What Are Legumes?

What Are Legumes

Flickr: roger smith

You’ve probably heard that legumes are good for you.

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

Either way, today I’m going to answer your questions what are legumes, and reveal whether they are they something you should go out of your way to add to your diet.

What are legumes

Dole Nutrition state that:

“There are two types of legumes: mature and immature. Mature legumes are the dried seeds found inside pods that hang from the stems of certain plants. They are excellent sources of fibre (approximately 15 g/cup), rich in protein, and low in fat…Green beans and peas, commonly referred to as vegetables, are actually immature legumes because they are harvested before maturing on the plant.”

Well known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, lupins, and peanuts (a peanut is a legume whose pod does not split open on its own).

What are legumes and why should you eat them?

Here are just a few reasons:

  • Excellent source of protein.
  • Good source fiber.
  • Low in fat.
  • 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, taken from Dole Nutrition:

  1. Red beans – top antioxidant bean containing more antioxidants than blueberries when compared gram-per-gram. Reds are also the top bean source of iron.
  2. Kidney beans – second ranking antioxidant bean on the USDA’s list, and are also a top fibre source.
  3. Black-eyed beans – these beans contain more calcium than any other bean, as well as being a source of folate and magnesium.
  4. Black beans – in addition to ranking among the best antioxidant bean sources, black beans are the top bean source of magnesium.
  5. 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 them when you’re not in the habit of it?

How to eat more legumes

Now that we’ve dealt with the question, ‘what are legumes’, just how easy is it to include more legumes in your diet?

Choose beans as your protein source instead of high fatty meats, or dairy products regularly.

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.

Have a vegetarian day once each week.

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.

Remember, many canned beans are high in added salt, look out for the ‘no added salt’ versions, and always rinse throughly with cold water before adding to your recipes.

Continue reading → 6 Ways to Add Legumes to Your Diet

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

CONSPIRACY!!!!! May 3, 2008 at 2:19 am

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!!!!


Mary Alley May 3, 2008 at 2:20 am

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


Dianne April 27, 2013 at 7:39 pm

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?


Aaron May 3, 2008 at 5:01 am

I actually agree with Conspiracy. legumes are just a figment of mary’s imagination


Melanie May 5, 2008 at 8:03 am

Hi all,

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

Can someone explain??


Chris May 7, 2008 at 2:04 am

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.


Mary May 7, 2008 at 2:31 am

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!


Bartholomuel aka Conspiracy May 7, 2008 at 2:31 am

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


Melanie May 7, 2008 at 10:41 am

Oh…now I see!! ;-o


nayoska October 28, 2008 at 11:14 am

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)


Melanie October 29, 2008 at 1:58 pm

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! :-)


Kevin February 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm

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.


Melanie February 13, 2010 at 11:35 am

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!


Kevin February 16, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Hi Melanie,

Great! Thanks for the reply. Any recommended reading material for general nutrition help?

Thanks again,
Kevin T.


Melanie February 22, 2010 at 9:13 am

Hi Kevin,
If you check out my welcome page I’ve linked to some popular articles about healthy eating, etc: http://www.dietriffic.com/welcome-to-dietriffic/

Also, I’m in the process of finishing up a healthy eating ebook, which should be finished very very soon. Perhaps that would be helpful for you!!! :-)


Carol February 17, 2010 at 2:17 am

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)



Melanie February 22, 2010 at 9:19 am

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?


Vaibhav May 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

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?


Melanie May 24, 2010 at 10:40 am


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?


Vaibhav May 24, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Yes, finally!

Thanks for your replies!

Vaibhav May 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm

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 :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!


Melanie May 24, 2010 at 10:29 am

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! :-)


Vaibhav May 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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!


Britt May 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm

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.


Melanie May 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

Thanks Britt. Appreciate you sharing your thoughts, too :-)


Irena May 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

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


Melanie May 23, 2012 at 10:27 am

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.


Val November 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm

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?


Melanie December 6, 2012 at 11:40 am

Hi Val, I discuss the issue of legumes and the Paleo diet in this article.


cassidy December 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm

why are legumes good for you?


Melanie December 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I discuss this in the article.


Tanya February 15, 2013 at 12:07 am

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 …..


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Mario Lo. March 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm

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!…..


Akeel Howe March 1, 2013 at 7:44 pm

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!!!!!!


Akeel Howell March 1, 2013 at 7:46 pm

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!!


Julio March 1, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Bonjour, est-ce que vous parle anglais?


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