The 9 Healthiest Beans and Legumes You Can Eat

Commonly eaten worldwide, beans and legumes are rich sources of fiber, essential vitamins and minerals, and plant-based protein.

Beans and legumes are the fruits or seeds of a family of plants called Fabaceae.

They’re great sources of fiber and vegetarian protein. You can incorporate beans into soups, tacos, salads, and other recipes.

Beans and legumes have several health benefits. Eating more of them may help reduce cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels, and increase healthy gut bacteria (1, 2, 3).

Here are nine of the healthiest beans and legumes you can eat — and why they’re good for you.

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a great source of fiber and protein.

One cup (164 grams) of cooked chickpeas contains (4):

  • Calories: 269
  • Protein: 14.5 grams
  • Fat: 4.25 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 45 grams
  • Fiber: 12.5 grams
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 71% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Copper: 64% of the DV
  • Manganese: 73% of the DV
  • Iron: 26% of the DV

Many scientific studies show that beans and legumes, such as chickpeas and hummus — which is primarily made from chickpeas — may provide various health benefits (5).

Chickpeas are particularly beneficial for reducing post-meal blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity compared to other high carb foods (6).

A small study found that eating a low-sugar snack with hummus led to a 5% decrease in afternoon blood sugar levels compared to eating granola bars with a higher sugar content (7).

Eating hummus was also linked to reduced appetite and decreased snacking on desserts later in the day (7).

Since chickpeas and other legumes are high in fiber and beneficial plant compounds, eating them may also help improve the composition of gut bacteria.

Eating chickpeas may support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and the production of short-chain fatty acids in the colon (8).

Chickpeas may help protect against gut-related diseases. However, research is limited, and we need clinical studies in humans before we can be sure how chickpeas may affect gut health.

Summary

Chickpeas are a great source of fiber, and they’re also low in calories. Eating them may help reduce blood sugar and improve gut health.

Lentils are a great source of vegetarian protein and can be a good addition to soups and stews.

One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains (9):

  • Calories: 230
  • Protein: 17.9 grams
  • Fat: 0.752 gram
  • Carbs: 39.8 grams
  • Fiber: 15.6 grams
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1): 30% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 90% of the DV
  • Copper: 55% of the DV
  • Iron: 37% of the DV
  • Zinc: 23% of the DV

Lentils are one of the most iron-rich legumes. Iron is a trace mineral that your body needs to make hemoglobin, a protein in the blood that transfers oxygen (10).

Adding lentils to meals to boost iron intake may be especially helpful for vegans and vegetarians since they may be at an increased risk of iron deficiency anemia (11).

Lentils can also help reduce blood sugar.

In a study that included 48 healthy adults, replacing half of the carbs from rice or potatoes with carbs from cooked lentils at a meal led to significant decreases in post-meal blood sugars compared with eating rice or potatoes alone (12).

Another study of more than 3,000 people found that those with the highest intake of lentils and other legumes had the lowest rates of diabetes (13).

Finally, lentils may also help heart health by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol (14).

Summary

Lentils are a great source of vegetarian protein and iron. Eating them may reduce blood sugar levels compared with some other foods that are high in carbs.

Peas are also a type of legume. One cup (160 grams) of cooked green peas contains (15):

  • Calories: 134
  • Protein: 8.58 grams
  • Fat: 0.35 gram
  • Carbs: 25 grams
  • Fiber: 8.8 grams
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1): 35% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 25% of the DV
  • Manganese: 37% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 35% of the DV

Peas’ high quality protein, fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidant compounds contribute to health benefits like nourishing good gut bacteria and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels (16).

Peas are a particularly good source of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for proper blood clotting and bone health (17).

They are also fairly high in protein. Much research has shown that pea protein, often added to foods or used as a supplement, may have benefits.

Pea protein may help increase muscle size and strength when combined with high intensity interval training (18).

Muscle gains associated with pea protein were comparable to those from whey protein (18).

