What Are Legumes? Types, Health Benefits, Nutrition Facts, Cooking Methods

Legumes can be termed as a nutritional powerhouse that belongs to the family of beans, peas and lentils. The refined and cooked texture of legumes makes them a perfect high-protein substitute for meat. Over the years, legumes have been preferred by many people around the world in their daily diet as they are affordable in price, easy to find in stores and versatile enough to be a part of a wide variety of dishes.

Types of Legumes

Legumes come from the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family and generally refer to the entire plant which is inclusive of the leaves, stems, and pods. Pulses which also come under the same family are edible seeds like beans, peas, or lentils.

Examples of legumes include adzuki beans (red beans), anasazi beans, black-eyed peas, edamame, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lentils and soybeans. Some common legumes may also comprise kidney beans, cannellini beans, Great Northern beans, navy beans, cranberry beans and pinto beans

Health Benefits of Legumes

Legumes are naturally low in fat and free of saturated fat and as they are plant foods, they are cholesterol free as well. Legumes not only provide fibre, protein and carbohydratess but are also enriched with vitamin B, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and phosphorus. Along with being an extremely nutritious food, studies show that legumes can prevent and manage many health conditions.

Type 2 Diabetes

Research has proved that a diet rich in plant-based foods such as legumes lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Moreover, for type 2 diabetics, including legumes in daily diet can improve both glycemic index (GI) and lipid control.

Hyperlipidemia and Hypertension

Regularly eating legumes may help lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. As legumes are rich in potassium, magnesium and fibre, they have a positive impact on blood pressure management. Blood pressure, triglycerides, weight, and waist circumference could be maintained if legumes are included in their daily diet plan.

Weight Management

A diet that includes legumes may also help with weight management. The fibre, protein and slowly digested carbohydrates found in legumes may aid in satiety and promote weight loss. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), it was observed that adults who consumed a variety of legumes regularly had significantly lower body weights compared with those who did not eat legumes.

Healthy Heart

According to the American Heart Association (AHA) lentils and beans may prove beneficial to limit the intake of red meat (beef, lamb or pork) and thereby promote a healthy heart. Research has also shown that consuming legumes may lower blood pressure and inflammation which are two main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Legumes contain antioxidants that may help prevent cell damage and minimize the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, stroke or cancer.

Legumes: Nutrition Facts

One serving of half a cup of legumes provides about 115 calories which are 20 g of carbohydrates, 7-9 g of fibre, 8 g of protein, and 1 g of fat. These nutritional powerhouses also have a low glycemic index typically ranging between 10 and 40.

A variety of diet plans, including the DASH (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean-style, promote increased intake of legumes after understanding the nutritional benefits of these plant-based foods.

Legumes can easily be a part of any plant-based diet plan like a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet, or a flexitarian diet. According to AHA, these plant-based diets over meat-heavy ones may help lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and cancer.

Legumes: Cooking Methods

May it be soups, stews, salads, tacos or burritos, legumes can be used extensively and easily. Although it may take some time, soaking and cooking the legumes does not take much planning or effort. The majority of dried beans and legumes, except for black-eyed peas and lentils, can be soaked in water for some time before you cook. However, if you don't have time for soaking the legumes overnight, canned beans can also be an option. The only precaution to be taken while using canned beans is that they tend to be high in sodium. You can rinse them well before cooking or serving them to remove some of the sodium.

Slow-cooked Legumes

A few types of the legumes like chickpeas, white beans or kidney beans, need more time to cook. These may be termed as slow-cooked legumes which can be prepared in more quantity than required and stored in freezer-safe storage bags.

Soak the slow-cooked legumes overnight and drain them in the morning. Then, in a large pot, combine the legumes with water, and 1 tsp. of baking soda to soften them more quickly. After that, bring them to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, until the legumes are soft. Drain the legumes, season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.


Lentils are easily available in the market and come in a variety of colours, including orange, green and black. They have relatively short cooking time and may not always require advanced soaking. Even lentils that may be slow to cook require just 20 minutes of cooking time.

Place the lentils in a small pot and add water, with a pinch of salt. Cover them and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until lentils are soft. Later on, drain the lentils and use them in your recipes. To reduce preparation time, you can always prepare them in more quantity as cooked lentils can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

The texture of the lentils becomes very soft when they are cooked for a long time. Such lentils can be made into a thick, Indian-style curry by adding spices like turmeric, cumin, and garam masala and served over rice.

Legumes Recipes

Here are some easy-to-cook legume recipes for a healthy lifestyle.

Legume Salad

A basic legume salad is generally made from a combination of any kind of cooked legumes, together with chopped vegetables, lemon juice, herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Legume Soup

Combine any legumes and vegetables, simmer them together for 30-40 minutes and add a few herbs and lemon juice to have a nice Mediterranean soup. Another way to make legume soup is by cooking the legumes with aromatic ingredients like onion, garlic, or leeks until the mixture gets soft. Later on, transfer everything to a food processor or use an immersion blender to make a puree.

Having an adequate supply of cooked legumes in the refrigerator or freezer will make it easy to add them to almost any dish. We can also easily sprout legumes. Special containers are available for storing legumes during the sprouting process.


Incorporating healthy nutrition has become an integral part of everyone's life. Legumes which are easily available at an affordable price can help us maintain a balanced and nutritious diet. Getting into the habit of soaking legumes or using them in our daily diet can immensely boost our health and ensure a better future.

Updated on: 23-Jan-2023


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