Gaelle Marcel)

Scientists have discovered some surprisingly awesome side-effects to eating lentils.

When you think of the word 'superfood,' I bet lentils are one thing that do not come to mind right away. Some interesting new science from the University of Guelph, however, could skyrocket this humble little legume to the status of dietary darling. Lentils are astoundingly effective at lowering blood glucose levels, researchers have discovered. When carbohydrates such as rice and potatoes are swapped out for lentils, it can lower blood glucose by up to 35 percent.

In the study, which is the first of its kind, 24 adult participants were given four dishes to eat -- one with plain rice, half white rice and half large green lentils, half white rice and small green lentils, and half white rice with small red lentils. Researchers measured blood glucose levels prior to eating and two hours after. The process was repeated with two more dishes -- white potatoes alone and half white potatoes with lentils.

Study author Allison Duncan, professor at the Department of Human Health and Nutrition, said,

"We mixed the lentils in with the potatoes and rice because people don't typically eat pulses on their own, but rather consume them in combination with other starches as part of a larger meal, so we wanted the results to reflect that."

The rice-and-lentil combinations saw in a 20 percent drop in blood glucose levels, while replacing potatoes with lentils led to a 35 percent decrease. This is a valuable discovery because it could help many people who struggle with chronic diseases that are associated with mismanaged glucose levels, not to mention improving the overall health of the general population.

"Pulses, such as lentils, can slow digestion and the release of sugars found in starch into the bloodstream, ultimately reducing blood glucose levels, said Duncan. "This slower absorption means you don't experience a spike in glucose. Having high levels over a period of time can lead to mismanagement of blood glucose, which is the hallmark of Type 2 diabetes. Essentially, eating lentils can lower that risk."

The University of Guelph is located in Canada, which grows 65 percent of the world's lentils, the vast majority of which come from the province of Saskatchewan. Despite this, only 13 percent of Canadians eat lentils on any given day; unfortunately they are far from being the dietary staple here that they are in India and the Middle East.

The researchers hope that this study will boost culinary interest in lentils, and that Health Canada will pay attention: "We are hoping that building evidence for approval of a health claim for pulses will further encourage people to add pulses to their side dishes."