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What are beans and legumes and are they good for my weight loss diet ?


What are Legumes

Legume are the edible seeds of the plant from the Leguminosae (Fabacae) botanical family that include crops grown for seed (e.g., dry beans, dry peas, peanuts, soybeans and lentils), fresh vegetables (e.g., green beans and green peas), and livestock forage (e.g., clover and alfalfa) 1, 2, 3, 4. Legumes have been consumed for at least 10,000 years and are among the most extensively used staple foods worldwide, both for food and animal feed 5. Approximately 1,000 legumes have been identified but only 20 of them are widely cultivated 6. Common types of legumes include soybeans, green soybeans (edamame), dried beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans (mature, dried), broad beans, green peas, chickpeas, clovers, cowpeas, lentils, lupins and peanuts. These legumes are all grown extensively across Asia and the Pacific. The optimal level of legume intake is defined as 50–70 g daily 7. The optimal level of intake is defined the level of intake associated with the lowest risk from all causes of death based on clinical studies 7. Legume consumption has traditionally been higher in food cultures such as Mexican (refried kidney beans), Indian (dhal and pappadums) 8, 9, the Mediterranean (navy bean soup), and the Middle East (falafel and hummus) 10, where their use is supported by cooking methods and meals from the local cuisines. In the USA, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 1999–2000 found that only 7.9% of Americans consume legumes regularly suggesting the American adults consumed an average of 0.1–0.3 serves (20–60 g) of legumes each day, one third or less of that recommended 11. Moreover, Europe, made up of 33 countries, had by far the lowest consumption of legumes, with more than one-third of countries (36%) reporting intakes less than 10 g/day 2.

Legumes are essential for a healthy diet with known benefits for human and planetary health, if consumed as meat alternatives due to their high-protein and nutrient-dense contents that can prevent various chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, bowel cancer, overweight, heart disease, and stroke) 121314 and they provide various essential benefits to the ecosystem 15, 16, 17, 18. Legumes are one of the few plants capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia and converting this to enriched soil, unlike most other plants that take only the nitrogen from the soil without returning any 19, 20, 21, 22. This allows climate change mitigation and reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers, whose manufacture involves intensive energy consumption, which emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere 19. Plant-forward diets, which involve a move away from meat and toward alternate protein sources such as legumes, are seen as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and deforestation 23, 24.

Figure 1. Legumes health benefits

Legumes health benefits
[Source 6 ]

Legumes are an inexpensive and healthy source of proteins, potassium, and slowly digested carbohydrate with a low glycemic index (GI), including dietary fiber 25. In addition, legumes provide other nutrients that also are found in seafood, meats, and poultry, such as B-vitamins, niacin, folic acid, thiamine, and riboflavin, as well as an array of minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and copper 26, 27. Legumes are excellent sources of dietary fiber and of nutrients, such as potassium and folate that also are found in other vegetables. Because legumes have a similar nutrient profile to foods in both the protein foods group and the vegetable group, they may be thought of as either a vegetable or a protein food and thus, can be counted as a vegetable or a protein food to meet recommended intakes 28, 29. Green peas are similar to starchy vegetables and are grouped with them.

Regular legumes consumption has been shown to improve the nutrient density of the diet in a US population 30 and has been linked to reductions in the risk of disease, particularly coronary heart disease 31 and all-cause mortality at a serving of 50 g per day 32. The 1999–2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that adults in the United States who consumed approximately ½ cup (1 serving) of cooked dry beans or peas had higher intakes of fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium and lower intakes of saturated and total fat 33. A secondary analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data found that consumers of varied beans had lower odds of elevated blood pressure and a 1.7-mm Hg lower mean systolic blood pressure than non-consumers 34. Additionally, the NHANES Epidemiologic Follow-up Study found a 22% and 11% lower risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease, respectively, with the consumption of legumes 4 times a week 35.

