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Diet and Nutrition

Legumes: A Healthy Addition to Any Diet!

Legumes are seedsWhat are legumes? Legumes are the seeds that grow inside pods. These seeds can be eaten fresh, sprouted, dried, and ground into flour. Varieties include garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans, fava beans, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, great northern beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, split peas, cowpeas, and brown, red, or green lentils.

Why should I eat legumes?
Legumes are loaded with nutrients that are important in preventing heart disease, cancer, obesity, and other chronic diseases. Nutritionists recommend several servings of legumes per week because they are nutrient-dense. That means they contain a lot of nutrients (such as protein, iron, potassium, selenium, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and fiber) in relation to the calories. In other words, they are a good deal for the amount of calories they supply! Even better, they have no cholesterol and little fat and they are relatively inexpensive. In addition, the soluble fiber in legumes helps to lower blood cholesterol, while the insoluble fiber helps to regulate the digestive tract and prevent constipation.

How can I include legumes in my diet?
Increase the amount of legumes in your diet gradually to avoid intestinal gas that may result during digestion. Here are some shopping and cooking tips:

Legumes have always been a primary source of protein in many cultures and in vegetarian diets (1/4 cup of legumes equals 1 ounce of animal protein). Due to the growing interest in ethnic cuisines and plant-based, healthy diets, we are seeing an increase in the popularity of legumes. So the next time you are at the grocery store, pick up a variety of legumes that you have never tried and enjoy!

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Last Reviewed: Mar 19, 2008

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Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati