Whether it’s a major work project or an unusually full social calendar, an increased demand on your time can remove you from the day-to-day routine that helps keep you regular. Eating on the go, drinking less water and skipping the gym can wreak havoc on your digestive system and leave you feeling a bit off balance. Eating lentils and other high-fiber foods that promote bowel regularity can help you get back on track.
Lentils are an excellent source of dietary fiber. For about 115 calories, a 1/2-cup serving of cooked lentils delivers almost 8 grams of fiber, or 32 percent of the recommended daily value. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just over 90 percent of the fiber in lentils – or 7 of the 8 grams of fiber in a 1/2-cup serving – is insoluble, the kind responsible for fiber’s reputation as “nature’s broom.” By binding with water instead of dissolving in it, insoluble fiber helps sweep material through your digestive tract more efficiently. It also causes your body to produce larger, softer stools that are easy to eliminate, which supports bowel regularity.
The standard American diet is notoriously lacking in fiber. According to Colorado State University Extension, most adults in the United States get just 14 grams of fiber a day, or slightly less than the amount supplied by a cup of lentils. Dietary guidelines actually recommend getting at least 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume. For most adult women, this amounts to about 25 grams of fiber a day. Eating a wide variety of fiber-rich foods helps ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of both insoluble and soluble fiber. While lentils, dried beans and other mature legumes contain mostly insoluble fiber, many fruits and vegetables provide considerable amounts of both kinds.
Simply eating lentils and other fiber-rich foods may not be enough to get your bowels moving, especially if your water intake is somewhat low. Without fluid, fiber doesn’t function properly. Insoluble fiber needs fluid to help it advance through your digestive tract, just as soluble fiber requires fluid to be able to adhere to cholesterol. Without enough fluid, the insoluble fiber in a serving of lentils can actually slow the digestive process and effectively intensify your temporary inability to eliminate. Regular exercise also promotes bowel regularity because it stimulates intestinal activity.
In addition to being one of the most fiber-rich foods available, lentils are also an excellent source of protein, folate and iron. Since lentils don’t need to be soaked for several hours prior to cooking, they’re a convenient alternative to dried beans. Lentils take on flavor as they cook, which means that boiling them in chicken, fish, beef or vegetable stock will result in a tastier meal than using plain water. Toss warm lentils with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice and goat cheese and serve it over a mixed green salad. After cooking lentils in a spicy broth, puree them to use as sandwich spread or vegetable dip. Or simply add them to a batch of homemade soup as it simmers.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Lentils, Mature Seeds, Cooked, Boiled, Without Salt
- USDA National Agriculture Library: Individual Sugars, Soluble, and Insoluble Dietary Fiber Contents of 70 High Consumption Foods
- MayoClinic.com: Constipation – Prevention
- Wellness Foods A to Z; Sheldon Margen, M.D., et al.
Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.