Soy intake specifically is linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers including prostate cancer and breast cancer 36, where population studies indicate soy consumption has a role in both preventing breast cancer and reducing risk of reoccurrence in breast cancer survivors due to the isoflavone content 37, 38. Legumes also play a valuable role in sustainable food production, and are well placed to form part of nutritious and environmentally sustainable dietary patterns 39, 40, as highlighted in the recent Eat Lancet Commission Planetary Health Diet, where it is recommended to consume 100 g/day (50 g of dried beans, lentils and peas, 25 g of soybeans and 25 g of peanuts) 41. Increased legumes intakes have also been shown to have a significant impact on socioeconomic burden, with a recent Canadian study reporting potential combined annual health care and lost productivity cost savings of CAD377.9 million in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease with the daily consumption of 100 g of legumes 42. Lower targets, of 50 g per day based only on Coronary Heart Disease study in an Australian population have also been shown to produce cost savings of AUD 4.3 to AUD 85.5 million annually 43.

  • On average, legumes contain about 20-25% protein by weight on a dry basis, which is 2-3 times more protein than wheat and rice. However, they tend to be low in the essential amino acid methionine, and sometimes tryptophan.
  • Legumes are also a very good source of dietary fiber, which is important for maintaining healthy bowel function.
  • The content of total carbohydrate, including complex carbohydrates, ranges from 65-72% by weight on a dry basis, of which 85% is composed of starch, while dietary fiber constitutes anywhere from 10-20% of the weight of dried legumes 44.

Table 1. Food uses of different legumes across the world

Common nameFood uses
Adzuki beans (Vigna angularis)Japanese desserts and confections, soup ingredients for therapeutic purposes
Anasazi beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)Boiled meal, snack, soup
Black gram (Vigna mungo)Dhal, fermented products (idli, dosa, papad)
Black turtle beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)Bean soup popular in latin American cuisine
Black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata)Boiled snack/part of meal, fried cake akara, steamed pudding moi moi in West Africa
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum)Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods such as falafel and hummus, Boiled/fried/cooked/crushed snacks, dhal, curry, flour used in bread making, fermented food (dhokla)
Faba bean (Vicia faba)Whole food
Kidney beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)Ingredient in Mexican chili; most-consumed legume in America
Lentils (Lens culinaris)Soups and stews; most important legume in India
Mung beans/Green gram (Vigna radiata)Bean sprouts, cooked whole or with sugar into a dessert, soup, flour used for baking, transparent noodles, patties, sweets
Peanut/Groundnut (Arachis hypogaea)Peanut butter, peanut bar, flour, roasted/boiled snacks
Peas (Pisum sativum)Soup, dhal
Soybean (Glycine max)Asian dishes (tofu, natto miso), roasted snacks, milk, yoghurt, sprouted beans, curd, yuba, soy sauce, soy paste, TVP
Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)Pulp used for food and beverage preparation, flour used as soup thickener, remedy in diarrhea and dysentery
[Source 6 ]

Legumes nutrition facts

Legumes are an inexpensive and healthy source of proteins, potassium, and slowly digested carbohydrate with a low glycemic index (GI), including dietary fiber 25. In addition, legumes provide other nutrients that also are found in seafood, meats, and poultry, such as B-vitamins, niacin, folic acid, thiamine, and riboflavin, as well as an array of minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and copper 26, 27. Legumes are excellent sources of dietary fiber and of nutrients, such as potassium and folate that also are found in other vegetables. Because legumes have a similar nutrient profile to foods in both the protein foods group and the vegetable group, they may be thought of as either a vegetable or a protein food and thus, can be counted as a vegetable or a protein food to meet recommended intakes 28, 29. Green peas are similar to starchy vegetables and are grouped with them.

  • On average, legumes contain about 20-25% protein by weight on a dry basis, which is 2-3 times more protein than wheat and rice. However, they tend to be low in the essential amino acid methionine, and sometimes tryptophan.
  • Legumes are also a very good source of dietary fiber, which is important for maintaining healthy bowel function.
  • The content of total carbohydrate, including complex carbohydrates, ranges from 65-72% by weight on a dry basis, of which 85% is composed of starch, while dietary fiber constitutes anywhere from 10-20% of the weight of dried legumes 44.

Legumes are a low-cost protein source, which makes them valuable and healthy components whether utilized as flours, concentrates, or protein isolates 45. The protein content of legumes differs based on the legume species. Seed proteins are divided into three categories: structural, storage, and physiologically active. Enzymes, lectins, and enzyme inhibitors are the most physiologically active proteins 46.

