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The 10 Healthiest Beans and Other Legumes

  As every health and nutrition nut will know, beans and other legumes are a must-have in everyone’s diet because they are extremely rich in fiber and packed with plant proteins, essential micronutrients and vitamins. And while that is certainly true of all legumes, it disregards the fact that each variety, be it lentils, chickpeas, soya beans or kidney beans, has its unique properties, benefits, and uses. Let’s take a closer look at 10 of the healthiest and most widely accessible legumes (in no particular order) and find out which ones are best suited for you.

Why Should You Eat Legumes?

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils different legumes macro shot with wooden spoon
Apart from having an excellent nutrient profile, legumes are also known for their ability to boost cardiovascular health, help stabilize blood sugar levels and other noteworthy health benefits we have previously covered in the article 9 Amazing Health Benefits of Beans. Legumes are especially beneficial if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or if you’re simply trying to cut down on your consumption of meat, as they will be able to supply you with the B vitamins and proteins that are otherwise difficult to get from plant-based foods.

1. Chickpeas

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils Chickpeas

Nutrients in 1 cup (164 grams) of Cooked Chickpeas:

  • Calories: 269
  • Fiber: 12.5 g
  • Protein: 14.5 g
  • Fats: 7.8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 38 g
  • Vitamin B9 (folate): 71% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Copper: 29% of the RDI
  • Iron: 26% of the RDI

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are very versatile, as they can be included in curries and stews, baked with spices to yield a healthy savory snack, or used to prepare hummusHowever, their versatility is far from being their only virtue, as chickpeas have a whole host of health benefits as well.

For one, chickpeas have been proven to be beneficial for reducing blood sugar levels and reducing insulin resistance, and can also improve your digestion by reducing the number of harmful gut bacteria. Finally, garbanzo beans may have cholesterol normalizing properties, therefore reducing one's risk of cardiovascular issues.

2. Black Beans

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils Black Beans
Image Source: Marco Verch/ Flickr

Nutrients in 1 cup (172 grams) of Cooked Black Beans:

  • Calories: 227
  • Fiber: 15 g
  • Protein: 15.2 g
  • Fats: 0.9 g
  • Carbohydrates: 40 g
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 28% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 64% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 38% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDI
  • Iron: 20% of the RDI

Black beans and rice are a staple food in many countries, and it turns out that eating rice with the beans actually makes you healthier. This is because beans are high in protein and fiber, which means that they are somewhat slower to digest. When eaten with rice, which is higher on the glycemic index, and so is more likely to cause sugar spikes, the beans slow down the absorption of the sugar from the rice into the blood, yielding in an overall steadier blood sugar level. That's why black beans are great at protecting you from metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and even obesity.

3. Peas

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils peas in a pod
Image Source: Marco Verch/ Flickr

Nutrients in 1 cup (160 grams) of Cooked Peas:

  • Calories: 125
  • Fiber: 8.8 g
  • Protein: 8.2 g
  • Fats: 3.2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 11 g
  • Vitamin B1: 30% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 24% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 48% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 22% of the RDI

​​Peas come in different varieties, but they're all an excellent low-calorie source of fiber and protein, which makes them pretty good for weight loss. Apart from that, eating peas promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, particularly Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, so they're pretty effective at boosting gut health.

Pea flour may also be an excellent substitution for wheat flour for those at risk of the development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, as suggested in recent research.

4. Lentils

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Legumes

Nutrients in 1 cup (198 grams) of Cooked Lentils:

  • Calories: 230
  • Fiber: 15.6 g
  • Protein: 17.9 g
  • Fats: 0.8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 39.9 g
  • Vitamin B1: 22% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 18% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 90% of the RDI
  • Copper: 25% of the RDI
  • Iron: 37% of the RDI
  • Phosphorous: 36% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 21% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 49% of the RDI

​​As you can see by yourself, lentils have a really impressive nutritional profile, containing not only tons of fiber and protein, but also impressive quantities of B vitamins, iron, and other minerals. This is why lentils are an excellent addition to a diet low or free of animal products.

It needs to be mentioned that there are several varieties of lentils, with each type having a slightly different, but similar nutrition profile. Red and black lentils are typically used in soups, whereas green or brown ones can be eaten as a side dish, combined with sauces and pasta for a quick evening pasta dish, or mixed with veggies and turned into a hearty stew.

Lentils are known for their various health benefits, particularly for their ability to improve digestion and bowel function. Studies also suggest that lentils help reduce blood sugar spikes by promoting a slower and more steady absorption of sugar in the blood, so they may be beneficial for diabetes prevention as well. Lentils also have numerous other health benefits, which we have discussed in detail in a previous article: 10 Health Benefits of Lentils. 

5. Kidney Beans

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils Kidney Beans
Image Source: cookbookman17/ Flickr

Nutrients in 1 cup (256 grams) of Cooked Kidney Beans:

  • Calories: 215
  • Fiber: 13.6 g
  • Protein: 13.4 g
  • Fats: 0.8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 38.6 g
  • Vitamin B1: 20% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 23% of the RDI
  • Copper: 17% of the RDI
  • Iron: 17% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 22% of the RDI

​​Though kidney beans don't have the most impressive vitamin and mineral profile, they have been proven to be good for promoting weight loss and preventing sugar spikes when you're eating high glycemic foods like rice or white bread. On a similar note, kidney beans may benefit weight loss in general. In one weight loss study, patients who took white kidney bean extract for 1 month lost 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) more on average than the controls who took a placebo.

6. Navy Beans

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils navy beans

Nutrients in 1 cup (182 grams) of Cooked Navy Beans:

  • Calories: 255
  • Fiber: 19 g
  • Protein: 15 g
  • Fats: 1.1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 47 g
  • Vitamin B1: 29% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 64% of the RDI
  • Manganese48% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 24% of the RDI
  • Iron: 24% of the RDI

​​Navy beans, also known as haricot beans, are another staple food, especially in the navy kitchens of the United States, and for good reason, as they're among the best plant sources of B vitamins, as well as fiber and protein, like all legumes. Capable of lowering cholesterol levels and promoting healthy digestion makes navy beans, similarly to most beans, a great choice for people at risk of metabolic syndrome or obesity. 

7. Adzuki Beans

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils Adzuki Beans

Nutrients in 1 cup (197 grams) of Cooked Adzuki Beans:

  • Calories: 250
  • Fiber: 15 g
  • Protein: 15 g
  • Fats: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 48 g
  • Vitamin B9: 30% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 29% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 17% of the DV
  • Potassium: 15% of the DV

​​Who said beans have to be savory? These little red beans that originated from the Himalayas prove that beans can be used in desserts as well. It is adzuki beans, also known as red mung beans that are the main ingredient in many popular Asian desserts, such as cake filling and ice cream. If you have a sweet tooth, try using adzuki beans in your desserts, as they have all the incredible insulin-lowering, digestion promoting and weight loss benefits of all legumes, but can be used to prepare delicious desserts.

8. Pinto Beans

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils Pinto Beans

Nutrients in 1 cup (171 grams) of Cooked Pinto Beans:

  • Calories: 245
  • Fiber: 15.4 g
  • Protein: 15.4 g
  • Fats: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 45 g
  • Vitamin B1: 22% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 74% of the RDI
  • Copper: 29% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 39% of the RDI

​Pinto beans are a popular bean variety grown worldwide, but especially loved in Mexico, where they're eaten whole, as well as mashed and subsequently fried up. These beans have all the health benefits of other beans we've mentioned on this list and then some. More specifically, they have proven LDL cholesterol-lowering capabilities, so they benefit heart health. Eating these beans also raises the levels of propionate in your gut, which is a type of fatty acid produced by gut bacteria that is associated with digestive health.

9. Mung Beans

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils mung beans

Nutrients in 1 cup (202 grams) of Cooked Mung Beans:

  • Calories: 212
  • Fiber: 15.4 g
  • Protein: 14.2 g
  • Fats: 0.8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 38.7 g
  • Vitamin B1: 22% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 80% of the RDI
  • Copper: 16% of the RDI
  • Iron: 16% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 24% of the RDI

Compared to all other legumes, mung beans have the highest vitamin density, providing a whopping 80% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin B9. These beans are native to India, but they are the most popular in China, where they're used as an ingredient in stir-frys, soups, salads, and other dishes. Like most legumes, mung beans have the potential of aiding weight loss, preventing blood sugar spikes and benefiting heart health. These beans also contain a ton of antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation and help prevent chronic illnesses and possibly even cancer. 

10. Soya Beans

The 10 Healthiest Beans and Lentils soya beans

Nutrients in 1 cup (172 grams) of Cooked Soya Beans:

  • Calories: 298
  • Fiber: 10.3 g
  • Protein: 28.6 g
  • Fats: 7.8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 16 g
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 29% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B9: 23% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K: 41% of the RDI
  • Copper: 29% of the RDI
  • Manganese: 71% of the RDI
  • Iron: 49% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 42% of the RDI

 

​​Related Articles:

The Remarkable Health Benefits of Berries​

19 Vegetables and Their Health Benefits

19 Fruits and Their Health Benefits

 A Guide To the Health Effects of Soy Products

 

Didn't expect to see soy on this list? It's not surprising, as soya beans and products derived from them sometimes have a bad reputation, and undeservedly so, as these legumes are among the healthiest and most well-researched ones, apart from also being the cheapest as well. We discuss this stigma in the article we linked above.

You already know that soy products are very versatile, and most dairy replacements, such as nondairy milks, cheese, and tofu is made of processed soya beans, as is soy sauce. However, few people know that soya beans offer all the beneficial effects of other legumes with the added benefit of improving fertility in women, protecting from breast cancer and reducing menopause symptoms, making it an excellent choice for women of all ages.

 

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