What Are 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. With other types, the edible parts are the seeds -- or 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.
Some common, good-for-you legumes include:
Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans
Great Northern beans
Nutritional values for legumes depend on the type. For example, a half-cup (86 grams) of cooked black beans (boiled with no salt) has:
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 no cholesterol, and have the same amount of calcium as a glass of milk. They also have:
Legume Health Benefits
Studies show that legumes can:
Legumes also have compounds called antinutrients. These could block the way your body absorbs some nutrients. You can fight that effect by limiting how much of one food you eat at a time and by eating a lot of different healthy foods every day. Antinutrients in legumes include:
Lectins. These can interfere with your absorption of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc.
Phytates (phytic acid). These can lower absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
Tannins. These can lower absorption of iron.
Saponins. These may also interfere with the way your body absorbs nutrients.
Legume Preparation and Storage
Beans have carbs called galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), which may cause gas. You can get rid of most of these by soaking and rinsing dry beans before you cook them. Rinse canned legumes, too. If you’re trying them for the first time, start with small amounts to help your body get used to the highã fiber.
The lectins in raw or undercooked beans can upset your stomach and cause nausea, diarrhea, and bloating. Because lectins are mostly on the outside of legumes, you can remove them by cooking the legumes at a high temperature or soaking them in water for a few hours.
Dried legumes -- except for a few like lentils and black-eyed peas -- need to be soaked to get 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 them before serving.
Store dried legumes in sturdy containers with tight-fitting lids. Keep them out of sunlight in a cool, dry place.