(NaturalNews) Lentils are delicious, versatile, and easy to prepare. They are one of civilization's oldest foods. First cultivated in the Near East over ten thousand years ago, lentils have been a traditional food staple that provides a wealth of nutritional benefits for pennies a serving. Lentils belong to the legume family. This is a group of vegetables that are at the base of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, a diet that reduces mortality from all causes. New research is showing that a diet rich in lentils and other legumes is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Dietary patterns and breast cancer are associated
Scientists at the University of Southern California in conjunction with those at the University of Minnesota investigated the association between dietary patterns and breast cancer risk in Asian Americans. Their population-based, case-controlled study in Los Angeles Country compared dietary patterns of 1248 Asian American women with diagnosed breast cancer, and 1148 matched controls.
A scoring method was used that found adherence to a Mediterranean diet was inversely associated with breast cancer risk. This means that the more people tended to eat the Mediterranean diet, the lower was their risk of breast cancer. Three dietary patterns were identified, and labeled Western (meat/starch based), ethnic (meat/starch based), and vegetable based. Women who were high consumers of the Western and ethnic meat/starch diets and low consumers of the vegetable based diet showed the highest risk of developing breast cancer with an odds ratio that was more than doubled. In their conclusions, the scientists placed credit for these benefits primarily on higher consumption of legumes. The study was reported in the February 11 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Tiny but mighty lentils provide plenty of other health benefits
Lentils are popular in the vegetarian community because of their high levels of protein. A one hundred gram serving of lentils has around twenty-six grams of protein. However, like all vegetable protein, lentil protein is not truly complete. It is low two essential amino acids, cystine and methionine. The means that another food containing these missing amino acids must also be added to a meal made up primarily of lentils. This is easily accomplished by adding brown rice or another high protein grain. And for non-vegetarians it is accomplished with the addition of small amounts of cheese or meat.
Lentils are an excellent source of many B vitamins including B6 and folate, the nutrients that help lower levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine damages artery walls and is considered a serious risk factor for heart disease. When folate and B6 are present, homocysteine is converted to health promoting cysteine and methionine.
The high level of magnesium found in lentils is another cardiovascular health booster. Magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker. It makes veins and arteries relax, and it improves blood flow that carries oxygen to the cells. Cells that are well oxygenated cannot produce cancer.
An older study, reported in the July 1999 European Journal of Epidemiology, examined food intake patterns and 25 year risk of death from coronary heart disease in 12,763 middle-aged men from seven countries. Different food-groups and combinations were considered for comparison among cohorts. Typical patterns were higher consumption of dairy products in Northern Europe; higher consumption of meat in the U.S.; higher consumption of vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine in Southern Europe; and higher consumption of cereals, soy products, and fish in Japan. When the data was analyzed it revealed that that those who ate vegetables, legumes, fish, and wine had the greatest reduction in risk of death from coronary heart disease. Legumes were associated with an amazing 82% reduction in risk.
Eating lentils keeps energy levels high
Lentils are fiber superstars, and as such are able to help lower LDL cholesterol levels. Soluble fiber grabs hold of cholesterol containing bile and escorts it out of the body. Fiber also helps prevent constipation and digestive disorders.
Lentils are also powerful blood sugar stabilizers. Anyone prone to insulin resistance, hypoglycemia or diabetes can be helped by eating lentils, since they normalize blood sugar levels while providing the body with a steady stream of energy.
In a study reported by The World's Healthiest Foods, researchers compared two groups of people with type 2 diabetes who were fed different amounts of high fiber foods. One group ate the standard diet used by diabetics in America, containing 24 grams of fiber per day. The other group ate a diet containing 50 grams of fiber per day. Their results showed the group eating the high fiber diet had lower levels of both plasma glucose and insulin. The high fiber group also reduced their total cholesterol by nearly 7%, their triglyceride levels by 10.2 percent, and their VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels by 12.5%.
Lentils are a cooks dream
Dried lentils can be bought already bagged or from bulk bins. Organic dried lentils sell for about one dollar a pound. Store lentils in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.
There are several varieties of lentils. The most common are red, green and brown. The red variety is the most delicately flavored and cooks the quickest.
Lentils are a versatile food. They have the texture of beans and a milder flavor. Unlike beans, they do not need to be soaked before they are prepared, and can be ready to eat in under 45 minutes. Lentils have a delightful flavor of their own, and easily pick up the flavor of other ingredients. Here are recipes for quick, high flavor lentil dishes
Red Lentil Dah
Two cups chopped onion Three cloves of minced garlic
Three cups water One and one quarter cup dried red lentils Three quarters teaspoon turmeric Three quarters teaspoon ground cumin One half teaspoon chopped fresh ginger or ground
One cup basmati brown rice Two plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped One quarter cup chopped fresh cilantro One jalapeno chili, seeded and chopped (if desired)
Rinse lentils. Combine 3 cups water, lentils, onion, garlic, and spices in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are tender, about 15 minutes. For a thicker mixture, puree 1/3 of the mixture and return to the saucepan. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Serve over rice and garnish with the chopped jalapeno.
Brown Lentils and Spinach
One cup brown lentils One bunch fresh spinach cleaned and finely chopped One medium onion chopped Two cloves garlic chopped One teaspoon coriander One tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Juice from one half lemon or lime
Rinse lentils. Place in large saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Boil for 8 minutes. Rinse and return to saucepan. Add onion, garlic, and coriander. Fill with just enough water to cover. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Add spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt to taste. Serve warm.
Lentils make a great cold main dish or salad
Lentils are tiny, so they can be blended with finely chopped fresh vegetables right out of the garden to make a highly digestible and delicious spring or summer main dish or salad. Finely chop red onion, green onion, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, green bell pepper, tomato, any kind of parsley, and basil. Add to precooked green or brown lentils. Dress with red wine vinegar, olive oil, pepper, and sea salt. The salt is needed to coax the juices from the vegetables adding extra flavor to the dressing and making the dish more digestible. Toss and let marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.