Legumes are a family of vegetables that include peas, beans, and lentils. They are exceptionally high in fiber, protein, and antioxidants, and as such, they’re very popular ingredients for healthy cooking.
Vegetarians and vegans use legumes as one of their key sources of amino acids, but omnivores can easily incorporate legumes into their diet, too.
We’ve ranked the ten best sources of legumes available on the market, plus looked into the latest science on the benefits and drawbacks of legume as a health food.
1. Bob’s Red Mill Lentil Beans
Bob’s Red Mill is widely known as one of the top manufacturers of cereals and dried goods for health-conscious consumers, and their lentil beans live up to this reputation.
Bob’s Red Mill Lentil Beans are an excellent source of fiber: just one serving has over three quarters of your recommended daily intake of fiber.
On top of this, the content of essential minerals like zinc, iron, and magnesium is quite high, which makes these our top pick.
2. Camellia Lady Cream Peas
Camellia Lady Cream Peas have a sweet and slightly nutty flavor. They’re a lot closer to a bean than a pea when it comes to flavor and texture, so if you’re tired of the usual field peas or chickpeas, give lady cream peas a try.
Unlike true dried beans, though, these can be cooked up in only an hour.
3. Arrowhead Mills Organic Green Lentils
Arrowhead Mills Organic Green Lentils cook up firm and flavorful, and have excellent fiber and protein content.
The fact that these lentils are organically certified makes them an even better choice of legume if ingredient purity and quality is important for you.
4. Timeless Natural Food Green Lentils
Timeless Natural Food Green Lentils are organically certified and grown in Montana, so they’re great option for a health-oriented legume.
Like other green lentils, these legumes are differentiated from red lentils thanks to their ability to retain firmness and texture in soups and stews, and when cooked, they take on a medium brown color.
If organic produce is important to you, Timeless Natural Food Green Lentils is the way to go.
5. Camellias New Orleans Beans
If you want a variety pack of different kinds of beans, Camellias New Orleans Beans is a good pick.
This variety pack includes red kidney beans, black eyed peas, great northern beans, pinto beans, green split peas, and navy beans, so it’s great for stews, chilis, and soups.
Like any dried beans, you will have to cook them well in boiling water to make them edible. If you’ve got the time, it’s well worth it.
6. Palouse Brand Pardina Lentils
Palouse Brand Pardina Lentils are small brown lentils that come from a non-GMO verified source and are sold in three pound bulk bags.
For frequent users of lentils, they’re a great deal. Since true lentils cook up faster than other legumes, they are also great if you need to cook up a big meal in a pinch. Users love the unique flavor profile of these Pardina lentils.
7. Bentilia Organic Lentil Pasta
Bentilia Organic Lentil Pasta contains just one ingredient (red lentils), but the lentils are crushed and processed into a pasta noodle shape.
As a result, they cook up just like traditional noodles, making them easy to substitute into your diet if you are gluten free but still love pasta. The bulk package makes them great for family cooking, too.
8. Food to Live Green Peas
Food to Live Green Peas are high in fiber, fairly firm even when cooked, and tend to retain their flavor profile well in soups and stews.
This five-pound package is very popular among bulk users who don’t mind having a lot of the same kind of legume.
9. Modern Table Complete Protein Lentil Pasta
Lentils can be used to make a great pasta noodle if you are gluten-free, and that’s exactly what Modern Table Complete Protein Lentil Pasta does.
These pasta noodles have a complete amino acid profile, thanks to the use of both red lentils and pea protein when formulating the noodles. The only downside is the high sodium content—it’s not the best choice if you are on a low salt diet.
10. Tolerant Simply Legumes Organic Red Lentil Pasta
Tolerant Simply Legumes Organic Red Lentil Pasta is another lentil-based pasta noodle meant for people who are gluten free, or people who want more fiber and protein in their noodles.
Unfortunately, Tolerant Simply Legumes don’t quite hold up as well to cooking. They are a little more dry and tend to form clumps easily after cooling down, so unless you’re going to eat them right away, another option might be better.
Legumes benefits and side effects
The nutritional pros and cons of eating legumes have been a popular topic in recent years, and some believe they don’t belong in a healthy diet.
Legumes are a family of foods that produce edible seeds contained in a pod, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts and soybeans.
Different nutritional experts hold opinions ranging from one end of the spectrum to another; depending on the source, you may have read that legumes can be harmful to your health, or that they are included on the list of superior foods with unique health benefits.
