Legumes 101: Everything You Need to Know About Legumes
Welcome to Legumes 101! Have you ever wondered, “What are legumes?” or “Are beans legumes?” “What about peanuts?” Here you’ll learn everything you need to know, from legumes vs beans, legumes list, nutrition, and how to cook them!
A staple part of any plant-based diet, legumes are a great addition to your pantry. Chocked full of protein and fiber, as well as very filling, it’s no wonder they’re so popular with vegans and vegetarians.
Though they’re commonplace in many other cuisines, they’re still a bit of a mystery to many Western chefs. No worries though, I’ll be walking you through everything you need to know about legumes in this article.
What Are Legumes?
Let’s start with the basics — what on earth are they?
Legume is an all-encompassing term for plants with pods that have edible seeds in them. So legumes can refer to any number of plants. In fact, there are more than 19,000 species of legumes!
Though there are many species, most of them fit into certain common categories. This includes soybeans, pulses, fresh peas, beans, and peanuts. Chances are, you will have eaten at least some of the more common ones.
Beans vs Legumes – What’s the Difference?
Often you’ll hear people asking, “are beans legumes?”. The answer is sometimes.
Beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans. For example peas, lentils, and peanuts are not beans but are legumes.
Common Legumes List
Black beans are one of the most popular legume varieties, especially in Mexican cuisine. Try this easy no-soak method for Instant Pot Black Beans and use them in tacos and burritos.
Black-eyed peas are popular in Southern cooking as well as the Mediterranean and more. My favorite way to use them is in this Mediterranean Black Eyed Peas with Greens recipe.
Pinto beans are another favorite in Mexican cooking. Try this delicious Pinto Beans Recipe for the Instant Pot, Crockpot, or Stovetop!
Soybeans are perhaps the most popular source of plant-based high-protein and are found in several varieties, from soy milk to edamame, to tofu and tempeh. While many people think soy and tofu are new and even unhealthy ingredients, it’s actually been used in Asian countries for centuries. You’ll love this Edamame Hummus!
Lentils come in several varieties, the most common being black puy lentils, green lentils, and red lentils. Check out our Lentils 101 article to learn about the differences between these.
Peas are another popular and versatile legume. You have probably eaten them whole, as snap peas, dried in a Split Pea Soup, and shelled.
Peanuts may not be the first type of legume or bean that comes to mind, but according to the Peanut Institute, they are not actually nuts, as they grow underground rather than on trees like walnuts, almonds, and other nuts do.
Legumes are a staple part of many non-Western diets. They’re common in Asian cuisine, particularly in Indian food. Split pulses are used to make their delicious and famous Daals.
Are Legumes Healthy?
The short answer is a huge, resounding yes!
In legumes, protein is in abundance. This makes them an absolutely amazing choice for plant-based diets where protein is always a considered factor. In even better news, some legumes such as soybeans are complete proteins.
Complete proteins that are plant-based are quite rare to find, so they’re a great addition to any vegetarian or vegan diet. Beans are one of the common foods eaten in the Mediterranean Diet, as well as the Blue Zones; areas around the world where people live considerably longer, healthier lives. In fact, Dr. Greger, includes 3 servings of beans per day on the Daily Dozen checklist.
Not only are legumes great for protein intake, but they’re naturally low in fat. They contain no sodium or cholesterol. So for those looking to cut down on salt and fat in their diet, legumes are a tasty and filling option.
Legumes also contain a great mix of minerals and vitamins. This varies depending on the type of legume you’re eating, but we’ll give you a few common examples of nutritional intake so you can see for yourself how great they are.
Lentils Nutritional Value (One Cup):
- Calories: 230
- Carbohydrate: 40g
- Protein: 18g
- Fiber: 16g
- Folate: 90% of the RDA (recommended dietary allowances)
- Potassium: 21% of the RDA
- Iron: 37% of the RDA
- Magnesium: 18% of the RDA
- More than 10% of the RDA for Vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B6
Chickpeas Nutritional Value (One Cup):
- Calories: 269
- Carbohydrate: 47g
- Protein: 14g
- Fiber: 12g
- Folate: 70% of the RDA
- Iron: 26% of the RDA
- Copper: 29% of the RDA
- Manganese: 84% of the RDA
Dried Peas Nutritional Value (One Cup):
- Calories: 229g
- Carbohydrate: 41g
- Fiber: 16g
- Protein: 16g
- Potassium: 46% of RDA
Black Beans Nutritional Value (One Cup):
- Calories: 227g
- Carbohydrate: 41g
- Protein: 15g
- Fiber: 15g
- Folate: 64% of the RDA
- Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
- Manganese: 38% of the RDA
- Iron: 20% of the RDA
What’s the Deal With Paleo?
