Legumes are the fruit or seed of plants in the family Fabaceae (also known as Leguminosae), the third-largest family of flowering plants.
Commonly found in beans and peas, they are one of the most underrated foods on the planet and are excellent sources of protein, fiber, B vitamins, and other nutrients.
The best legumes to eat are chickpeas, lentils, peas, and beans such as black, navy, soy, pinto, and kidney.
In addition, a quick fact, peanuts, which grow underground, are also legumes as they belong to the Fabaceae family of plants.
So what’s the difference between beans and legumes, you might ask?
One of the fundamental differences is that all beans are considered legumes while not all legumes are beans.
Legumes come from the Fabaceae family of plants, while beans come from a specific species of Fabaceae.
There are about 16,000 different types of legumes grown globally.
Not only do they deliver a power-packed punch of nutrients in a tiny package, but they are also good for the environment.
The crop has been proven to lower greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and has been credited with improving soil quality and atmosphere quality. (Source).
In addition to folate, magnesium, iron, and potassium, legumes are high in other essential nutrients such as fiber and protein.
For example, ½ a cup of cooked beans can provide 7 grams of protein, the same amount provided by 1 ounce of meat.
Low in fat and free of saturated fat, they are also cholesterol-free.
In addition to the impressive amount of nutrients, legumes are known to:
Helps Prevent Diabetes – A study in 2014 found that over 2,000 participants that regularly consume legumes had lower blood sugar levels.
Because legumes are high in fiber, this slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
Fiber also increases the efficiency of insulin, the hormone that transports sugar in the bloodstream to the cells.
Weight Loss – Legumes have also been linked to appetite control and weight loss.
Fiber is digested slowly, which can lead to us feeling fuller.
Protein reduces ghrelin levels, which is the hormone that stimulates hunger, resulting in a feeling of fullness.
Prevent Heart Disease – Legumes can also lower LDL cholesterol, a significant contributor to heart disease.
It can also reduce triglycerides, inflammation, and blood pressure levels.
Enhance Digestive Health – A rich source of fiber, legumes feed the probiotics in your gut.
Probiotics are good bacteria that live mainly in your large intestine, that boost your immune system, stave off the harmful bacteria, and maintain a healthy balance in your digestive system.
Black Beans Nutrition
One of the most nutritious legumes is black beans, also known as turtle beans.
½ a cup of black beans (approximately 86g) contain:
- Calories: 114
- Protein: 7.62g
- Fat: 0.46g
- Carbohydrate: 20.39g
- Fiber: 7.5g
- Sugars: 0.28g
- Calcium: 23mg
- Iron: 1.81mg
- Magnesium: 60mg
- Phosphorus: 120mg
- Sodium: 1mg
- Potassium: 305mg
In addition to that, they offer zinc, folate, and phytonutrients that have antioxidant properties. (Source)
They come from the Phaseolus vulgaris plant and have been used in North American diets for over 7,000 years.
Rich in fiber, carbohydrates, and protein, these beans have been known to reduce the risk of severe illnesses and help with weight control.
Are Black Beans A Superfood?
Yes, black beans, like most beans and legumes, are considered a superfood.
A superfood is a mainstream term popularized in the 2000s that refers to foods with abundant beneficial properties.
Superfoods have been touted to reduce the risk of disease and lead to better physical and mental health.
They are known to have exceptionally high levels of antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients.
Other examples of superfoods include berries, broccoli, kale, sea vegetables, spinach, nuts, and soy.
Despite no universal medical definition of the term, the superfood industry was poised to become a multi-billion dollar industry.
More health-conscious than ever, consumers have strived to improve their quality of life through clean diets and a healthy lifestyle compared to traditional pharmacology.
Rare and exotic fruits such as noni from Tahiti, acai berry from South America, and goji berries from China have made their way onto shelves worldwide at premium prices.
The list of superfoods is ever-growing, with manufacturers scrambling to meet the exploding demand.
It would be worth noting that there is no medical definition or classification of a superfood.
However, it is indeed proven that some foods have considerably more health benefits than others.
Black Bean Benefits And Side Effects
Black beans, together with chickpeas and other beans, have long been prized for their high fiber and protein content, in addition to being rich in other vitamins and minerals essential for good health.