It may benefit heart health, including lower blood pressure (19).

However, keep in mind that it’s not necessary to eat pea protein supplements to reap these benefits. Peas, on their own, provide plenty of essential nutrients.

Summary

Peas contain protein, fiber, and micronutrients that can promote a healthy gut and blood pressure. Isolated pea protein may help with muscle-building.

Kidney beans are one of the most commonly consumed beans.

One cup (177 grams) of cooked kidney beans contains (20):

  • Calories: 225
  • Protein: 15.3 grams
  • Fat: 0.885 gram
  • Carbs: 40.4 grams
  • Fiber: 13.1 grams
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1): 24% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 58% of the DV
  • Copper: 48% of the DV
  • Manganese: 37% of the DV
  • Iron: 29% of the DV

Foods high in fiber, such as kidney beans, can help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and reduce blood sugar levels (2).

Eating kidney beans may also help reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure.

One small study of eight healthy adults found that eating 3/4 cup (133 grams) of red kidney beans led to significantly lower blood pressure 2 hours after consumption compared with the same amount of rice. It’s important to note that other factors may affect blood pressure, so significant improvements are not guaranteed (21).

Finally, kidney beans are an excellent source of folate. Eating folate-rich foods is especially important for pregnant people, since this water-soluble vitamin is vital for fetal neurological development (22).

Summary

Kidney beans contain high amounts of fiber and may help reduce the rise in blood sugar that happens after a meal. They’re also high in folate, which is an especially important nutrient during pregnancy.

Like many other beans, black beans are a great source of fiber, protein, and folate. They are a staple food in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

One cup (172 grams) of cooked black beans contains (23):

  • Calories:227
  • Protein: 15.2 grams
  • Fat: 0.929 grams
  • Carbs: 40.8 grams
  • Fiber: 15 grams
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1): 35% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 64% of the DV
  • Iron: 20% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 29% of the DV
  • Manganese: 33% of the DV

In addition to being packed with nutrients, black beans may positively affect gut bacteria.

One study in rats found that eating black beans increased a cluster of bacteria in the gut that may result in improved insulin sensitivity. However, we need more human research into whether those effects are the same for us (24).

Black beans may also help with blood sugar management due to their lower glycemic index compared to many other high-carbohydrate foods. This means they cause a smaller rise in blood sugar after a meal.

Research suggests that if people eat black beans with rice, the beans can reduce this rise in blood sugar compared with rice alone (25).

Summary

Black beans may help with blood sugar management by modifying gut bacteria. They may also help reduce the rise in blood sugar after a meal compared with other high carb foods, such as rice.

Soybeans are commonly consumed in Asia in several different forms, including tofu.

One cup (172 grams) of cooked soybeans contains (26):

  • Calories:296
  • Protein: 31.3 grams
  • Fat: 15.4 grams
  • Carbs: 14.4 grams
  • Fiber: 10.3 grams
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 38% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 23% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 28% of the DV
  • Iron: 49% of the DV
  • Manganese: 62% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 34% of the DV

In addition to these nutrients, soybeans contain high levels of antioxidants called isoflavones, which are responsible for many health benefits.

Evidence suggests that consuming soybeans and their isoflavones is associated with reduced cancer risk.

However, many of these studies are observational, meaning the participants’ diets weren’t controlled so that other factors could affect the risk of cancer.

A large study combining the results of 21 other studies found that eating high amounts of soybeans was associated with a 15% lower risk of stomach and other gastrointestinal cancers. Soybeans’ effectiveness appears especially significant in females (27).

Many of these benefits may be because soy isoflavones are phytoestrogens. That means they can mimic the effect of the hormone estrogen in the body, which tends to decline during menopause.

Research suggests that taking isoflavone supplements during menopause may help reduce hot flashes and prevent loss of bone mineral density (28).

Dietary isoflavone consumption from soy may also help reduce heart disease risk in women (29).