Table 2. Protein content, micronutrients and amino acids of legumes

NameScientific nameProtein content (g/100 g)Protein digestibility (%)Protein efficiency ratioProtein chemical scoreBiological value (%)Net protein utilization (%)Micronutrients valueAmino acids
Green peaPisum sativum L.26802.4NA7560Zinc-34 mg, Copper-6.3 mg, Manganese-15.6 mg, Iron-58.1 mg, Nickel-3.4mgRich in all essential amino acids except methionine, lysine, and threonine
SoybeansGlycine max 13801.7NA7461.5Iron-3.21 mg, Molybdenum-0.11 mg, Copper-0.23 mg, Phosphorous-19 mg, Sodium-2.35 mgRich in all essential amino acids
Mung beanVigna radiata L.2370.24.2976.26456.3Iron-4.4 mg, Magnesium-166 mg, Sodium-13.2 mg, Calcium-114 mg Zinc-2.1 mg, Potassium-414 mgRich in leucine, phenylalanine, valine, lysine, and histidine
CowpeaVigna unguiculata 2455.492.6550.88NANAZinc-1.29 mg, Iron-2.51 mg, Potassium-278 mg, Calcium-24 mg, Magnesium-53 mg, Sodium-4 mg, Phosphorous-156 mgRich in leucine, lysine and phenylalanine; limited in methionine and cysteine
Common beanPhaseolus vulgaris 2467⋅472.9539.07NANAPotassium-355 mg, Phosphorous-40 mg, Zinc-1.12 mg, Iron-2.1 mg, Magnesium-70 mg, Copper-0.209 mgHigher in methionine compared to most legumes except soybean
Pigeon peaCajanus cajan L.2259.21.876568.540.6Sodium–32.5 mg, Magnesium–138.8 mg, Iron—51.5 mg, Calcium–581 mgLimited in isoleucine, lysine, methionine, and tryptophan
ChickpeaCicer arietinum L.2183.82.32NA67.5158.63Calcium- 49 mg, Magnesium-48 mg, Potassium-291 mg, Phosphorus-168 mg, Iron-2.89 mg, Zinc-1.53 mg, manganese-1.03 mgLimited in tryptophan, methionine, and cysteine

Footnote: NA = Not available

[Source 6 ]

Table 3. Legumes nutrition content

FoodEnergy (Kcal per 100 g)Protein (g per 100g)Carbohydrate (g per 100g)
Fats (g per 100g)
Fiber (g per 100g)
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (g per 100g)
Iron (mg per 100g)
Calcium (mg per 100g)
Azuki beans32919.8762.90.5312.70.1134.9866
Fava beans34126.1258.291.53250.6276.7103
Green peas35223.8263.741.1625.50.4954.8237
Kidney beans33323.5860.010.8324.90.4578.2143
Lima beans33821.4636.380.69190.3097.5181
Mug beans34723.8662.621.1516.30.3846.74132
Mungo beans34125.2158.991.6418.31.0717.51138
Navy beans33722.3360.751.515.30.8735.49147
Pinto beans34721.4262.551.2315.50.4075.07113
Soy beans44636.4930.1619.949.311.25515.7277
[Source 47 ]

Legume protein types

The predominant protein components in legume seeds are globulins (35–80%) and albumins (2–37%) 6. The primary globulins include legumin (11S) and vicilin (7S), while albumins include enzymes, enzyme inhibitors, and lectins 48, 49. Albumins are water-soluble proteins that contain enzymes, protease inhibitors, amylase inhibitors, and lectins. Globulins account for nearly 70% of legume seed proteins, are predominantly composed of the 7S, 11S, and 15S proteins, and are defined as protein extractable in dilute salt solutions. Pea protein is mostly made up of the 7S/11S globulin (salt-soluble, 65–80% of total) and albumin 2S (water-soluble, 10–20%) protein classes, whereas soybean has large number of storage proteins like globulin and prolamin. Mung bean is enriched with storage proteins like albumin (25%) and globulin (60%) 50. Cowpea includes albumins, globulins, prolamin, and glutelin as major protein types while common bean is mainly composed of albumin and globulin (47.56 and 44.64%, respectively). Pigeon pea storage protein found within pulses are globulins, albumins, and glutelin. Albumins and globulins are the primary proteins present in chickpeas, with tiny amounts of glutelins and prolamines present. Legumin and vicilin belong to globulins. The primary storage protein, legumin (360 kDa), accounts for 97% of all globulins. A detailed description of all the legume “protein type” and their comparison with the lentil and peanut is presented in Table 3.

