The Wonderful (And Healthy) World of Beans and Legumes

The Wonderful (And Healthy) World of Beans and Legumes

When is the last time you added beans or other legumes to a recipe? Well, why not? Many people aren’t aware of the diversity of beans they have to choose from. You’re probably familiar with the most common varieties – black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and lima beans – but not well acquainted with lesser known types of nutritious and fiber-rich beans. Maybe it’s time to give some beans and lesser-known legumes a second glance. Legumes are rich in nutrients without being high in calories.

Health Benefits of Beans and Legumes: Why Eat Beans?

Did you know beans, a type of legume, top the list of fiber-rich plant foods? Other legumes include peanuts, peas and lentils.  Split peas and lentils are the highest in fiber. Two cups of cooked lentils or split peas provide between 8 and 9 grams of fiber, about a third of the day’s requirements. Most of us fall well short of getting the recommended amount of fiber each day.

What also makes legumes noteworthy is the amount of protein they contain. Two cups of almost any legume (beans, lentils or split peas) provides between 7 and 10 grams of protein. Soybeans top the list at 10 grams. It’s true that with the exception of soybeans, legumes are relatively high in carbs, but healthy carbs that don’t impact your blood sugar in the same way as refined carbohydrates. When you subtract out the fiber, the net carbs are relatively low.

Beans are also a good source of B vitamins and essential minerals like iron and calcium. Although legumes are a good source of minerals, including iron, magnesium, and zinc, the minerals from plant-based sources are more difficult to absorb due to the compounds called phytates that bind to minerals and reduce their absorption, so don’t count on them to be a reliable source of minerals. Still, there are lots to love about beans and lentils, including the fact that they fill you up more than most plant-based foods.

 Explore the Wonderful World of Beans and Lentils

Ready to add more beans to your diet? Here are some bean alternatives you may not have tried:

Beans and Legumes: Fava Beans

These very large, brown beans, also called broad beans, are a favorite among Mediterranean chefs because they’re so versatile, satiating and satisfying. Fava beans are nothing new on the culinary scene. In fact, they’re one of the oldest cultivated crops. These super-sized beans are a good source of iron, folate, vitamin C and vitamin A. Despite their health benefits, people who have a hereditary condition called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency develop a severe form of anemia when they eat fava beans, but for everyone else they’re safe.

How can you get the health benefits of fava beans? You can grill, roast, puree or saute large fava beans and enjoy them with garlic or onion. Fava beans are also a yummy addition to soups and salads. For a filling and tasty soup, try pureed fava bean soup as a prequel to a meal.

Beans and Legumes: Adzuki Beans

When you look at an adzuki bean, you could easily mistake it for a red kidney bean. This bean, native to Japan, is used to make sweet bean paste, a popular filling for Japanese pastries and buns. Enjoy their hardy flavor as a substitute for kidney beans in beans and rice. The advantage of adzuki beans over kidney beans? They’re more digestible than their red kidney bean counterparts. Plus, they’re lower in calories than most other beans. including kidney beans, black beans, and white beans. Use them in soups, chili and to make adzuki burgers.

Beans and Legumes: Anasazi Beans

These richly colored beans in a maroon shade are colored with white speckles, but turn pink when you cook them. Like other beans, they’re rich in minerals and the B-vitamin folate. These beans have a rich, meaty texture that makes them ideal as a meat substitute. How about a bowl of quinoa and Anasazi beans instead of meat? It’s a complete source of protein.

Beans and Legumes: Mung Beans

Mung beans are common in Asian cuisine, especially Thai and Indian dishes. These small, oval-shaped beans have some interesting health properties. In one study, mice supplemented with mung bean extract showed a significant drop in blood pressure. Other research shows ingredients in mung beans help prevent oxidation of cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. Plus, they’re a good source of heart-healthy potassium. Add mung beans to your next curry or soup for more fiber, or grab an Indian cookbook and try a few mung bean recipes.

Beans and Legumes: Garbanzo Beans

You’re probably familiar with garbanzo beans as an ingredient in the Middle Eastern dish, hummus. When you nibble on hummus or add chickpeas to a soup or salad, you’re getting extra tummy-filling fiber. Plus, at only 270 calories per cup cooked, chickpeas are an ideal way to fill up without filling out. What you might not know is chickpeas are a good source of antioxidant compounds called flavonoids that help keep inflammation in check.

Try making your own hummus at home. All you need are soaked chickpeas, tahini, garlic cloves, lemon juice, and a blender or food processor. Use it as a substitute for mayo on sandwiches or as a fiber-rich dip for veggies.

Making Beans and Legumes More Digestible

Despite their obvious health benefits, beans are known for being poorly digestible. Yes, that means gas and flatulence. Fortunately, there are ways to make beans and legumes easier for your body to break down. Start by soaking beans for at least 8 hours at room temperature. Then pour the soak water down the sink before cooking the beans.

Other ways to make beans more digestible, according to the National Cooperative Grocers Association, is to add a touch of vinegar once the beans are almost cooked or a strip of Kombu sea vegetables to the pot when you first begin to cook them. Don’t add vinegar or other acidic ingredients before the beans have softened. Doing so can prolong the cooking time.

The Bottom Line

Low in calories, fiber-rich and loaded with minerals and antioxidants, beans and legumes are a good addition to a health-conscious diet. They’ll give you a source of slow-burning fuel while keeping you satisfied.



National Cooperative Grocers Association. (2010)

Andrew Weil. “Cooking with Beans: Fava Beans”

Life Extension Magazine. “Superfoods: The Mighty Mung Bean” January 2014.


Related Articles By Cathe:

Can Eating a Single Serving Daily of This Food Help You Lose Weight?

A New Reason to Add Beans and Lentils to Your Diet

3 Healthy Beans That Add Nutritional Punch to Your Diet

Nine Amazing Health Benefits of Kidney Beans

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