What Are Legumes?

CoachMel Healthy Eating 45 Comments

Perhaps you’ve heard legumes are good for you.

Or, maybe you’ve even been told by a paleo promoter that they’re to be avoided.

Either way, today I’m going to cover your queries on “what are legumes,” and reveal whether they are they something you should go out of your way to add to your diet.

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What are legumes?

There are actually two types of legumes, mature and immature.

Mature legumes are the dried seeds found inside pods, for example kidney beans or chickpeas.

Immature legumes are those that have been harvested before they mature, such as green beans and garden peas.

Some of the most common legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, lupins, and peanuts (a peanut is a legume whose pod does not split open on its own).

Why should you eat legumes?

Here are just a few reasons:

  • Excellent source of protein
  • Good source fiber (approximately 15 g/cup)
  • Most varieties provide half our folate requirements
  • A good source of phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium, and selenium
  • Contain Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), B5 and B6
  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Low Glycemic Index

What counts as a serving?

A serving is 3 heaped tablespoons of beans.

Remember, beans and pulses count as a serving of your daily vegetable requirements, but only as 1 portion, no matter how many you eat.

Interesting facts about legumes

Below are a list of the nutrient highlights from some of the more commonly consumed bean varieties,

Red beans
Top antioxidant bean containing more antioxidants than blueberries when compared gram-per-gram. Reds are also the top bean source of iron.

Kidney beans
Second ranking antioxidant bean on the USDA’s list, and are also a top fiber source.

Black-eyed beans
These beans contain more calcium than any other bean, as well as being a source of folate and magnesium.

Black beans
In addition to ranking among the best antioxidant bean sources, black beans are the top bean source of magnesium.

Pinto beans
The top bean source of selenium, they are also ranked higher than the blueberry in their antioxidant power.

Now that you know what legumes are, how do you eat more when you’re not in the habit of it?

How to eat more legumes

  • Choose beans as your protein source once or twice each week.
  • Change your favorite recipe by replacing half of the meat with legumes.
  • Stock your pantry with a variety of canned legumes for a quick meal, or side dish.
  • Prepare soups, stews and casseroles with added beans.
  • Try a new legume each week – most supermarkets stock a wide variety of both dried and canned.
  • Vary your lunches with a bean soup, or salad, instead of your normal sandwich.
  • Use pureed beans as the basis for dips and spreads.
  • Snack on a handful of soy nuts rather than crisps or chocolate.

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Comments 45

  1. CONSPIRACY!!!!!

    The government wants more control, but it wants to accomplish this subtly. It has decided to make up what are now being called legumes. These don’t really exist! It’s just a government experiment so they can see if the public can be manipulated. DON’T GIVE IN!!! WE MUST RETAIN OUR FREEDOM OF THOUGHT!!!!

    1. Brian

      I think it’s all just a big misunderstanding. Legumes is the French for vegetables and vegetables are great. I just had some broccoli and tomato in my dinner and it was delicious!

  2. Mary Alley

    Legumes are amazing sources of nutrition! They are very real and tasty! Dont listen to the idiots and ignorant people who try to tell you that legumes do not exist! In my heart, and in my garden, legumes stand strong and true. For all the true believers out there, stand strong! We will win the battle against stupidity!
    🙂 thanks

    1. Dianne

      Are legumes inflammatory? i have severe rheumatoid arthritis, and wonder if my love of beans is actually hurting me. I also read that green beans are immature legumes but are they inflammatory also?

  3. Melanie

    Hi all,

    Thanks for your comments. I’m not really sure how calling peas, beans and lentils legumes equals a conspiracy.

    Can someone explain??

  4. Chris

    Hi Melanie,

    Don’t mind them; they have been going on about this legume conspiracy for a couple weeks now. Mary Alley, bless her heart, decided to prove them wrong and found this website. Sorry you had to be brought into the middle of this. They are just being ignorant people.

  5. Mary

    Hey sorry Melanie!
    I’m in an argument with a couple friends (rich and aaron) who have decided that legumes dont exist. Its pretty intense. We have now agreed to disagree. But they are still insane, yes you heard me boys, you’re insane. Its good to meet another person who actually believes in reality though. Thanks for your website! Chris, love the comment 🙂
    Peace and Love!

  6. Bartholomuel aka Conspiracy

    hey melanie, so this all started when my friend and i were told that almonds were a part of the peach family and we said almonds were nuts, not peaches. then someone told us that peanuts werent nuts either, and this might be true, but its more fun to say legumes arent real. its just a bunch of random fun. mary and i have decided to put aside our differences on the issue though and are good friends, even though she calls me insane. i think she is insane, but thats a whole different story. so melanie, dont give up your freedom of thought. that i the whole point. thank you for your concern on this perplexing issue

  7. nayoska

    hey Melanie , why are legumes included in the protein group?
    and what does it do to your body.