Table 4. Protein composition of different legumes and their comparison with lentil and peanut

LegumesProtein content (%)Albumin (%)Globulin (%)Prolamin (%)Glutelin (%)
Green pea (Pisum sativum) 26185543
Soybean (Glycine max) 13835215
Mung bean (Vigna radiata)2325401010
Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata) 2410.2510.259.276.92
Common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) 2447.5644.640.980.74
Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan L) 221029.2163
Chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) 2112562.818.1
Lentil (Lens culinari) 10.5–27.12644220
Peanut (Arachis hypogaea) 47–556–912–169.32.5
[Source 6 ]

Legume protein in human nutrition

Legumes have been a staple of many traditional cuisines around the world for thousands of years. Some of the food uses of the different legumes have been presented in Table 1. Per capita legume consumption has been stable over the last three decades, whereas meat consumption has increased, particularly in several low- and middle-income countries 6. These legumes have a high vitamin and mineral content, particularly potassium and calcium (in the case of lupines and soybeans), magnesium, iron, and zinc, as well as vitamin B1 (thiamine) and folates. Soybean is a good source of both linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) 51. Due to their low-fat content, the remaining legumes do not play a significant role as providers of fatty acids. Legumes have a high fiber content. Disaccharide and oligosaccharide levels are very high. Sulfur-containing amino acids (methionine and cystine) limit amino acids in faba beans and lupines 52, 53, 54. Protein digestibility in all legumes is relatively high, ranging from 89 to 96%. As a result, the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) values vary from 81 (lupines) to 96 (peas). These high Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) levels are comparable to animal proteins. Peas and beans, and to a lesser extent lupines, are high in lysine, making them an excellent supplement to cereal proteins, which are poor in lysine. Arginine is also abundant in lupine protein 55. In the future, legumes may provide a sustainable solution to the challenge of providing high-quality dietary protein to the world’s growing population, but this may necessitate significant increases in global legume yields and directing the majority of legume production toward human consumption rather than livestock feed 56.

In recent years, there has been increased interest in the bioactive characteristics of legume-derived proteins and peptides 6. Furthermore, because legume starch has a low glycemic index, it contributes to a gradual release of glucose 6. Dietary fibers from legumes help to normalize bowel function and gastrointestinal health Given the present demand, it is likely demand for diverse legume ingredients will increase in the future. The better functionality of legume-based products will contribute to these developments since legume ingredients can produce specialty food products in addition to meeting daily nutritional requirements 57. Legumes will continue to play an important part in human nutrition and health as the recognition of their potential for improved crop environmental sustainability grows.

Therapeutic use of legume proteins

Due to improved nutritional and functional characteristics of legumes, they can be used in food and nutraceutical applications 58 as well as for various health benefits 59. Products generated from the production or processing of plant-based foods are rich in nutrients. Nutrient-rich diets have been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and gastrointestinal diseases 60. In addition to the nutritional superiority, legumes are high in bioactive phytochemicals, such as phenolic compounds, and have various bioactivities like antiviral, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antimutagenic, as well as lowering blood cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, and body weight (BW), which is beneficial in coronary heart disease (CHD), osteoporosis, and other degenerative diseases 6. The therapeutic uses/health benefits of different legume proteins have been explored in Table 4.

Peas and lentils include a variety of potentially bioactive components, including protease inhibitors and lectins, which can affect human metabolism in either a favorable or negative way 6. Some bioactive substances, on the other hand, may be helpful to health. The nutritious quality of the seeds is considerably improved by thermal treatment. Raw and treated seeds are both hypo-cholesterolemic 61. Peas are hypo-cholesterolemic in rats, pigs, and humans. The processes are unknown, but they may be related to fiber and saponins in the seeds 62. On the other hand, Lectins can activate multiple pathways that restrict cancer cell development, with the apoptosis pathway being more effective in specific cell lines by increasing the synthesis of caspases or other proteins involved in the mechanism. Specific genes in this pathway can be down-regulated or up-regulated, resulting in apoptotic suppression or activation, respectively 63. Chickpea lectin inhibited cell growth in human oral cancer cells (KB cells) at a concentration of 37.5 g/mL (IC50) but had no harmful effect on normal human peripheral blood mononuclear cells at a concentration of 600 g/mL 64. Based on the findings and information available, it is possible to conclude that legume protein type (globulins, albumin, prolamin, and glutelin) are effective antibacterial and bioactive agents that can be successfully and efficiently used to understand the therapeutic effects and nutritional benefits of plant legumes, particularly because they are safe natural products that can be prepared at a low-cost, in addition to their well-known rich nutritional value as legume proteins.

