Nutrition Discussion: Legumes and Beans

Dried lentils, chickpeas, and black beans

Considering the first two recipes on this blog have included legumes, I simply had to write them up as my first nutritional article.  To clarify, legumes are the overarching plant family while pulses are the edible seed of the legume plants, the bean or lentil (or pea).  I will likely use them interchangeably within the website, but I’ll try to be precise for this article at least!  Side note, I’m highlighting broad research and effects.  Each pulse has a unique set of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients, such as a variety of antioxidants.  Just like with fruits and vegetables, it’s best to mix and match everything that is available to you.

Lentils and beans are brilliant, most commonly they’re thought of as a protein source for vegans, but they offer much more.  In a meta-analysis, the population with the highest pulse consumption showed an 8% lower occurrence of cardiovascular disease, 9% lower rate of hypertension, and 13 % lower rate of obesity!1  A meta-review on weight loss, found even without reducing calorie intake, the inclusion of legumes into diet was followed by modest weight loss within 6 weeks.2

Surprisingly, there haven’t been any findings on legumes lowering the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Because pulses are full of insoluble fiber, they slow glucose absorption and prevent blood sugar spikes, this effect means pulses are low on the glycemic index (GI) scale.  There was review that did find lower fasting blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics who consumed more low-GI foods, legumes being part of the low-GI options.3  Not entirely about the beans, but good knowledge for people wanting to moderate their blood sugar levels.

My personal favorite was a small but fascinating study using Swedish brown beans. Insulin response and blood glucose were both improved the morning after the beans were eaten with dinner.  The part I geeked out over was the fact that ghrelin (a hunger cue hormone) was lowered and PYY (a satiety hormone) was increased when measured the morning after!  There was also a drop in hunger sensations and inflammatory markers, as well as an increase in markers for beneficial microbiome activity.4  Aren’t beans awesome?  Harvard School of Public Health has a great page regarding pulses if you want more information:

Frozen black beans and chickpeas in cooking liquid.

Lentils and beans are also very cost effective, often they are inexpensive food staples around the world.  The cost can be reduced even further if bought dried and prepared at home.  I typically soak dried beans for 6-8 hours during the day, then drain and rinse them before adding them to a slow cooker with fresh water (I do not have a pressure cooker).  I start them on high until simmering and then turn down to low and leave them gently cooking overnight.  I prep large batches, 2-4 cups of dried beans in a batch, and then freeze most of them, keeping some cooking water in the container with them.  Definitely not the fastest way to prepare beans, but I was raised with cooked beans on standby in the freezer and it stuck.

Discarding that initial soaking water may reduce some of the bloating or gassiness that people notice with bean consumption.  When a can of beans is bought at the store, the liquid inside was the soaking and cooking liquid so if you have a sensitive stomach with beans, make sure you drain and rinse canned beans well.  Dry lentils do not need to be soaked before cooking however, you can if you desire and it should reduce cooking time.

Pulses are extremely adaptable, savory to sweet.  I’ve shared recipes for lentil granola as well as classic bean chili.  I’m certain my bean and legume tag will get a lot more use as time goes on.  On the savory side, there are obvious recipes like soups, side dishes, and dips (think hummus). But have you tried blending beans to make a creamy pasta sauce, or even tossing some beans into your pasta dish? I have enjoyed trying the pulse pastas that have hit the market recently, especially red lentil or edamame based. Chipotle helped me learn how to creatively use beans in salads, and while a Mexican inspired flavor is classic for them, edamame can go with Asian dressings, cannellini beans with Italian, or chickpeas with Greek. Speaking of chickpeas, someone please take me to a falafel stand?

Sweet uses include black bean brownies, where the texture ends up super rich and fudgy due to the bean addition.  Alternatively, blondies can be made using white beans or chickpeas.  There are also recipes for peanut butter squares, 7-layer bars, cookies, and even no bake cookie dough for eating with a spoon!

1.  Viguiliouk E, Glenn AJ, Nishi SK, et al. Associations between Dietary Pulses Alone or with Other Legumes and Cardiometabolic Disease Outcomes: An Umbrella Review and Updated Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Adv Nutr. 2019;10(Suppl_4):S308-S319. doi:10.1093/advances/nmz113

2. Shana J Kim, Russell J de Souza, Vivian L Choo, Vanessa Ha, Adrian I Cozma, Laura Chiavaroli, Arash Mirrahimi, Sonia Blanco Mejia, Marco Di Buono, Adam M Bernstein, Lawrence A Leiter, Penny M Kris-Etherton, Vladimir Vuksan, Joseph Beyene, Cyril WC Kendall, David JA Jenkins, John L Sievenpiper, Effects of dietary pulse consumption on body weight: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 103, Issue 5, May 2016, Pages 1213–1223,

3. Ojo O, Ojo OO, Adebowale F, Wang XH. The Effect of Dietary Glycaemic Index on Glycaemia in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):373. Published 2018 Mar 19. doi:10.3390/nu10030373

4. Nilsson A, Johansson E, Ekström L, Björck I. Effects of a brown beans evening meal on metabolic risk markers and appetite regulating hormones at a subsequent standardized breakfast: a randomized cross-over study. PLoS One. 2013;8(4):e59985. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059985

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