Protein is one of the nutrients we need for maintaining a healthy body.
It helps to strengthen bones, develop and repair muscle and tissue, and regulate metabolism.
Beans deliver more protein per calorie than meat, making them a favorite with vegetarians and vegans.
In addition, meat contains no fiber, while beans are a fiber powerhouse.
The high-fiber diet is known to:
- Lower cholesterol
- Regulate blood sugar and prevent diabetes
- Regulate bowel movements
- Reduce the risk of heart disease
- Help with gastrointestinal diseases
- Feed the friendly bacteria in your gut called probiotics that are necessary to maintain a healthy immune system. Probiotics also help your digestive system function, create nutrients, and line the cells to prevent them from absorbing harmful bacteria.
To learn more about probiotics and prebiotics, click here.
Animal meat has a high caloric density than beans.
For example, a meat patty of a burger contains about 250 to 400 calories, while a bean burger provides an average of 115 calories.
Higher consumption of calories can cause weight gain if not burned off by regular exercise.
Your stomach is lined with stretch receptors that will send a message to your brain when “stretched”, signaling that you are full.
If you eat meat protein like pork, chicken, or beef, chances are, by the time your brain catches up and recognizes you are full, it’s too late! You’ve way over-eaten.
In comparison, it will take about double the bean protein to achieve the same number of calories, and by then, your brain is way ahead of you and stops you from eating.
It isn’t just protein that fills you.
Fiber is an excellent filler to curb hunger.
Your blood sugar rises slower and provides a steady supply of energy while making you feel full quicker.
In addition to the superfood status, black beans have been known to:
Promote Healthy Bones – Phosphorus and calcium are essential to developing and maintaining healthy bones, while zinc and iron help give the bones and joints both strength and elasticity.
Most of the calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus supplies are contained in our bones, making it crucial that we feed our bones!
Lower Blood Pressure – Black beans have little to no sodium, one of the primary contributors to high blood pressure.
They are rich in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which naturally decreases blood pressure.
Help Control Diabetes – Beans are a complex carbohydrate low on the glycemic index (GI).
The GI is a value from 0 to 100 assigned to each specific food according to its effect on blood sugar levels.
A low GI affects blood sugar levels the least.
Because beans have a low GI, they have been shown to help control blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with diabetes.
Reduce The Risk Of Cancer – Black beans contain selenium, a naturally occurring mineral with nutritional and antioxidant properties.
High levels of selenium have been linked to cancer prevention, while its anti-inflammation properties might slow the growth of tumors.
Folate encourages DNA repair and has been credited with preventing or slowing the development of cancer cells.
Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease – The folate, vitamin B6, potassium, fiber, and other phytonutrients present in black beans have been known to lower cholesterol levels.
Saponins are compounds found in beans that also prevent damage to the heart and blood vessels.
The most common side effect of beans is the increased flatulence, or to tell it like it is – farting.
This is because beans contain a group of sugars called oligosaccharides.
These sugars pass from the small intestine to the large intestine, or colon, where they meet your army of 100,000 trillion hungry microorganisms.
As your friendly gut bacteria munch away, the food ferments and produce gas, leading to a potentially embarrassing situation for you!
A few easy ways to deal with this are:
- Rinsing and soaking the beans before cooking
- Start eating beans in small amounts, allowing your gut to climatize before gradually increasing the amounts
- Drink more water to help digestion
- Adding a small amount of baking soda to the cooking water has been known to increase the alkaline levels and break down the oligosaccharides
- Use some herbs like sage, thyme, ginger, and rosemary that are known to help with bloat and gas
Vegan, vegetarian, or carnivores, the health benefits of legumes are undeniable.
After all, after thousands of years of evolution, we continue to use them in our daily diets.
Enjoy munching on those little gems, and best of health to you!
I’m Chris Watson & the Founder of EatForLonger.com. I’m a food and wellbeing enthusiast researching and sharing foodstuffs and simple food-based concepts, such as fasting and clean eating.
I hope it inspires you to make tiny changes to what you eat and when you eat while optimizing your healthspan and all-around well-being.
Read more About Me here.