Legumes are large, fleshy, colorful plant seeds. Beans, peas, and lentils are all types of legumes. Vegetables such as beans and other legumes are an important source of protein. They are a key food in healthy diets and have many benefits.
Beans, lentils, and peas come in many options, cost little money, and are easy to find. Soft and earthy-flavored, legumes can be eaten in many ways.
Types of Legumes
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas (actually a bean)
- Garbanzo (chick peas)
- Great Northern
- Soy beans (edamame)
Why They are Good for you
Beans and legumes are rich in plant protein, fiber, B-vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc. Most beans are also low in fat.
Legumes are similar to meat in nutrients, but with lower iron levels and no saturated fats. The high protein in legumes make them a great option in place of meat and dairy products. Vegetarians often substitute legumes for meat.
Legumes are a great source of fiber and help you have regular bowel movements. Just 1 cup (250 milliliters, mL) of cooked black beans will give you 15 grams (g) of fiber, which is about half of the recommended daily amount.
Legumes are packed with nutrients. They are low in calories, but make you feel full. The body uses the carbohydrates in legumes slowly, over time, providing steady energy for the body, brain, and nervous system. Eating more legumes as part of a healthy diet can help lower blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, and other heart disease and diabetes risks.
Beans and legumes contain antioxidants that help prevent cell damage and fight disease and aging. The fiber and other nutrients benefit the digestive system, and may even help to prevent digestive cancers.
How They are Prepared
Legumes can be added to any meal, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Once cooked, they can be eaten warm or cold.
Most dry beans (except peas and lentils) will need to be rinsed, soaked, and cooked.
- Rinse beans in cold water and pick out any pebbles or stems.
- Cover the beans with 3 times their amount in water.
- Soak for 6 hours.
You can also bring dried beans to a boil, take the pan off the burner, and let them soak for 2 hours. Soaking overnight or after boiling makes them less likely to give you gas.
To cook your beans:
- Drain and add fresh water.
- Cook the beans according to the instructions on your package.
To add cooked or canned beans to your diet:
- Add them to salsas, soups, salads, tacos, burritos, chili, or pasta dishes.
- Include them as a side dish at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
- Mash them up for dips and spreads.
- Use bean flour to bake them.
To reduce the gas caused by eating beans:
- Always soak dried beans.
- If you do not eat a lot of beans, gradually add them to your diet. This helps your body get used to the extra fiber.
- Chew them well.
Where to Find Legumes
Legumes may be purchased at any grocery store or online. They DO NOT cost a lot of money and can be stored for a very long time. They come in bags (dried beans), cans (already cooked), or jars.
There are many delicious recipes using beans. Here is one you can try.
- Two cans black beans (15 oz.), or 425 g
- Half medium onion
- Two garlic cloves
- Two tablespoons (30 mL) vegetable oil
- Half teaspoon (2.5 mL) cumin (ground)
- Half teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
- One quarter teaspoon (1.2 mL) oregano (fresh or dried)
- Carefully drain the juice from 1 can of black beans. Pour the drained black beans into a bowl. Use a potato masher to mash the beans until they are no longer whole. Set the mashed beans aside.
- Chop the onion into one quarter inch pieces. Set the onions aside.
- Peel the garlic cloves and mince them finely. Set the garlic aside.
- In a medium sauce pan, heat your cooking oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Stir in the mashed black beans and the second can of black beans, including the juice.
- When the beans begin to boil, reduce the heat to low, stir in the salt and oregano and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered.
Source: United States Department of Agriculture
Healthy food trends - pulses; Healthy eating - beans and legumes; Weight loss - beans and legumes; Healthy diet - beans and legumes; Wellness - beans and legumes
Fechner A, Fenske K, Jahreis G. Effects of legume kernel fibres and citrus fibre on putative risk factors for colorectal cancer: a randomised, double-blind, crossover human intervention trial. Nutri J. 2013;12:101. PMID:24060277 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24060277.
Jenkins D, Kendall C, Augustin L, Mitchell S, Sahye-Pudaruth S, Mejia S, et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(21):1653-1660. PMID: 23089999 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23089999.
United States Department of Agriculture: Choose My Plate.gov website. Beans and peas are unique foods. www.choosemyplate.gov/vegetables-beans-and-peas. Updated January 12, 2016. Accessed May 4, 2016.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture website. 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf. Updated December 2015. Accessed May 4, 2016.
Review Date 4/24/2016
Updated by: Emily Wax, RD, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Brooklyn, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 03/07/18.