Legumes: A Nutritious, Nonfat FoodLast updated: Feb 09, 2015
Looking for a healthy, nutritious, high-protein,
and inexpensive food that has no fat?
Legumes belong to a family of plants that produce pods comprised of seeds (beans and peas).
- Adzuki beans
- Anasazi beans
- Black beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Fava beans
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Pinto beans
- Split peas
Health Benefits of Legumes
Legumes are a good source of protein, iron, and zinc typically found in animal products such as chicken or beef. They also are high in fiber, folate, and potassium. For example, 1 serving (1/4 cup) of legumes provides 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber for adults.
In addition, lignans, saponins, flavonoids, and sterols are phytochemicals in legumes that are associated with a lower risk of cancer. Other data show that bacteria in the digestive tract feed on fiber, which produces compounds that may protect cells of the colon.1
Because legumes contain insoluble fiber that slow digestion and release carbohydrate more gradually that some other foods, they tend to help keep blood sugar levels even. A study of 121 people with type 2 diabetes showed that consuming 1 cup of legumes each day as part of a lower glycemic index diet lowered blood sugar levels.2 For these reasons, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) lists legumes among the top 10 superfoods for people with diabetes.3
Legumes are an ideal food for people who want to help protect cardiovascular health. Data show that a diet low in meat and high in legumes and vegetables can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A quarter cup of cooked legumes will provide the same amount of protein as 1 ounce of chicken, pork, or beef.4
Because legumes are high in fiber and slow to digest, they can help you feel full longer — a benefit if you are counting calories to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.5
Preparing Dried Legumes
One cup of dry beans and peas equals about 2 ½ to 3 cups of cooked beans and peas.
- Place dry beans or peas in a colander and rinse them in fresh, cold, running tap water to wash away debris and dirt
- Soak dry beans and whole peas in cold water overnight or soak them in hot water for 1 to 4 hours before cooking
- Use 6 to 8 cups of water for each pound of dried beans
- Lentils and split peas don’t need presoaking and will rehydrate during cooking6
- To reduce intestinal gas-producing substances, soak dry beans and whole peas longer and replace the water with fresh, cold tap water before cooking
- Drain rehydrated beans before cooking and cover them with fresh cold water in a large pot with a lid
- Simmer for 2 to 4 hours
- Add more time for cooking if you are at a high altitude or if you are cooking legumes in hard water
- To cook dry beans quickly, use a pressure cooker
- Never fill the cooker to more than 1/3 full so there is room for expanding beans and foam
- Minimize foaming with 1 tablespoon of oil
- Approximate cooking time at 10 pounds of pressure is 20 minutes, at 15 pounds of pressure, 10 minutes6
- When cooking legumes in a slow cooker, follow manufacturer’s guidelines for cooking times
Minimizing Intestinal Gas From Legumes
Legumes contain raffinose sugars that enzymes do not break down in the digestive tract. Instead, bacteria in the lower intestine metabolize sugars in legumes and form carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane gas.6 Although the gas is harmless, some people find it mildly uncomfortable.
The good news is that the more you include legumes in your diet, the more likely you are to digest them with less intestinal gas. Rinsing legumes after soaking and again after cooking them as well as cooking them until they are very tender also can help reduce the raffinose sugars that contribute to intestinal gas.7 Some legume lovers add Beano to legumes to help break down the sugars and minimize intestinal gas.
Tips for Including Legumes in Your Diet
- Enjoy dry legumes to get the most for your dollar
- Store dry legumes for up to a year in their original unopened packaging or in an air-tight container
- Enjoy canned legumes for convenience
- Choose sodium-free canned legumes or rinse them in cold running water if you are watching your salt
- Add chickpeas to salads, kidney beans to soups, and lentils to vegetable stir fry
- Enjoy hummus (mashed chickpeas) as a dip for vegetables or a sandwich spread instead of mayonnaise
- Choose a vegetarian burger made with black beans, lentils, or other legumes instead of a beef patty
- Add fat-free vegetarian refried beans to enchiladas and tacos
- Combine kidney beans, chickpeas, and adzuki beans with chopped celery, green and red peppers, onion, and tomato for a colorful, high-protein salad lightly tossed in olive oil and cider vinegar
- Use the salad as a garnish for grilled chicken or fish to add protein and fiber to a meat-based meal
To speak with a Summit Medical Group registered dietitian,
please call Summit Medical Group Nutrition Services
1. AICR’s Foods that fight cancer: dried beans and peas (legumes). http://www.aicr.org/foods-that-fight-cancer/legumes.html. Accessed February 8, 2015.
2. Jenkins DJA et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172(21):1653-1660.
3. American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Superfoods. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/diabetes-superfoods.html?loc=ff-slabnav. Accessed February 8, 2015.
4. Choosemyplate.gov. Beans and peas are unique foods. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables-beans-peas.html. Accessed February 8, 2015.
5. American Heart Association.The benefits of beans and legumes. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/SimpleCookingwithHeart/The-Benefits-of-Beans-and-Legumes_UCM_430105_Article.jsp. Accessed February 8, 2015.
6. Lauritzen G. Utah State University Cooperative Extension. Dry beans and peas. https://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/FN_207.pdf. Accessed February 8, 2015.
7. Michigan Bean Commission. Ask the registered dietitian. http://michiganbean.org/ask-the-registered-dietician/. Accessed February 8, 2015.