Table 5. Health benefits of various legume proteins

Legume sourceInvolved metabolismType of studyBeneficial effect
Dry beans, peas and peanutsCardiovascular and colorectal cancerEpidemiologic Follow-up study22% reduction in coronary heart disease (CHD) and 11% reduction in cardiovascular disease (CVD)
LegumesCardiovascularMeta-analysis10% decreased risk of CVD and CHD
CowpeaHypocholesterolemicEndogenous biosynthesis of cholesterolLowers blood cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure, and body weight
Cooked beans, chickpeas or lentilsCardiovascular and diabetesrandomized controlled trialReduced hemoglobinA1c (HbA1c) level and reduction in coronary heart disease (CHD) risk
Five cups/week yellow peas, chickpeas, navy beans, and lentils)Metabolic syndromeRandomized controlled trialReduced risk factors of the metabolic syndrome
Beans with low-GI dietGlycaemia and obesityrandomized, crossover studyImprovement in metabolic control in type-2 obese diabetic patients in weight loss
Legumecoronary diseaseNutritional intervention and/or dietary manipulationPrevent the generation of superoxide radical and boost the immune system
Legume seed extractsColon cancerTest-tube lab researchInhibition of MMP-9 activity and cell migration in colon carcinoma cells
Protein isolates of germinated soybeanCervical cancerAnimal research studiesDecreased in the expression of PTTG1 and TOP2A (therapeutic targets) causing apoptosis of cancer cells
Common beanHypolipidemic propertiesBio-active constituents’ studyPhytosterols, dietary fibers, and resistant starch.
[Source 6 ]

Health benefits of legumes

The health benefits of legumes consumption have been widely documented in the scientific literature 5. Legumes included in feeding studies have been shown to reduce concentrations of low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) 65, lower blood pressure 66, 34 and lower C-reactive protein inflammatory markers 67, have a positive influence on satiety 68 and reduce snacking 69.

In prospective studies consumption of legumes has been associated with lower risk of coronary heart disease 70, 71, 72, in particular, when compared with consumption of animal proteins such as red meat 73. Longitudinal studies of older people from Japan, Sweden, Greece, and Australia concluded that legume intake was the most protective dietary factor for longevity, with every additional 20 g of legumes eaten daily reducing risk of death by 8% 74. Other trials are supportive of benefits for colon health 75 and in the area of primary prevention for diabetes, body weight management, and cardiovascular disease 76, 77. Furthermore, a 2017 Canadian cost-of-illness analysis study demonstrated that regular consumption of legumes (100 g/day) by 50% of the population, in combination with a low glycemic index or high fiber diet would facilitate savings specifically relating to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease healthcare and loss of productivity costs of over $370 million Canadian dollars 42. The increased emphasis on legumes suggested in this cost–benefit analysis is apparent in the recently updated 2019 Canada’s Food Guide where messaging around “protein foods” emphasizes plant-based protein foods for their health benefits 78. The list includes beans and lentils as the first examples of these foods, before nuts and seeds, lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy foods as a firm initiative to increase consumption in that country 78.

Types of legumes

Legume are the edible seeds of the plant from the Leguminosae (Fabacae) botanical family that include crops grown for seed (e.g., dry beans, dry peas, peanuts, soybeans and lentils), fresh vegetables (e.g., green beans and green peas), and livestock forage (e.g., clover and alfalfa) 1, 2, 3. Common types of legumes include soybeans, green soybeans (edamame), dried beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans (mature, dried), broad beans, green peas, chickpeas, clovers, cowpeas, lentils, lupins and peanuts.