Legumes got a bad rap when the Paleo diet was at its peak of popularity. This is because the Paleo diet completely forbids legumes. This all boils down to the phytic acid, lectins, and saponins that are found in lentils.
We’ll break each down to explain.
Phytic acid is the stored form of phosphorus. Some nutritionists consider it an anti-nutrient.
An anti-nutrient is named as such due to how the nutrient functions in your body once consumed. This is because they interfere with how your body absorbs nutrients.
In the case of phytic acid, it binds minerals. So all the iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc you absorb from legumes get stuck in your digestive system. The amount of phytic acid in a legume varies a lot depending on what species you’re eating.
This said, for all legumes, you can massively decrease the amount of phytic acid by preparing them the right way. Fermenting, sprouting, and soaking all help reduce phytic acid considerably, as well as cooking.
If in doubt, pairing phytic acid-rich legumes with vegetables high in vitamin C will counteract the effects of the phytic acid.
Paleo’s nemesis, lectins, are carbohydrate-binding proteins. You’ll find them in almost all plants and dairy products. Most of the fear around lectins comes from a deep misunderstanding of how they work.
Plants need lectins to protect them from pests, insects, and other organisms. However, when humans eat lectins, they can damage the intestinal tract cells and cause a leaky gut. This causes bloating and fatigue.
The reason we’re not all suffering after eating legumes is simple. Lectins are destroyed during the preparation and cooking phase. So the reality is it’s a non-issue unless you’re eating them raw.
Like phytic acid, saponins are a compound that can bind to nutrients and inhibit our ability to absorb them.
Similar to lectins, saponin content can be decreased through the preparation and cooking process. This includes soaking, washing, and heating.
While saponins get a bad rep, studies have shown saponins can help lower cholesterol.
Why Eat Legumes?
Putting aside the nutritional benefits, legumes are an excellent choice if you’re plant-based for the environment.
This is because they have the ability to fix nitrogen without assistance. So farmers don’t need to use much synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. This synthetic fertilizer takes many fossil fuels to produce, so even compared to other plants, legumes are very low-impact environmentally.
Legumes are also more drought resistant. So it needs less irrigation than many other plant-based proteins such as nuts. Compared to meat-based proteins like beef, legumes use one-third of the amount of water pound for pound.
Because they’re so low maintenance, pound-for-pound legumes are one of the cheapest proteins to buy.
Where to Buy Legumes?
You’ll find the common legumes like chickpeas, kidney beans, and fava beans at most large grocery stores in both canned and dried form. You might have to go a little further afield for specialty legumes like yard long beans or green soybeans.
The best place to find these is either online, at a Wholefoods store, or an international grocery store. They’re well worth the hunt, though, for the delicious and unusual recipes you can make.
Find Legume Recipes
Legumes are a great addition to a plant-based diet. They’re packed full of protein, fiber, and other nutrients that will help your body feel great.
Make sure to look through our blog for some tasty legume recipes to inspire you.
- Adzuki Beans
- Black Beans
- Black Eyed Peas
- Cannellini Beans
- Cranberry beans
- Fava beans
- Pinto Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Green Lentils
- Red Lentils
- Split Peas
- Mung Beans
- Rinse dried legumes well and pick over and discard any debris or shriveled pieces.
- Dried beans are best to cook after soaking overnight in a bowl of water on the counter, but lentils and split peas do not need to soak at all. You can pressure cook dried beans without soaking, but there is a greater chance they will break.
- If soaking, drain the water, rinse, and transfer the soaked legumes to a large saucepan. Cover with at least two inches of water and add a pinch of salt.
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer partially covered with a lid until tender. Stir every so often and add more water if needed.
- Use immediately or cool and store for later.
The cook time will vary depending on the freshness of beans and legumes. Older packages that have been sitting on the grocery store or pantry shelves for a long time may take much longer to cook.
You can add flavor to the legumes while they are cooking by adding an onion, garlic, chili peppers, or herbs in with the beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper at the end.
Approximate cook times:
- Whole dried beans, soaked (black, pinto, chickpeas): 1 to 1 1/2 hours
- Green split peas, unsoaked: 45-60 minutes
- Green lentils, unsoaked: 25-40 minutes
- Split red lentils, unsoaked: 8-10 minutes
1 pound of dried legumes will make approximately 6-8 servings.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1/4 cup red lentils
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 130Total Fat: 1gCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 11gProtein: 12g