Summary

Soybeans and the antioxidants they contain may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, risk factors for heart disease, and menopausal bone density loss.

Pinto beans are common in Mexico. You can eat them as whole beans or mashed and fried.

One cup (171 grams) of cooked pinto beans contains (30):

  • Calories:245
  • Protein: 15.4 grams
  • Fat: 1.11 grams
  • Carbs: 44.8 grams
  • Fiber: 15.4 grams
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1): 28% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 74% of the DV
  • Copper: 42% of the DV
  • Manganese: 34% of the DV

As a fiber-rich food, pinto beans may promote a healthy gut.

One study in mice found that supplementing their diet with pinto beans increased the gut bacteria responsible for producing short-chain fatty acids — which are beneficial for health — and molecules that protect against insulin resistance (31).

Some of the compounds in pinto beans may also help reduce blood cholesterol.

A study in hamsters found that pinto beans helped lower cholesterol levels by decreasing intestinal absorption and liver production of cholesterol (32).

Remember that many of the studies on pinto beans have been in animals. More research on humans is needed before concluding the possible health benefits of these legumes.

Finally, pintos pack a ton of copper. This mineral plays a role in creating energy, maintaining a healthy immune system, and producing skin pigment (33).

Summary

Pinto beans may help reduce blood cholesterol and blood sugar while supporting gut health. They can be eaten either whole or mashed.

Navy beans, also known as haricot beans, are a great source of fiber, B vitamins, and other minerals.

One cup (182 grams) of cooked navy beans contains (34):

  • Calories:255
  • Protein: 15 grams
  • Fat: 1.13 grams
  • Carbs: 47.3 grams
  • Fiber: 19.1 grams
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 64% of the DV
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1): 36% of the DV
  • Iron: 24% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 23% of the DV
  • Manganese: 42% of the DV

Navy beans appear to help reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome, likely due to their high fiber content.

A 2017 study of 38 children with blood cholesterol outside of typical ranges found that those who ate a muffin or smoothie containing 17.5 grams of navy bean powder every day for four weeks had higher levels of healthy HDL cholesterol than a control group (35).

Similar effects have been found in adults.

A small study from 2015 of 14 adults with overweight or obesity found that eating 5 cups (910 grams) of navy beans per week for 4 weeks reduced waist circumference and total and LDL cholesterol levels in males compared to baseline (36).

Since these studies are small, we need more research on broader populations before we can draw strong conclusions.

Summary

Navy beans contain a lot of fiber and may help reduce the risk factors for metabolic syndrome. They also contain several important nutrients.

Interestingly, peanuts are legumes rather than nuts. They offer a good source of monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, protein, and B vitamins.

One half-cup (73 grams) of raw peanuts contains (37):

  • Calories:414
  • Protein: 18.9 grams
  • Fat: 35.9 grams
  • Carbs: 11.75 grams
  • Fiber: 6.2 grams
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1):39% of the DV
  • Niacin (vitamin B3): 55% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 44% of the DV
  • Vitamin E: 41% of the DV
  • Iron: 19% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 29% of the DV
  • Manganese: 61% of the DV

Due to their high content of monounsaturated fats, peanuts have several health benefits, especially if they replace other diet components.

A few large observational studies have found that eating peanuts is associated with a lower risk of death from many causes, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes (38).

Interestingly, peanut butter doesn’t seem to have the same beneficial effects (39).

However, these studies are only observational, so they can’t prove that eating peanuts causes a reduction in these risks.

Summary

Peanuts are a legume. They contain lots of healthy monounsaturated fats and may be beneficial for heart health.

Beans and legumes are excellent sources of dietary fiber, protein, B vitamins, and many other important vitamins and minerals.

Some evidence suggests they can help reduce blood sugar, boost heart health, and maintain a healthy gut.

You can add them to soups, stews, and salads, or just eat them on their own for a nutritious vegetarian meal.

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