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The healthiest beans and legumes

9 healthy beans and legumes you should try

Beans and legumes have several health benefits as sources of fiber, important vitamins and minerals, and vegetarian protein. This article lists the nine healthiest beans and legumes you can eat.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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9 healthy beans and legumes you should try
Last updated on June 2, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on July 26, 2022.

Beans and legumes are the fruits or seeds of a family of plants called Fabaceae. Commonly eaten around the world, they are rich sources of fiber and important vitamins and minerals.

9 healthy beans and legumes you should try

They’re also excellent sources of vegetarian protein. I love incorporating beans into soups, tacos, salads, and other recipes.

Beans and legumes have several health benefits. Eating more may help reduce cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels, and increase healthy gut bacteria.

Here are nine of the healthiest beans and legumes you can eat — and why they’re good for you.

In this article

1. Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are a great source of fiber and protein.

One cup (164 grams) of cooked chickpeas contains:

Many scientific studies show that beans and legumes, such as chickpeas and hummus — primarily made from chickpeas — may provide various health benefits.

Chickpeas are particularly beneficial for reducing post-meal blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity compared to other high-carb foods.

A small study found that eating a low sugar snack with hummus led to a 5% decrease in afternoon blood sugar levels compared to eating granola bars with higher sugar content.

Eating hummus was also linked to reduced appetite and decreased snacking on desserts later in the day.

Since chickpeas and other legumes are high in fiber and beneficial plant compounds, eating them may also help improve the composition of gut bacteria.

Research in mice found that eating a chickpea-supplemented diet altered the structure of gut microbiota in a way that favored their health-promoting properties and helped strengthen the gut barrier.

These results suggest that chickpeas may help protect against gut-related diseases. However, research is limited, and we need studies on humans before we can be sure how chickpeas may affect our gut health.

Summary: Chickpeas are a great source of fiber and are also low in calories. Eating them may help reduce blood sugar and improve gut health.

2. Lentils

Lentils are a great source of vegetarian protein and can be a good addition to soups and stews.

10 proven health benefits of chickpeas
Suggested read: 10 proven health benefits of chickpeas

One cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils contains:

Lentils are one of the most iron-rich legumes. Iron is a trace mineral that your body needs to make hemoglobin, a protein in the blood that transfers oxygen.

Adding lentils to meals to boost iron intake may be especially helpful for vegans and vegetarians since they may be at an increased risk of iron deficiency anemia.

Similar to chickpeas, lentils can also help reduce blood sugar.

In a study that included 48 healthy adults, replacing half of the carbs from rice or potatoes with carbs from cooked lentils at a meal led to significant decreases in post-meal blood sugars compared with eating rice or potatoes alone.

Another study on more than 3,000 people found that those with the highest intake of lentils and other legumes had the lowest rates of diabetes.

Finally, lentil sprouts may also help heart health by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol.

Summary: Lentils are a great vegetarian protein and iron source. Eating them may reduce blood sugar levels compared with other foods high in carbs.

3. Peas

Peas are also a type of legume. One cup (160 grams) of cooked green peas contains:

Suggested read: Soybeans: Nutrition facts, health effects & downsides

The high-quality protein, fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidant compounds in peas contribute to health benefits like nourishing good gut bacteria and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

Peas are a particularly good source of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for proper blood clotting and bone health.

They are also reasonably high in protein. Much research has shown that pea protein may have benefits, which are often added to foods or used as a supplement.

A study including 120 men who engaged in weight training for 12 weeks found that taking 50 grams of pea protein per day increased muscle thickness compared with a placebo.

Muscle gains associated with pea protein were comparable to those from whey protein.

In animals, pea protein has been shown to lower blood pressure.

However, remember that eating pea protein supplements is unnecessary to reap these benefits. Peas on their own provide plenty of important nutrients.

Summary: Peas contain protein, fiber, and micronutrients that provide benefits like promoting a healthy gut and blood pressure. Isolated pea protein may help with muscle-building.

4. Kidney beans

Kidney beans are one of the most commonly consumed beans and are often eaten with rice. They have several health benefits.

One cup (177 grams) of cooked kidney beans contains:

Foods high in fiber, such as kidney beans, can help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and reduce blood sugar levels.

Suggested read: 7 healthy types of bean sprouts

Eating kidney beans may also help reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure.

One study in healthy adults found that eating 3/4 cup (133 grams) of red kidney beans led to significantly lower blood pressure 2 hours after consumption compared with the same amount of rice.

Finally, kidney beans are an excellent source of folate. Eating folate-rich foods is especially important for pregnant people since this water-soluble vitamin is vital for fetal neurological development.

Summary: Kidney beans contain high amounts of fiber and may help reduce the rise in blood sugar after a meal. They’re also high in folate, an especially important nutrient during pregnancy.

5. Black beans

Like many other beans, black beans are a great source of fiber, protein, and folate. They are a staple food in Central and South America.

One cup (172 grams) of cooked black beans contains:

In addition to being packed with nutrients, black beans have been found to affect gut bacteria positively.

One study in rats found that eating black beans increased a cluster of bacteria in the gut which may result in improved insulin sensitivity. We need more human research into whether those effects are the same for us.