The soybean also known as Glycine max, is one of the world’s most important crops. It is known as the “world’s miracle crop” because of its nutrient-dense content, which makes it ideal for animal feed and human diets 6. In addition to serving as an oil seed crop and cattle feed, soybean is a good source of protein for human diets and as a biofuel feedstock 79. Soybean is a type of oil seed that contains a variety of nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Soybeans are composed of 36% protein, 19% oil, 35% carbohydrate (17% dietary fiber), 5% minerals, and a variety of other nutrients, including vitamins 80. Soybean is good source of both water-soluble as well as fat-soluble vitamins. Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and folic acid are the water-soluble vitamins whereas four fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are also present in soybean 81. The amount of Vitamin E (Tocopherol) present in soybean largely depends upon its variety. The amount of α-, γ-, and δ-tocopherols in soybean ranges from 10.9 to 28.4, 150 to 191, and 24.6–72.5 μg/g (on a dry matter basis), respectively 82.

Mineral content in soybean is in the higher range (0.2–2.1%) for chloride, sodium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus, while in the lower range (0.01–140 ppm) for chromium, magnesium, copper, iron, arsenic, silicon, cobalt, lead, sulfur, and zinc 81. Soybean contains all essential amino acids required for the balanced functioning of the human body like lysine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, tyrosine, threonine, methionine, cysteine, tryptophan, histidine, and valine 6. Soybean is a good crop for preventing protein deficiency and serving as a bridge for vitamin A absorption 83. Soybeans have many health benefits: it keeps you full for a long time, lowers cholesterol level, boosts digestive health, effects on insulin secretion and energy metabolism, reduces the risk of breast cancer, and is compatible with many specialized diets 84, 85, 86.

Soy, a plant in the pea family, has been common in Asian diets for thousands of years. It is found in modern American diets as a food or food additive 87. Soybeans, the high-protein seeds of the soy plant, contain isoflavones—compounds similar to the female hormone estrogen (phytoestrogens). Isoflavones are often referred to as phytoestrogens or plant-based estrogens because they have been shown, in cell line and animal studies, to have the ability to bind with the estrogen receptor 88. Research alos suggests that daily intake of soy protein may slightly lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Soy products are used for menopausal symptoms, bone health, improving memory, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels 87. In addition to its food uses, soy is available in dietary supplements, in forms such as tablets, capsules, and powders. Soy supplements may contain soy protein, isoflavones (compounds that have effects in the body similar to those of the female hormone estrogen), or other soy components 87.

Soy protein is a high quality protein that has been extensively studied. Soy provides a complete source of dietary protein, meaning that, unlike most plant proteins, it contains all the essential amino acids 89. The quality of soy protein has been assessed through several metabolic studies of nitrogen balance 90, 91, 92, which have demonstrated that soy protein supports nitrogen balance on par with beef and milk proteins. One recent study reported that amino acids from soy protein appear in the serum sooner, but that this may lead to a more rapid breakdown of the amino acids in the liver 93. Americans as a whole still consume very little soy protein. Based on 2003 data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, per-capita soy protein consumption is less than 1 gram (g) per day in most European and North American countries, although certain subpopulations such as vegetarians, Asian immigrants, and infants fed soy-based formula consume more. The Japanese, on the other hand, consume an average 8.7 g of soy protein per day; Koreans, 6.2–9.6 g; Indonesians, 7.4 g; and the Chinese, 3.4 g 89.

Traditional soy foods include tofu, which is produced by puréeing cooked soybeans and precipitating the solids, and miso and tempeh, which are made by fermenting soybeans with grains. “Second generation” soy products involve chemical extractions and other processing, and include soy protein isolate and soy flour. These products become primary ingredients in items such as meatless burgers, dietary protein supplements, and infant formula, and are also used as nonnutritive additives to improve the characteristics of processed foods 89.

Figure 2. Soyabean


Table 6. Soy (Soya or Edamame) Bean Nutrition Content

NutrientUnitCup 80 gValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g3.84.75
Carbohydrate, by differenceg1113.75
Fiber, total dietaryg2.83.5
Sugars, totalg1.92.38
Calcium, Camg80100
Iron, Femg1.82.25
Sodium, Namg311389
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg1.21.5
Vitamin A, IUIU400500
Fatty acids, total saturatedg0.4960.62
Fatty acids, total transg00
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases. 94 ]

Health Effects of Soy

Soybeans and soy foods contain a variety of bioactive components, including saponins, protease inhibitors, phytic acid, and isoflavones. Isoflavones belong to a class of compounds generally known as phytoestrogens, plant compounds that have estrogen-like structures. The dominant isoflavone in soy is genistein, with daidzein and glycitein composing the remainder. Within soy, isoflavones are almost entirely bound to sugars, producing the respective compounds genistin, daidzin, and glycitin. Soy isoflavones have been linked with numerous health effects, but the strength of the relationships and whether the effects are beneficial are strongly debated 89.