If you’ve been wondering whether you should continue to eat legumes, or add them to your menu, this guide will help you sort out the facts.
Legumes Provide Excellent Plant-Based Protein. Loaded with protein and fiber, legumes have a nutritional profile unlike most other foods. (1)
A single cup of cooked lentils contains 16 grams of fiber, 18 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbohydrate, and more than 10% of your recommended daily intake of vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, zinc, manganese, iron, copper, folate, and phosphorus (2). All of this comes along with only 230 calories.
Legumes are one of the best sources of plant-based protein, and have the unique ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere, providing this essential component of amino acids.
Legumes are a very cost-effective source of nutrition. Because of this, legumes are a staple food in many developing countries.
The price of legumes is very low for the amount of protein they contain. They also store and travel well. (3)
Legumes Deliver Nutrients That Can Provide a Range Of Health Benefits. Properly prepared legumes can play a role in providing several important micro- and macro-nutrients.
Loaded with both soluble fiber and resistant starch, legumes can help increase the number of friendly bacteria in the gut. (4)
Soluble fiber and resistant starch both pass through the stomach and small intestine, reaching the colon virtually unchanged.
This can cause bloating and flatulence for some people, but one byproduct of this process is the formation of a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which is believed to reduce the risk of colon cancer and improve overall colon health. (5, 6)
Over the long-term, the satiation factor of starch and fiber could help with weight control. These effects also extend to blood sugar regulation, including the potential for improving insulin sensitivity after meals. (9, 10)
Other metabolic improvements have also been noted in those who eat legumes regularly, including lower blood triglycerides and blood pressure, both of which are important markers for higher risk of developing chronic diseases. (13, 14)
Legumes also contain what are called “anti-nutrients,” which can inhibit the absorption of other nutrients in the digestion process. Let’s take a look at the three main anti-nutrients present in legumes.
The first is a category of proteins called lectins, which may have negative effects on the cells that line the digestive tract.
This family of proteins in legumes can account for as much as 10% of the protein content. (15)
Among the most-studied lectins, phytohemagglutinin is present in many legumes and found in high concentrations in red kidney beans. This substance is resistant to digestion and can be toxic in large amounts.
Poisoning has been reported only when red kidney beans were eaten raw or not cooked properly. (16)
Soaking kidney beans before cooking, combined with a minimum of ten minutes exposure to boiling water, degrades phytohemagglutinin to much lower levels. This effectively decreases any danger of toxicity from lectins. (17)
Smaller amounts of lectins are found in other legumes, but not enough to pose any threat to human health. Soaking and boiling all legumes will decrease phytohemagglutinin and other lectins to safe levels.
Another anti-nutrient, phytic acid, could inhibit the absorption of minerals. All edible plant seeds contain phytic acid (also called phytates), including legumes. This anti-nutrient is present for the purpose of preventing seeds from sprouting until conditions are right for growth.
Anti-nutrients called phytates can decrease the amount of zinc, iron and calcium absorbed after a meal, creating the potential of mineral deficiencies over time. (18)
The effects of phytates are only a concern during the meal in which they’re consumed; if you eat legumes for lunch but not for dinner, absorption of nutrients in the later meal will not be affected. (19)
If a diet is low in meat and high in legumes, absorption of minerals over the long-term can be an issue; this is often true for vegetarians and those who don’t have access to meat. (22)
Finally, saponins resist digestion and may increase gut permeability. The integrity of the gut lining is vital to overall health; when it is compromised, leaky gut syndrome can develop, allowing undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream. (25)
The effect of saponins on cells lining the intestines is not clear; while there is no evidence to show saponins can damage the gut, researchers believe they could cause problems. (26)
Like the other anti-nutrients mentioned above, saponins are also decreased by sprouting, soaking and cooking. (27)
While anti-nutrients in legumes can negatively affect the absorption of minerals, the amount of these substances can be decreased dramatically by proper preparation methods—namely, cooking legumes all the way through, in boiling water.
Abundant fiber and protein in legumes can provide many health benefits, and for most people, this outweighs any potential problems. The density of nutrients like B vitamins, iron, and zinc in legumes are also excellent, which makes them a great source of all of these nutrients.
Considerable health benefits can be realized through including legumes in a varied diet based on whole and natural foods. Soak, sprout, boil and ferment beans, peas, lentils and other legumes to degrade anti-nutrients that can limit the body’s ability to absorb iron and other minerals and they can be an excellent part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.