Legumes include beans, lentils, and green peas, and are a healthy addition to any diet. Research indicates that their health benefits include less risk of chronic diseases and obesity, and they can help control blood pressure and cholesterol.
Some people are unclear about what constitutes a legume, bean, or pulse, and many do not include them regularly in their diet. However, legumes are not just for people eating a plant-based diet — they can be beneficial for everyone.
Additionally, someone may fear that beans and pulses will cause gas and bloating, or may be unsure how to soak and cook them.
In this article, we define legumes and explain the different types. We delve into the health benefits and discuss how to overcome any drawbacks such as antinutrients and flatulence. Additionally, we provide a nutrient profile for common beans and lentils and tips for soaking, cooking, and eating them.
Legumes are plants in the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family that grow in pods. This family of edible plants includes the common bean Phaseolus vulgaris and its seeds or unripe fruit, which people commonly call beans or pulses. Legumes also include lentils which are the seeds of the plant Lens culinaris.
People consume the immature pods of legumes before the seeds are ripe. Examples include French beans, mange tout, and sugar snap peas.
The edible seed within a legume pod is what people call the pulse. Pulses can include beans, lentils, and green peas.
Manufacturers dry the seeds and beans of legume plants, and people purchase them as dried or canned beans and lentils.
Additionally, people can consume some fresh legumes such as green peas and fava beans. However, consuming beans in their raw or dried state can cause adverse health effects, and some beans are highly toxic, so people must soak or cook them first.
The following is a list of common legumes:
People usually refer to the larger fruits of legume plants as beans and commonly purchase them in fresh, dried, or canned form.
- kidney bean
- black bean
- adzuki bean
- blackeye bean
- navy bean
- pinto bean
- cannellini bean
- flageolet bean
- borlotti bean
- garbanzo bean (chickpea)
- lima bean
- fava bean
- pigeon peas
- split peas
Lentils are the smaller seeds of the Lens culinaris legume plant, and people purchase them as dried or canned products.
- red lentils
- green lentils
- brown lentils
- puy lentils
- beluga lentils
- yellow lentils
Additionally, green peas, peanuts, and soybeans are part of the legume family. However, although they grow in pods and are the fruit of the legume plant, people commonly refer to these foods by other names.
For example, most people would refer to green peas as a vegetable, peanuts as a nut, and soybeans as soy when in their processed form.
However, immature soybeans or edamame beans are a bean that people purchase and use in a similar way to other beans — either fresh, canned, or dried.
Legumes provide a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and phytochemicals.
Additionally, legumes provide a healthy source of complex carbohydrates and protein and are an everyday staple in plant-based diets. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that everyone include beans, peas, and lentils in their diet — not just people eating a plant-based diet.
- the Mediterranean diet
- plant-based diets such as vegan and vegetarian
- the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet
- the low GI diet
The potential health benefits of eating legumes, according to the same reviews, are:
- lower risk of developing diabetes and improved glycemic and lipid control in people who have diabetes
- lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels
- weight control and less chance of obesity
- reductions in blood pressure
- less risk of cardiovascular disease
- microbiome diversity
- immune support
The following are nutritional profiles for some common legumes.
- 230 calories
- 17.9 g protein
- 39.8 g carbohydrate
- less than a gram of fat
- 15.6 g fiber
- 358 micrograms (mcg) folate
- 71.3 mg magnesium
- 37.6 mg calcium
- 6.59 mg iron
- 255 calories
- 15 g protein
- 47.3 g carbohydrate
- 1.13 g fat
- 19.1 g fiber
- 96.6 mg magnesium
- 126 mg calcium
- 4.3 mg iron
- 269 calories
- 14.5 g protein
- 44.9 g carbohydrate
- 4.25 g fat
- 12.5 g fiber
- 78.7 mg magnesium
- 80.4 mg calcium
- 4.74 mg iron
Despite the health benefits of eating legumes, there are some drawbacks that some people may want to take into consideration when including legumes in the diet.
Legumes contain compounds that some people refer to as antinutrients. These compounds protect the plant from being eaten by animals or insects and from infections.
However, when humans eat foods containing these compounds, they can bind to essential minerals and prevent the body from absorbing them.
For this reason, some people have raised concerns that beans and lentils can cause a deficiency of minerals in people who eat them regularly.
The compounds in question include phytates and lectins. Additionally, soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which
Beans contain complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides that may cause bloating and flatulence in some people.
However, the U.S. Dry Bean Council suggests that as people become used to eating beans once or twice a week, their flatulence reduces.
Additionally, they advise using the hot-soak method detailed below and using fresh water for cooking to reduce compounds that may cause digestive discomfort.
Dried beans need soaking, and the best method, according to some sources, including The Bean Institute, is the hot soak method. This method reduces cooking time, makes tender beans, and decreases the compounds that may cause flatulence or gas.
Before soaking, any debris from the dried beans should be removed, and they should be rinsed under cold running water.
To soak the beans using the hot soak method:
- Place beans in a large pot with 10 cups of water for every 2 cups of beans.
- Heat the beans to boiling point and boil for an extra 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, cover the pot, and let it stand for 4 hours.
- Drain the beans, discarding the soaking water.
- Rinse the beans with fresh running cold water.
Someone needs to cook the beans for 30 minutes to 2 hours following soaking, depending on the variety.
Other pulses such as red lentils do not require soaking, and canned beans and pulses are ready to eat, and people can heat them or consume them straight from the can.
Someone can try including beans and pulses in salads, dahls, or one-pot meals such as casseroles and curries. Blending beans with herbs and spices can produce a healthy and tasty dip, such as hummus, spicy pinto bean dip, or fava bean and mint dip.
Legumes include green peas, beans, and lentils, and people can purchase them fresh, dried, or canned. Low in fat and a low GI, legumes are a source of protein, fiber, and phytonutrients.
Additionally, they contain various essential vitamins and minerals and are a healthy addition to any diet.
The potential health benefits of legumes include a lower risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as control of weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
People can reduce antinutrients and compounds that cause gas by using the proper soaking and cooking methods. Legumes can be included in salads, one-pot meals, and dips.