What Are Legumes vs. Beans?

Reviewed on 7/8/2021

Legumes and beans
The main difference between legumes and beans is that the seeds collected from different plants are called beans,

A legume is any plant that bears its fruit inside a pod. Legume is an umbrella term that includes beans and pulses. Thus, all beans are considered a legume, but not all legumes are considered beans. 

The main difference between legumes and beans is that the seeds collected from different plants are called beans, but legumes are plants that have the same type of fruit. The different types of legumes include

  • Peanuts
  • Alfalfa
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Green beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Asparagus beans
  • Soybeans
  • Peas

There are more than 40,000 varieties of beans in the world. However, only a small percentage of the beans are produced for mass consumption. Common varieties may include

  • Great Northern Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Navy Bean
  • Pinto Beans
  • Black Bean

Legumes and beans belong to the plant family called Fabaceae, and they come from the same seeds or fruits.

Why do doctors recommend including legumes and beans in the diet?

The American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, and American Cancer Society recommend legumes and beans as one of the most important food groups for disease prevention and optimal health.

  • Beans and legumes, like whole grains, have a low glycemic index and are an important part of the anti-inflammatory food pyramid. A low glycemic index means they do not tend to cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they are delicious if prepared properly and among the most inexpensive foods.
  • Due to their blend of fiber, protein, and nutrients, legumes and beans help regulate blood sugar more than almost any other food group, a key quality for diabetics and weight watchers.
  • Legumes and beans are also heart-healthy food sources because their high fiber content lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Most varieties of beans and legumes are also high in folate, a vitamin that helps prevent the buildup of the amino acid homocysteine (elevated levels of which are a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke).
  • Protein comes from plant and animal sources. Many vegetables and fruit contain some level of protein although in smaller amounts than others. Beans and legumes are packed with protein.
  • Adding beans and legumes to the diet may help keep a person feeling full longer, which may aid in weight loss goals.
  • Beans and legumes are a source of niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, B6 vitamins, and many other nutrients. They are also rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber. All these nutrients are necessary for normal growth and body functions.
  • Beans and legumes are high in potassium, which is required for the normal functioning of nerves and muscles.
  • A cup of cooked beans or legumes contains more potassium than a banana. Also, beans and legumes have more calcium and iron per cup than 3 ounces of cooked meat and contain no cholesterol.
  • Recent research has indicated that beans and legumes have anti-aging agents (antioxidants) found in their seed coats. There are eight flavonoids in the outer bean layer; six of which are particularly strong antioxidants. Moreover, beans have a perfect nutrient base for people interested in weight loss. They also aid in reducing cholesterol, improve digestion, and may aid in cancer prevention.

Cheap, healthy, versatile, and delicious, legumes are a food staple throughout the world. They can be enjoyed as dips and spreads (such as hummus), paired with nutritious whole grains (such as the ever-popular beans and rice), or used to bulk up soups, stews, and salads. Hence, they deserve a prominent place in the kitchen. 

So while all beans are legumes but not all legumes are beans, both are a good addition to the diet. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or eat a healthy diet, incorporate them into your meals and be sure to prepare them healthfully.

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References
Jones P. Difference between Beans and Legumes. Food Gear. https://foodgear.org/difference-between-beans-and-legumes/

Medline Plus. Healthy Food Trends - Beans and Legumes. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000726.htm

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