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10 Best Legumes to Eat

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Best legumes to eat - Dr. Axe

Legumes are a common ingredient used in a variety of different cuisines around the globe. Not only are they versatile and delicious, but many types are also brimming with health benefits and important nutrients that your body needs. So are beans legumes? Are chickpeas legumes? And what are examples of legumes in addition to these common ingredients?

Here’s what you need to know about legumes and which are the healthiest options to add to your diet.


What Are Legumes?

So what exactly are legumes? Are legumes vegetables, beans, nuts or something else altogether? The official legumes definition is “the fruit or seed of plants of the legume family (such as peas or beans) used for food.” To put it simply, legumes include any fruits or seeds of plants in the Fabaceae family, which includes around 19,500 different species and 751 genera of plants. Beans, lentils, peanuts and peas are a few of the most common types of legumes that are consumed around the world.


Beans vs. Legumes

What is the difference between beans and legumes? Which beans are legumes, and are there any beans that are not legumes?

The biggest difference between legumes vs. beans is that not all legumes are beans, but all beans are considered legumes. This is because legumes are defined as the fruit or seed of plants in the Fabaceae family, which includes beans, lentils, peas and peanuts. Beans, on the other hand, are the seeds of several different plant varieties, including Phaseolus vulgaris (black bean), Glycine max (soybean) or Vigna angularis (adzuki bean). All of these plants belong to the Fabaceae family and are thus classified as legumes.


Nuts vs. Legumes

So are nuts legumes? Most types of nuts grow on trees and are considered tree nuts rather than legumes. For example, nuts such as almonds, walnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts are composed of a seed that is surrounded by a dry fruit and enclosed in a hard shell.

The only exception is peanuts. So are peanuts legumes? Unlike other types of nuts, peanuts actually grow underground and are a member of the Fabaceae family of plants, which classifies them as legumes.


Legumes List

There’s often a lot of confusion about which foods fall into the category of legumes. For example, are green beans legumes? Are peas legumes? Are lentils legumes? Here’s a list of legumes to help better define which common foods are classified as legumes:

  • Black beans
  • Navy beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Soybeans
  • Green beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Fava beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Alfalfa
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Peanuts

5 Benefits of Legumes

1. Loaded with Nutrients

Legumes are a great source of several important nutrients, including a wide array of vitamins and minerals. Although the exact nutrient profile can vary for specific types of legume, most are generally high in folate, manganese, iron and magnesium, along with an assortment of other key micronutrients.

Legumes are also a great plant-based source of protein and fiber, both of which are important to several aspects of health. Protein, for example, is integral to immune function, body composition, tissue repair, and healthy growth and development. Meanwhile, fiber has been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, enhance weight loss and more.

2. Stabilize Blood Sugar

One 2014 study published in the journal ARYA Atherosclerosis examined the dietary patterns of 2,027 people and found that regular consumption of legumes was linked to lower blood sugar levels. This is because legumes are high in fiber, which helps slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream to regulate blood sugar levels. Fiber also improves the body’s ability to use insulin more effectively, which is the hormone responsible for transporting sugar from the bloodstream to the cells.

3. Increase Weight Loss

Thanks to the legumes protein and fiber content, filling up on these superstar ingredients could also aid in weight loss. Fiber moves very slowly through the digestive system, which can reduce hunger and support weight control. Similarly, protein works to reduce levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger, to help manage appetite and food intake. According to one study in the Journal of the College of American Nutrition, bean consumption may be associated with less belly fat, a lower body weight and a decreased risk of obesity.

4. Promote Heart Health

Legumes can reduce several risk factors of heart disease to help keep your heart healthy and strong. For instance, a large review conducted by the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine showed that consuming legumes can decrease levels of total and “bad” LDL cholesterol, both of which are major contributors to heart disease. It may also help reduce triglycerides, lower blood pressure levels and decrease several markers of inflammation to aid in heart health.