Soy has been a dietary supplement of interest for decreasing menopausal symptoms and breast cancer for some time. The interest comes primarily from association studies of a high-soy diet and decreased breast cancer/menopausal symptoms in Asia. Soy is an isoflavone, which is part of a much larger class of plant compounds called flavonoids. Three types of isoflavones are found in soy products:

  • Genistein
  • Daidzein
  • Glycitein

Isoflavones are often referred to as phytoestrogens or plant-based estrogens because they have been shown, in cell line and animal studies, to have the ability to bind with the estrogen receptor.

There is confusion about the safety of these plant-based estrogens because these agents can have properties that can cause estrogen-like effects in some cells, causing them to proliferate (divide and grow); while in other cells, isoflavones can stop or block estrogen effects, causing unwanted cells to not grow or even die 95. There is continuing debate about the following questions:

  • What doses and types of soy inhibit estrogen as a growth factor?
  • Under what circumstances does soy inhibit estrogen as a growth factor?
  • In what doses or circumstances does soy promote estrogen-related growth?

Definitive answers to these questions are not known, but phytoestrogens continue to be investigated for chemopreventive properties 96. On the other hand, soy has been well studied in numerous randomized, placebo-controlled trials for its effects on reducing hot flashes. Most of those trials show that soy is no better than a placebo in reducing hot flashes 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102. Currently, there are no compelling data that would inspire the use of soy for hot flash management 103.

Similarly, trials of black cohosh (a perennial herb is used to treat the symptoms of menopause) that have been well designed with a randomized, placebo-controlled arm have also found that black cohosh is no better than a placebo in reducing hot flashes 101, 104, 105. Black cohosh used to be thought of as having estrogenic properties, but it is now known that it acts on serotonin receptors. One study evaluated black cohosh, red clover, estrogen and progesterone, and placebo in a randomized, double-blind trial 106. Each treatment arm was small (n = 22); however, over 12 months, hot flashes were reduced 34% by black cohosh, 57% by red clover, 63% by placebo, and 94% by hormone therapy. Of note, adherence rates were reported to be about 89% over the four groups during this long-term study. At 12 months, physiologic markers such as endometrial thickness, estradiol, estrone, follicle-stimulating hormone, sex hormone–binding globulin, and liver function tests were not statistically different for those on either red clover or black cohosh, compared with those on placebo. However, because these groups were small, the power for this secondary analysis was not reported, and it was likely underpowered to detect important differences 107.

Soy research is complicated because there’s considerable variation in isoflavone exposure among people classified as soy consumers. Agronomic factors (such as the soybean cultivar and the environmental conditions under which the crop grew) affect a food’s isoflavone profile, as does the way a soy food is processed. For example, soy protein concentrate produced by alcohol extraction may have only 12.5 milligrams (mg) total isoflavones per 100 g, in contrast to the nearly 199.0 mg total isoflavones per 100 g of full-fat roasted soy flour. Additionally, the fact that most of the isoflavones in food occur bound to sugar affects how they are digested 89.

Soy isoflavones are frequently referred to as weak estrogens, and depending upon the specific circumstance, they can act as agonists, partial agonists, or antagonists to endogenous estrogens (such as estradiol) and xenoestrogens (including phytoestrogens) at estrogen receptors. They are not especially potent, however, and activity varies by tissue concentration, cell type, hormone receptor type, and stage of differentiation 89. In addition to their estrogen receptor activity, isoflavones may also interfere with steroid metabolism by inhibiting aromatase, hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, and steroid α-reductase, and by altering the ratio of estradiol metabolites. Soy isoflavones may also act as antioxidants; inhibitors of proteases, tyrosine kinases, and topoisomerases; inducers of Phase I and/or Phase II enzymes such as cytochrome P450s, glutathione S-transferase, and quinone reductase; and inhibitors of angiogenesis 89.

Retha R. Newbold, a supervisory research biologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is concern about genistein’s effects on reproduction and development, because her studies, as well as others, have shown that genistein has such effects as inducing uterine adenocarcinoma in mice and premature puberty in rats. A recent study led by biologist Wendy Jefferson in Newbold’s laboratory and published in the October 2005 issue of Biology of Reproduction linked genistein with effects such as abnormal estrous cycle, altered ovarian function, and infertility in mice 89.

