Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Lentils may be little, but they are big in nutrients and FIBER!
They have been my go-to legume. Not only do they have a good amount of protein (17.9g per 1 cup cooked) but they are excellent source of fiber. Allow me to remind you fiber is a carbohydrate. Stick with me, especially if carbs scare you.
We put a lot of emphasis on protein and getting enough of it in our meals. With fats, some of us are afraid of them and others that follow a keto diet love them. But poor carbohydrates get a bad wrap all around! We have shifted to a low-carb and even no-carb culture and all carbohydrates have been lumped together as "bad."
I agree there are foods that I would categorize as unhealthy carbs, mostly processed foods like breads, pastries, cereals, some snack bars and crackers. I would imagine we are all on the same page that bread = carbs. However there are a lot of great foods that are primarily carbohydrates and essential in a healthy diet. Let me break this down a little more to understand the difference between "good" carbs and "bad" carbs.
Carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules, or saccharides. The classification is based on the number of saccharides in the chain, monosaccharides are one sugar molecule, disaccharides contain two molecules, oligosaccharides are medium-length chains of three to ten sugar molecules and finally polysaccharides are the long chains that can be hundreds of molecules long. Although it is more important to know how different types of sugars are utilized in the body, these terminologies set the foundation in understanding carbohydrates.
Sugar is considered a simple carbohydrate and are monosaccharides, with one molecule that is either glucose, fructose or galactose. There are sugars that are disaccarhides, for example a bond of glucose and fructose, and that combination makes sucrose. Sugars are naturally occurring in fruit, dairy, and honey. In the absence of fiber like in fruit, sugars digest very easily, absorb into our blood stream and can impact our blood sugar and insulin levels fairly quickly.
Next level up are starches, these are complex carbohydrates, polysaccharides that are mostly composed of glucose. Starch is found in grains, legumes, and root vegetables (like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, cassava and beets). Starch takes longer to break down during digestion because of the larger molecule structure and will then have a slower, steadier impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.
And the true carbohydrate star: FIBER! Fiber is also a complex carbohydrate that could be either poly- or oligosaccharides. These bonds do not get fully broken down by our digestive system and instead can make their way to our small intestines and colon and either serve as food for our friendly gut bacteria 🦠 or add bulk to our stool 💩. This is where "good" carbohydrates shine.
When friendly (or probiotic) bacteria eat fiber, they produce a by-product called short-chain fatty acids. This process is fascinating and demonstrates the amazing symbiotic relationship of host and bacteria. These short-chain fatty acids are essential for regulating metabolism, provide a source of energy for the cells that line the digestive tract, and aid in the absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc and iron.
Regulates the muscular movement around the intestines that push food through our digestive tract call peristalsis.
It stimulates the hormone ghrelin, which is a hunger-suppression hormone telling our brain that we are full.
Fiber is also part of my mantra, “fat, fiber, and protein,” which all help slow the absorption of simple sugars into our bloodstream.
Diets rich in fiber have shown to reduce the risk of certain cancers, especially those of the colon and even liver and pancreas.
Finally, fiber serves a very important detoxification role as it binds to substances like hormones, toxins, bile salts and cholesterol and can either facilitate their elimination or reabsorption (which is a recycling of cholesterols and bile salts that is essential to health).
Where does fiber come from? Mainly you will find fiber in fruits, vegetables, legumes and to a lesser extent, nuts, seeds, and grains. These foods typically contain a combination of both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Simply think plants and you will find fiber.
How much fiber should you eat? The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 25 grams for women and 30-38 grams for men. This would be at a minimum. Studies have shown that the diets of hunter-gatherers included 40 – 100 grams of fiber per day. That is insanely difficult and probably not realistic for us, but what is possible and still very healthy is an average of 40-50 grams when consuming plenty of vegetables at each meal.
I hope this has been enough to convince you that a diet with the appropriate carbohydrates (aka fiber) is a healthy one that will allow for a happy gut microbiome, regulated metabolism, regular bowel movements, balanced blood sugar and appropriate nutrient absorption.
An easy way to start is with this delicious lentil salad that can be eaten as a side dish, on a salad, in a buddha bowl, mixed with fried egg and avocado or any other creative way you discover!