    ( please answer i need it for a homework)

  8. Melanie

    Hi Nayoska.

    Legumes are included in the protein group because they are an excellent source of protein.

    Protein is important for growth and repair of the bodies cells, muscles etc. Most people get too much protein from animal sources (red meat etc), so adding more legumes into your diet is a healthy alternative source of protein.

    As I stated above health benefits of legumes are:

    * Good source fibre.
    * Low in fat.
    * A good source of phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium, folate, and selenium.
    * Contain Thiamin (B1), Riboflavin (B2), Niacin (B3), B5 and B6.
    * Rich in antioxidants.

    Hope this helps! 🙂

  9. Kevin

    Hi Melanie,

    I’m curious what you mean by this statement, “Remember, beans and pulses count as a serving of your daily vegetable requirements, but only as 1 portion, no matter how many you eat.” How is it that no matter how many servings I eat of legumes (conspiracy or no conspiracy) that this only counts as 1 serving of vegetables? Is this a reference to nutrients?

    Please elaborate.

    Thank you,
    Kevin T.

    1. Melanie

      Yes, it’s in reference to the nutrient content. If possible it’s better to get plenty of variety into your diet, i.e. by eating a green veg, an orange veg, a purple fruit, etc per day. This is because each colour represents a different range of nutrients, and helps to ensure your diet is varied and nutrient packed.

      Same way if you eat 5 bananas per day, it really only counts as one portion.

      Hope that makes sense now!

  10. Carol

    Hi Melanie: I am still confused about the legumes. so we can eat as many legumes of the same type in one sitting, or do we eat a variety of legumes at any one meal to equal 1 portion.

    (please help on a yeast cleans and need to eat legumes)


    1. Melanie

      Hi Carol,
      A serving is 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked beans, peas, lentils Try to include legumes in your diet at least two or three times per week, but preferably more.

      So, that could be 3 tablespoons of kidney beans one night, and 3 tablespoons of red split lentils the next. Or, it could be 3 tablespoons from a canned 4 bean mix.

      Does that make sense?

      1. Vaibhav

        Hi Melanie,

        Still confused with your explanation. So in your replies to Kevin and Carol, what you explain is that legumes make up just 1 portion means they provide just 1 of the nutrients that we need, and we still need to eat other things. Right? Or am I still not getting it?

        1. Melanie


          It’s not that legumes only provide one nutrient, but if you eat them at every meal you may be missing out on other important nutrients. Focus on getting lots of different coloured produce into your diet such as red, green, yellow, purple, white, etc.

          One serving of legumes is equal to 3 heaped tablespoons, but this can only count towards 1 portion of your daily vegetable needs.

          So, if you need to eat 5 portions of vegetables every day, and you have lentils for lunch, you will need to eat 4 other portions of vegetables throughout the day, for example a serving of broccoli, carrots, spinach, and eggplant.

          Does that make sense?

  11. Vaibhav

    Hi Melanie!
    Nice page and good information.
    Actually beans and lentils/pulses being protein rich is not a new thing to me being an Indian, and son to a caring mother who loves to cook and feed the best (healthy) food to her children.
    Now, being a grown up and fond of cooking, I am buying and cooking lentils here in Europe as well.
    In Portugal they call vegetables “Legumes” and my girlfriend once taught me “vegetables are vegetables and legumes are legumes” (till then I thought “legumes” are just translation to vegetables.
    So today I decided to find out and found your website among others.
    Well, all that text above says that legumes are not a conspiracy (in India we eat them DAILY in our lunch/dinner since many centuries).
    But yea, some people might be raising their eyebrows because in USA this might be a marketing (like they sell everything with a “health” label).
    No offence to anybody.
    We are vegetarians (like, it’s not a fashion for us, but just a way of life – we don’t mention we are vegetarians as if it’s very natural being vegetarian, we mention non-vegetarians as non-vegetarians 😀 :D).
    Have you heard of that Indian lentil(pulse) soup called Dal? Very energy rich.
    At my home here, besides 4 kinds of beans, I have at least 5 different types of lentils (pulses). They all have different qualities/properties. Some are easy to cook some take longer. Some are good for fibre some with low fibre. Some are good for digestion, some are to stop/slow loose motion (like diarrhea).
    Very often I tell these things to my European colleagues and friends because they think vegetarian diet is something exotic that is not affordable everyday and also doesn’t satisfy one’s dietary needs daily, that it’s just leaves and herbs and not “real” stuff. 🙂
    Of course we have beans and lentils (LEGUMES). 😉
    Love, peace and health to all!

