Many people find beans a delicious and nutritious addition to their meals. However, what’s frequently misunderstood is which food group they belong to.
Like vegetables, beans contain fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that promote health.
However, beans offer a substantial amount of plant-based protein, unlike most vegetables.
This article tells you whether beans are vegetables or should be categorized as something else.
Technically, beans are legumes
Botanically, beans are classified into plant foods known as legumes.
All legumes are members of a family of flowering plants called Fabaceae, also known as Leguminosae. These plants produce fruits and seeds inside a pod.
Legumes are nutritionally unique, so they’re sometimes considered their own food group. However, they’re more frequently categorized with other plant foods like vegetables.
The term “bean” refers to one category of legume seeds. Other categories include lentils, lupins, and peanuts.
Common varieties of beans include:
- Common beans: kidney, pinto, white, and navy beans
- Soybeans: edamame and products like tofu and soy milk
- Chickpeas: also known as garbanzo and used to make hummus
- Peas: green, split-green, and split-yellow peas
Summary: Beans are plant foods known as legumes. Commonly consumed beans include kidney beans, navy beans, soybeans, and chickpeas.
Beans are frequently classified as a vegetable
Nutritionally, beans are famed as a rich source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates, including both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Here’s the nutrient content of a typical 1-cup (172-gram) serving of cooked black beans:
- Calories: 227
- Carbs: 41 grams
- Protein: 15 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Fiber: 15 grams
- Folate: 64% of the daily value
- Potassium: 13% of the daily value
- Phosphorus: 19% of the daily value
- Magnesium: 29% of the daily value
- Iron: 20% of the daily value
Though the exact nutrient content of beans varies depending on the type of bean and the soil in which they’re grown, most are particularly high in folate, iron, magnesium, fiber, and protein.
Like many vegetables, beans are rich in plant compounds known as phytonutrients, which may help prevent chronic disease. Research indicates that regularly eating beans and other pulses can significantly improve your overall diet quality.
Because of their nutrient makeup and high fiber content, beans and other legumes are often classified as part of the vegetable food group.
They may also be further categorized into the subgroup “starchy vegetables,” alongside potatoes and squash, due to their relatively high starch content.
Summary: Beans are nutrient dense with high fiber and starch contents. Thus, they’re frequently considered part of the vegetable food group. They may be further classified as a “starchy vegetable,” along with potatoes and squash.
Beans are part of the protein food group
One of the most unique nutritional features of beans is their protein content.
Unlike other types of vegetables, beans are also often considered part of the protein food group. Beans are a popular substitute for meat and other animal-based protein sources in vegetarian and vegan diets.
Beans are also one of the most affordable protein sources, making them invaluable to the global food supply.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) counts beans as part of the vegetable and protein food groups. If they’re used for protein, 1/4 cup of beans (43 grams) equals 1 ounce of meat (28 grams) or other animal-based protein.
Beans are usually ranked as a lower quality source of protein compared with animal-based protein, as they lack one or more essential amino acids.
This means that, compared with animal-based protein, you need to eat more servings of beans — in combination with other plant-based protein sources — to meet your daily amino acid and protein needs.
Suggested read: Are beans keto-friendly?
Summary: Beans are also included in the protein food group because they supply many amino acids. They’re often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan diets.
Though technically a separate food group known as legumes, beans are similar to vegetables due to their high fiber, vitamin, mineral, and health-promoting phytonutrient content.
Yet, they’re unique to most vegetables, as they’re also rich in protein.
Essentially, beans may be considered a legume, protein, or vegetable.
Regardless of which category you place them in, regularly consuming beans and other legumes can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.