Health Benefits of Legumes

Legumes are a type of vegetable. If you like beans or peas, then you’ve eaten them before. But there are about 16,000 types grown all over the world in different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures.

You can eat green beans and snow peas in their pods, fresh off the vine. But for some types the edible parts are the seeds -- aka pulses -- inside the pods. Pulses can be prepared many ways: canned, cooked, dried, frozen whole, ground into flour, or split.

Legumes come from the Fabaceae, also called the Leguminosae, plant family. It’s hard to say where they started -- all major cultures grew some type of legume. In Asia, red adzuki beans are crushed into a paste to make sweets. Black beans are popular in Mexico and Brazil. And you’ll find white cannellini beans in many Italian dishes.

Legumes can taste nutty (garbanzo beans and peanuts), sweet (black beans and green peas), or starchy (lima beans). Their textures are different, too. Kidney beans are soft, while black-eyed peas are smooth. Navy beans feel powdery.

A short list of common pulse, or dried, types include black-eyed peas, chickpeas, beans (adzuki, cannellini, Great Northern, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, and soy beans), and lentils (green and split red are most popular).

Nutritional Profile for Legumes

Nutritional values for legumes depend on the type. But it tends to be similar to dried varieties. A 1/2 cup (86 grams) of cooked (boiled with no salt) black beans has:

  • 114 calories
  • 7.6 grams of protein
  • 20 grams of carbohydrates
  • 0.5 grams of fat
  • 0 milligrams of cholesterol
  • 7.5 grams of fiber
  • 1.8 milligrams of iron
  • 128 micrograms of folate
  • 23 milligrams of calcium
  • 305 milligrams of potassium
  • 60 milligrams of magnesium

Legumes are loaded with health benefits. They’re very low in fat, have zero cholesterol, and have the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk. They also have:

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What Legumes Can Do for You

Studies show legumes can:

How to Prepare Legumes

Beans do have carbs called galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), which can cause gas. Soak and rinse dry beans before you cook them to get rid of most of them. Rinse canned legumes, too. Eat small amounts first to help your body get used to foods high in fiber.

Raw legumes also have lectins, a protein that can cause problems with digestion. Even small amounts in raw or undercooked beans can upset your stomach and cause nausea, diarrhea, and bloating. They also can make it harder for your body to take in key minerals. Since lectins are mostly on the outside of legumes, you can cook them at a high temperature or soak them in water for a few hours to remove them.

Dried legumes -- except for a few like lentils and black-eyed peas -- need to be pre-soaked. This gets them ready to cook. You can cover them in water and refrigerate overnight, or boil and set them aside at room temperature for 1 to 4 hours. To cook, boil until tender, usually around 45 minutes.

Need them now? Choose a “ready to go” or fresh legume that doesn’t need soak time. Or open up a can. Be sure to rinse before serving.

Store dried legumes in sturdy containers with tight-fitting lids. Keep out of sunlight in a cool, dry place.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 26, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council: “Types of Legumes,” “Beans, Legumes and Flatulence.”

Mayo Clinic: “Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Beans and Other Legumes: Cooking Tips.”

USDA: “Legumes, Black Beans.”

Hamilton College: “Classification and Botanical Description of Legumes.”

Harvard Women’s Health Watch: “Legumes: A Quick and Easy Switch to Improve Your Diet.”

American Pulse Association: “What are Pulses.”

Center for Young Women’s Health: “Legumes.”

Clinical Diabetes: “Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake.”

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers: “About Lentils.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Nutritional and Health Benefits of Dried Beans.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “The Nutrition Source: Lectins.”

The Bean Institute: “Storing Dried Beans.”

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