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