5. Enhance Digestive Health

Adding a few legumes recipes to your daily diet can bring big benefits when it comes to digestive health. In fact, research shows that upping your intake of fiber from foods like legumes can aid in the treatment and prevention of several issues, such as intestinal ulcers, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Fiber also helps add bulk to the stool, supporting regularity and protecting against constipation as well.


Top 10 Legumes

Legumes are nutritious, versatile and loaded with health benefits. So what are the healthiest legumes? Here are 10 examples of legumes that you can include in your diet to reap the rewards of these healthy ingredients.

1. Chickpeas

Chickpeas Nutrition Facts

Chickpeas are high in protein and fiber, plus important micronutrients like manganese and folate. One cup of cooked chickpeas contains approximately:

  • 269 calories
  • 45 grams carbohydrates
  • 14.5 grams protein
  • 4.2 grams fat
  • 12.5 grams dietary fiber
  • 1.7 milligrams manganese (84 percent DV)
  • 282 micrograms folate (71 percent DV)
  • 0.6 milligrams copper (29 percent DV)
  • 276 milligrams phosphorus (28 percent DV)
  • 4.7 milligrams iron (26 percent DV)
  • 78.7 milligrams magnesium (20 percent DV)
  • 2.5 milligrams zinc (17 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams thiamine (13 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (11 percent DV)

Chickpeas Benefits

  • Support Blood Sugar Control
  • Promote Satiety
  • Enhance Weight Loss
  • Highly Versatile
  • Maintain Healthy Cholesterol Levels
  • Boost Regularity

2. Kidney Beans

Kidney Beans Nutrition Facts

Each serving of kidney beans is low in fat but packs in a good amount of protein and fiber, as well as folate, iron, manganese and copper. One cup of cooked kidney beans contains approximately:

  • 219 calories
  • 39.7 grams carbohydrates
  • 16.2 grams protein
  • 0.2 grams fat
  • 16.5 grams grams dietary fiber
  • 131 micrograms folate (33 percent DV)
  • 5.3 milligrams iron (29 percent DV)
  • 0.6 milligrams manganese (28 percent DV)
  • 0.5 milligrams copper (26 percent DV)
  • 243 milligrams phosphorus (24 percent DV)
  • 742 milligrams potassium (21 percent DV)
  • 85 milligrams magnesium (21 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams thiamine (15 percent DV)
  • 117 milligrams calcium (12 percent DV)
  • 1.5 milligrams zinc (10 percent DV)

Kidney Beans Benefits

  • Optimize Heart Health
  • Stabilize Blood Sugar
  • Maintain Digestive Health
  • Prevent Anemia
  • Boost Weight Loss
  • Promote Feelings of Fullness

3. Black Beans

Black Beans Nutrition Facts

In addition to being rich in protein and dietary fiber, black beans are also loaded with folate, manganese and magnesium. One cup of cooked black beans contains approximately:

  • 227 calories
  • 40.8 grams carbohydrates
  • 15.2 grams protein
  • 0.9 grams fat
  • 15 grams dietary fiber
  • 256 micrograms folate (64 percent DV)
  • 0.8 milligrams manganese (38 percent DV)
  • 120 milligrams magnesium (30 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams thiamine  (28 percent DV)
  • 241 milligrams phosphorus (24 percent DV)
  • 3.6 milligrams iron (20 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams copper (18 percent DV)
  • 611 milligrams potassium (17 percent DV)
  • 1.9 milligrams zinc (13 percent DV)

Black Beans Benefits

  • Support Satiety
  • Regulate Blood Sugar
  • Lower Cholesterol Levels and Blood Pressure
  • Aid in Weight Loss
  • Keep Digestive System Running Smoothly
  • Easy to Enjoy

4. Lentils

Lentils Nutrition Facts

As one of the most nutrient-rich types of legumes available, lentils are a great source of protein, fiber, folate, manganese, iron and phosphorus. One cup of cooked lentils contains approximately:

  • 230 calories
  • 39.9 grams carbohydrates
  • 17.9 grams protein
  • 0.8 grams fat
  • 15.6 grams dietary fiber
  • 358 micrograms folate (90 percent DV)
  • 1 milligram manganese (49 percent DV)
  • 6.6 milligrams iron (37 percent DV)
  • 356 milligrams phosphorus (36 percent DV)
  • 0.5 milligrams copper (25 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams thiamine (22 percent DV)
  • 731 milligrams potassium (21 percent DV)
  • 71.3 milligrams magnesium (18 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams vitamin B6 (18 percent DV)
  • 2.5 milligrams zinc (17 percent DV)
  • 2.1 milligrams niacin (10 percent DV)

Lentils Benefits

  • Great Source of Plant-Based Protein
  • Assist in Weight Loss
  • Reduce Heart Disease Risk Factors
  • Support Healthy Growth and Development
  • Prevent Spikes and Crashes in Blood Sugar

5. Pinto Beans

Pinto Beans Nutrition Facts

Pinto beans are high in fiber, protein, folate, manganese and phosphorus, as well as an assortment of other key vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked pinto beans contains approximately:

  • 245 calories
  • 44.8 grams carbohydrates
  • 15.4 grams protein
  • 1.1 grams fat
  • 15.4 grams dietary fiber
  • 294 micrograms folate (74 percent DV)
  • 0.8 milligrams manganese (39 percent DV)
  • 251 milligrams phosphorus (25 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams thiamine (22 percent DV)
  • 85.5 milligrams magnesium (21 percent DV)
  • 746  milligrams potassium (21 percent DV)
  • 3.6 milligrams iron (20 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams vitamin B6 (20 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams copper (19 percent DV)
  • 407 milligrams sodium (17 percent DV)
  • 10.6 micrograms selenium (15 percent DV)
  • 1.7 milligrams zinc (11 percent DV)

Pinto Beans Benefits

  • Promote Regularity
  • Reduce Hunger
  • Boost Weight Loss
  • Support Healthy Pregnancy
  • Minimize Cholesterol

Best legumes to eat - Dr. Axe

6. Peas

Peas Nutrition Facts

Compared to other legumes examples, peas are lower in calories but contain a hearty dose of vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C and thiamine. One cup of cooked peas contains approximately:

  • 134 calories
  • 25 grams carbohydrates
  • 8.6 grams protein
  • 0.4 grams fat
  • 8.8 grams dietary fiber
  • 41.4 micrograms vitamin K (52 percent DV)
  • 0.8 milligrams manganese (42 percent DV)
  • 22.7 milligrams vitamin C (38 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams thiamine (28 percent DV)
  • 1,282 International Units vitamin A (26 percent DV)
  • 101 micrograms folate (25 percent DV)
  • 187 milligrams phosphorus (19 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams vitamin B6 (17 percent DV)
  • 3.2 milligrams niacin (16 percent DV)
  • 62.4 milligrams magnesium (16 percent DV)
  • 2.5 milligrams iron (14 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams copper (14 percent DV)
  • 1.9 milligrams zinc (13 percent DV)
  • 434 milligrams potassium (12 percent DV)

Peas Benefits

  • Rich in Bone-Building Vitamin K
  • Low in Calories
  • Boost Immune Function
  • Support Healthy Blood Clotting
  • Aid in Weight Management

7. Adzuki Beans

Adzuki Beans Nutrition Facts

Although they are a bit higher in carbs than other types of legumes, adzuki beans are high in protein, fiber, folate and manganese, along with a number of other essential nutrients. One cup of adzuki beans contains approximately:

  • 294 calories
  • 57 grams carbohydrates
  • 17.3 grams protein
  • 0.2 grams fat
  • 16.8 grams dietary fiber
  • 278 micrograms folate (70 percent DV)
  • 1.3 milligrams manganese (66 percent DV)
  • 386 milligrams phosphorus (39 percent DV)
  • 1,224 milligrams potassium (35 percent DV)
  • 0.7 milligrams copper (34 percent DV)
  • 120 milligrams magnesium (30 percent DV)
  • 4.1 milligrams zinc (27 percent DV)
  • 4.6 milligrams iron (26 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams thiamine (18 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (11 percent DV)
  • 1.0 milligrams pantothenic acid (10 percent DV)