Black beans may also help with blood sugar management due to their lower glycemic index compared to many other high-carbohydrate foods. This means they cause a smaller rise in blood sugar after a meal.

Research suggests that if people eat black beans with rice, the beans can reduce this rise in blood sugar compared with rice alone.

Summary: Black beans may help manage blood sugar by modifying gut bacteria. They may also help reduce the rise in blood sugar after a meal compared with other high-carb foods, such as rice.

6. Soybeans

Soybeans are commonly consumed in Asia in several different forms, including tofu. They have many different health benefits.

One cup (172 grams) of cooked soybeans contains:

In addition to these nutrients, soybeans contain high levels of antioxidants called isoflavones, which are responsible for many health benefits.

Suggested read: 8 science-based health benefits of edamame

A lot of evidence suggests that consuming soybeans and their isoflavones is associated with a reduced risk of cancer.

However, many of these studies are observational, meaning the participants’ diets weren’t controlled, so other factors could be affecting the risk of cancer.

A large study combining the results of 21 other studies found that eating high amounts of soybeans was associated with a 15% lower risk of stomach and other gastrointestinal cancers. Soybeans’ effectiveness appears especially significant in women.

Many of these benefits may be because soy isoflavones are phytoestrogens. That means they can mimic the effect of estrogen in the body, which tends to decline during menopause.

Research suggests that taking isoflavone supplements during menopause may help reduce hot flashes and prevent loss of bone mineral density.

Dietary isoflavone consumption from soy may also help reduce heart disease risk in women.

Summary: Soybeans and their antioxidants may help reduce the risk of certain cancers, decrease risk factors for heart disease, and reduce menopausal bone density loss.

7. Pinto beans

Pinto beans are common in Mexico. They’re often eaten as whole beans or mashed and fried.

One cup (171 grams) of cooked pinto beans contains:

As a fiber-rich food, pinto beans may promote a healthy gut.

One study in mice found that supplementing their diet with pinto beans increased the amount of gut bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids — which are beneficial for health — and molecules that protect against insulin resistance.

Some of the compounds in pinto beans may also help reduce blood cholesterol.

A study in hamsters found that pinto beans helped lower cholesterol levels by decreasing intestinal absorption and liver production of cholesterol.

Are beans vegetables?
Suggested read: Are beans vegetables?

Remember that many of the studies on pinto beans have been in animals. More research on humans is needed before concluding the possible health benefits of these legumes.

Finally, pintos pack a ton of copper. This mineral creates energy, maintains a healthy immune system, and produces skin pigment.

Summary: Pinto beans may help reduce blood cholesterol and blood sugar while supporting gut health. They can be eaten either whole or mashed.

Navy beans, also known as haricot beans, are a great source of fiber, B vitamins, and other minerals.

One cup (182 grams) of cooked navy beans contains:

Navy beans appear to help reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome, likely due to their high fiber content.

An interesting study of 38 children with abnormal blood cholesterol found that those who ate a muffin or smoothie containing 17.5 grams of navy bean powder every day for four weeks had higher levels of healthy HDL cholesterol than a control group.

Similar effects have been found in adults.

A small study in 14 adults with overweight or obesity found that eating 5 cups (910 grams) of navy beans per week for four weeks reduced waist circumference and total and LDL cholesterol levels in men compared to baseline.

Since these studies are small, we need more research on broader populations before we can draw strong conclusions.

Summary: Navy beans contain a lot of fiber and may help reduce the risk factors for metabolic syndrome. They also contain several important nutrients.

9. Peanuts

Interestingly, peanuts are legumes, which sets them apart from most other types of nuts.

Peanuts are a good source of monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, protein, and B vitamins.

One half-cup (73 grams) of raw peanuts contains:

Suggested read: 15 incredibly heart-healthy foods

Due to their high content of monounsaturated fats, peanuts can have several health benefits, especially if they replace some other diet components.

A few large observational studies have found that eating peanuts is associated with a lower risk of death from many different causes, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.

Interestingly, peanut butter doesn’t seem to have the same beneficial effects.

However, these studies are only observational, so they can’t prove that eating peanuts causes a reduction in these risks.

Other studies have specifically examined the effect of eating peanuts on blood lipid levels and heart health.

One small study among 15 men with overweight or obesity found that consuming a meal with 3 ounces (85 grams) of peanuts led to a more minor increase in blood triglyceride levels at 2 and 4 hours after eating compared with a control meal.

However, the study found that the peanut meal did not impact other lipid levels, including total and LDL cholesterol, compared with the control meal.

Summary: Peanuts are a legume. They contain lots of healthy monounsaturated fats and may benefit heart health.


Beans and legumes are excellent sources of dietary fiber, protein, B vitamins, and many other important vitamins and minerals.

Some evidence shows they can help reduce blood sugar, boost heart health, and maintain a healthy gut.

Add them to soups, stews, and salads, or just eat them on their own for a nutritious vegetarian meal.

Try this today: Make vegetarian tacos using black beans. Drain and rinse a couple of cans of beans, then cook them in a saucepan with lime juice, chili powder, and garlic until warmed through. Stuff into tortillas, add toppings, and enjoy!

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