Diet And Nutrition Facts


What Are Legumes?

 Types, Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts, Cooking Methods, and More

Moira Lawler

By Moira Lawler

Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, RD

May 3, 2021

Medically Reviewed

Healthy food sometimes seems prohibitively expensive, but it doesn’t need to be. Case in point: legumes, the family of foods that encompasses beans, peas, and lentils, according to the Mayo Clinic.

 While legumes are a nutritional powerhouse, that’s not all they have going for them — they’re also inexpensive, easy to find in stores, and versatile enough to work in a wide variety of dishes.

“They provide nourishment in a form that is inexpensive, highly storable, and delicious,” says Laura Poe, RDN, who is in private practice in Viroqua, Wisconsin. “They’re an affordable way to ‘stretch’ a meal, adding nutrition and bulk for very little cost.”

Legumes in their many forms should definitely be on your radar if you’re trying to cut down on your meat intake. 

Beans and lentils are staples in plant-based diets thanks to their nutritional profile. “[Legumes] can make a superb high-protein substitute for meat in almost every dish,” says Shannon Henry, RDN, a registered dietitian with EZCareClinic in San Francisco. “Their refined and cooked texture means that they can fit perfectly into balls and patties. You can also use them in soups, casseroles, burgers, chili, and tacos.”

What Are Legumes?

Legumes belong to the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the terms “legumes,” “pulses,” and “beans” are sometimes used interchangeably, but legumes technically refer to the entire plant (including the leaves, stems, and pods) while a pulse is the edible seed (such as beans, peas, or lentils).

Examples of legumes include:

Adzuki beans (aka red beans)

Anasazi beans

Black-eyed peas


Fava beans

Garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas)


Soy nuts

Peanuts are also technically a legume, according to Food Insight.

Legumes are a staple food in Mediterranean diets. People who live in Mediterranean countries consumed between 8 and 23 grams (g) of legumes per day, while Northern Europeans consumed less than 5 g a day, according to one study.

Common Questions & Answers

What are some examples of legumes?

The legume family includes beans, peas, lentils, soybeans (or soy nuts), and peanuts.

What is the difference between beans and legumes?

Are legumes good or bad for you?

Which nuts are legumes?

Are legumes anti-inflammatory?

What Are the Health Benefits of Legumes?

Legumes in their various forms have been shown to have the following benefits.

Provide Key Nutrients

Legumes are surprisingly nutritious, Henry says. They contain protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc, according to MedlinePlus.right up arrow They’re also low in fat and calories. According to past estimates, a half-cup serving of legumes contains about 115 calories, 1 g fat, 20 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, and 7 to 9 g fiber.

 “Legumes are among the highest-fiber sources of carbohydrates, giving them a lower glycemic index than other carb sources and helping with blood sugar control,” Poe says.

Deliver Antioxidants

“Beans and [other] legumes [contain] antioxidants that help prevent cell damage and [premature] risks,” Henry says. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, antioxidants can prevent or delay cellular damage, and people who eat an antioxidant-rich diet have a lower risk of several diseases — including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.

Promote a Healthy Heart

It’s a good idea to limit your intake of red meat (like beef, lamb, and pork) because of the saturated fat content, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).right up arrow Lentils and beans are great substitutes — not only to help you reduce your meat intake, but to tap into some heart-healthy benefits. According to past research, eating legumes can lower blood pressure and inflammation, which are two risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

May Lower the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Legumes may also aid in preventing and managing serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes and related conditions such as hypertension and high cholesterol, according to past research.

A study published in March 2017 in Clinical Nutrition found that regular consumption of legumes — especially lentils — as part of a Mediterranean diet led to a 35 percent lower risk of diabetes among older adults with a high cardiovascular risk. Those researchers found that substituting legumes for half a serving a day of eggs, bread, rice, and baked potato also helped lower type 2 diabetes risk.

Offer a Plant-Based Protein

Legumes are a great meat-free protein source and can take the place of meat in many recipes, Henry says. Following a predominantly plant-based diet — such as a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet, or a flexitarian diet — over a meat-heavy one may help lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and many cancers, according to the AHA. Plant-based diets were also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association in August 2019.

Source: Everyday Health 

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