Adzuki Beans Benefits

  • Protect Against Chronic Disease
  • Improve Heart Health
  • Prevent Constipation
  • Aid in Weight Control
  • Decrease Hunger

8. Peanuts

Peanuts Nutrition Facts

Peanuts are much more calorie-dense than other legumes, which is why it’s absolutely essential to keep portion sizes in check and stick to about one ounce at a time. Each serving of peanuts contains a good amount of fat, manganese, niacin and magnesium. One ounce of dry-roasted peanuts contains approximately:

  • 164 calories
  • 6 grams carbohydrates
  • 6.6 grams protein
  • 13.9 grams fat
  • 2.2 grams dietary fiber
  • 0.6 milligrams manganese (29 percent DV)
  • 3.8 milligrams niacin (19 percent DV)
  • 49.3 milligrams magnesium (12 percent DV)
  • 1.9 milligrams vitamin E (10 percent DV)
  • 40.6 micrograms folate (10 percent DV)
  • 100 milligrams phosphorus (10 percent DV)

Peanuts Benefits

  • Rich in Heart-Healthy Fats
  • Manage Cholesterol Levels
  • High in Anti-Inflammatory Manganese
  • Relatively Low in Carbs

9. Navy Beans

Navy Beans Nutrition Facts

Navy beans are one of the richest sources of fiber available, cramming over 19 grams into a single serving. They also contain a good amount of protein, folate, manganese and thiamine. One cup of cooked navy beans contains approximately:

  • 255 calories
  • 47.8 grams carbohydrates
  • 15 grams protein
  • 1.1 grams fat
  • 19.1 grams dietary fiber
  • 255 micrograms folate (64 percent DV)
  • 1.0 milligrams manganese (48 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams thiamine (29 percent DV)
  • 262 milligrams phosphorus (26 percent DV)
  • 96.4 milligrams magnesium (24 percent DV)
  • 4.3 milligrams iron (24 percent DV)
  • 708 milligrams potassium (20 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams copper (19 percent DV)
  • 126 milligrams calcium (13 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams vitamin B6 (13 percent DV)
  • 1.9 milligrams zinc (12 percent DV)

Navy Beans Benefits

  • Support Muscle Growth
  • Amp Up Weight Loss
  • Improve Digestive Health
  • Increase Satiety
  • Stabilize Blood Sugar

10. Alfalfa Sprouts

Alfalfa Nutrition Facts

Although they are significantly lower in calories, alfalfa sprouts still pack quite a punch when it comes to nutrition. In particular, alfalfa sprouts are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamin K and vitamin C. One cup of sprouted alfalfa seeds contains approximately:

  • 8 calories
  • 0.7 grams carbohydrates
  • 1.3 grams protein
  • 0.2 grams fat
  • 0.6 grams dietary fiber
  • 10.1 micrograms vitamin K (13 percent DV)
  • 2.7 milligrams vitamin C (5 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams copper (3 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams manganese (3 percent DV)
  • 11.9 micrograms folate (3 percent DV)

Alfalfa Sprouts Benefits

  • Low in Calories
  • Strengthen Bone Health
  • Increase Immunity
  • Maintain Healthy Blood Clotting

Final Thoughts

  • Legumes are a family of plants that have been associated with numerous health benefits, including improved heart health, enhanced blood sugar control, increased weight loss and better digestive health.
  • Legumes are also incredibly nutrient-dense and contain a good amount of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals in each serving.
  • Beans, lentils, peanuts and peas are a few of the most common types of legumes, all of which are widely available and easy to enjoy.
  • Each type of legume offers a unique nutrient profile, plus a long list of potential health benefits, making them an excellent addition to a healthy diet.

Read Next: Are Lectins Bad for You? Pros & Cons of Lectin Foods


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