    1. Melanie

      Hi Vaibhav,
      Yes, I’ve heard of dahl, I’ve tried it actually. When I worked in London on dietetic placement we visited the home of some Indian ladies, who very kindly showed us how to make dahl and chapatti. Then we got to taste them, very delicious! I am actually going to make some chapatti this week, perhaps I’ve serve with lentils! 🙂

      1. Vaibhav

        Oh wow,
        How I miss mom’s chapattis here.

        In a standard meal, we have Dahl-Rice-Chapatti-Vegetables (DRCV), which could by accompanied by salad, pickles, buttermilk (during summer), papad (or as you might know as its south Indian name “papadam”) etc.

        But that standard main course DRCV contains the basic things (protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, oil, minerals, butter, spices etc). We eat chapatti with the vegetable dish (enrolling in each bite using our God gifted fingers :P) and mix dahl with rice.

        Try also Dal fry (dahl fry) with Jeera(cumin) rice. It’s yummy!

  12. Britt

    Legumes are actually a (small) but good source of iron and zinc. Phytic acid (or phytate when in salt form) is found in fiber of lightly processed legumes. This process is the imparment of iron absorption, which therefore a good source of iron! Plant sources of zinc are not as well absorbed as animal sources but it still plays a small part and every oz counts 🙂 Most of what you guys named is mostly what legumes is good for but I figured I would chime in with the small parts that it also plays.

  13. Irena

    Hi All.
    to Melanie: thank u a lot. I read now the book of Dr J.Wright on natral hormon therapy <6 he strongly recommends legumes for their very important (see the book for details) health properties! THe only thing I want to ask u: he writes to use them as raw as possible BUT. How can I eat f. ex. raw lentils? etc. PLS; explain. Thanks

    to "conspiracy" etc:
    I AM more then willing & doing as much as I can to think by myself & get often kicked for that. SO: now I checked in RUSSIAN ACADEMIC ENZYCLOPEDIA in web (my mothertongue is russian though I live in Europe since 1984) – get out man! THESE ALL ARE legumes, stupid. GO mail ur silly jokes or show ur stupidity somewehre else!

    here is THEIR LATIN NAME, people, u can check in web: Leguminosae or Fabaceae.
    enjoy! do not "believe" blindly neither to pros nor to contras – check, read, proof

    1. Melanie

      Hi Irena,
      Does the book talk about sprouting the lentils first? That is the only way you can eat them raw. Otherwise, they must be cooked first.

  14. Val

    Hi Melanie,

    I m kind of confused right now as I read that “legumes should NOT be a part of Paleo Diet” .
    What do you think?

  15. Tanya

    I am allergic to legumes .I can only eat string beans, sunflower seeds and walnuts only. Are these considered legumes ?if not what do you recommend because i break out in hives and my throat swells with all other food you mentioned and i am dying to get rid of my belly fat …..

    1. Mario Lo.

      I enjoyrd every read of it too, greencoffeebeanburn girl.
      What GENIUSES! They actually believe that legumes aren’t real!?!?!?!
      That is awkward. I agree with you, Akeel. Once again, you were right!…..

  16. Akeel Howe

    Hi Melanie,
    Thank you so much for the info on legumes, i really appreciate it.
    ~Can you believe those people who thinks legumes aren’t real? Its just plain STUPID and UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!

  17. Akeel Howell

    Oh, please reply to this and i’d be more than happy to help if you need any, you’ve really been helpful.
    The others clearly needs some help!!

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  19. Shalaka

    Albeit very late to this forum – (I was looking for more recipes of adding legumes/lentils to my diet and ended up here) I am Indian and yes we do eat them a LOT though I still crave for a different way to make them yum..so if someone still thinks they are not real or needs ways to make them – search for these and you will see what we do back home to include them in our everyday diet – Dal Makhani, Misal Pav, Pesarattu, Rajma Chaval, Chole, Chavli Usal, Masoor dal Amti, Mugachi Usal etc..

  20. Hari

    U guys are doing wonderful here. Getting lots and lots of information from everyone here on legumes. Wud also like to know the whole list of legumes and grains. Anybody can help me on that ?!!

  21. MaryBeth Baun

    I have been advised by my doctor, a neurogastroenterologist, to avoid flat beans and eat other legumes that are not flat means. The health care team says flat beans include black, kidney, pinto, and other beans. I asked for examples of others that are not flat beans and didn’t get much information – I said, for instance, are adsuki beans flat beans? answer, no. So, can you advise me on which other legumes I could eat that are not flat beans?
    I am permitted to have peas and lentils occasionally, meaning no more than every other day.
    I have been benefiting from the diet, but miss my legumes!
    Thank you,

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