Considerably less attention has attached to daidzein, though there are currently indicators that it may play a larger role than genistein in soy’s apparent beneficial health effects. Like genistein, daidzein in soy exists primarily in linkage with a sugar molecule. Daidzein may be converted to equol (suspected of having a higher estrogenic potency than the original daidzein) by gastrointestinal bacteria. There is considerable variability in individuals’ ability to produce equol, and the metabolic pathways for both genistein and daidzein may vary due to factors such as a person’s particular microflora, intestinal transit time, and current or recent use of antibiotics and other drugs 89.

There have been only a few studies that have looked exclusively at glycitein, the third soy isoflavone, but those have not been on health effects. There are indicators from a couple of recent in vitro studies that glycitein may be protective of bone. Most glycitein research has focused on determining how to detect the compound, and its estrogenicity and metabolism 89.

Isoflavone-Rich Soy Protein on Cognition in Postmenopausal Women

Soy protein supplements containing isoflavones, in an amount within the upper range of traditional Asian diets, had no effect on global cognition in postmenopausal women, according to a recent study published in the journal Neurology 108. However, this randomized, double-blind controlled trial indicated that soy protein supplements may improve visual memory (memory for faces) 108.

Soy Protein, Isoflavones on LDL Cholesterol and Other Lipoproteins and Cardiovascular Health

Earlier research indicating that soy protein, as compared with other proteins, has clinically important favorable effects on LDL cholesterol and other CVD risk factors has not been confirmed by many studies reported during the past 10 years. The American Heart Association Science Advisory assesses the more recent work published on soy protein and its component isoflavones. In the majority of 22 randomized trials, isolated soy protein with isoflavones, as compared with milk or other proteins, decreased LDL cholesterol concentrations; the average effect was <3%. This reduction is very small relative to the large amount of soy protein tested in these studies, averaging 50 g, about half the usual total daily protein intake. No significant effects on HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoprotein(a), or blood pressure were evident 109 .

A very large amount of soy protein, more than half the daily protein intake, may lower LDL cholesterol by a few percentage points when it replaces dairy protein or a mixture of animal proteins. The evidence favors soy protein rather than soy isoflavones as the responsible nutrient. However, at this time, the possibility cannot be ruled out that another component in soybeans could be the active factor. No benefit is evident on HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, lipoprotein(a), or blood pressure. Thus, the direct cardiovascular health benefit of soy protein or isoflavone supplements is minimal at best 109. Soy protein or isoflavones have not been shown to improve vasomotor symptoms of menopause, and results are mixed with regard to the slowing of postmenopausal bone loss. The efficacy and safety of soy isoflavones for preventing or treating cancer of the breast, endometrium, and prostate are not established 109; evidence from clinical trials is meager and cautionary with regard to a possible adverse effect. For this reason, use of isoflavone supplements in food or pills is not recommended 109. In contrast, soy products such as tofu, soy butter, soy nuts, or some soy burgers should be beneficial to cardiovascular and overall health because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low content of saturated fat 110. Using these and other soy foods to replace foods high in animal protein that contain saturated fat and cholesterol may confer benefits to cardiovascular health 111. Soy protein also may be used to increase total dietary protein intake and to reduce carbohydrate or fat intake. However, much less is known about the potential impact of high-protein diets on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In the meantime, these remain dynamic areas for research.

The results of the current study demonstrate that soy food products generally have low GI values and low to medium GL values. Improvements in ingredient selection and usage may further improve glycemic responses to soy foods. The low GI of soy foods appears to be an additional benefit of soy for human health and suggests that soy foods are an appropriate part of diet plans intended to improve control over blood glucose and insulin levels 112.

What we know about Soy?

  • Consuming soy protein in place of other proteins may lower levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol to a small extent 113, 114.
  • Soy isoflavone supplements may help to reduce the frequency and severity of menopausal hot flashes, but the effect may be small 115, 116.
  • It’s uncertain whether soy supplements can relieve cognitive problems associated with menopause 117.
  • Current evidence suggests that soy isoflavone mixtures do not slow bone loss in Western women during or after menopause 118.
  • Diets containing soy protein may slightly reduce blood pressure 119.
  • There’s not enough scientific evidence to determine whether soy supplements are effective for any other health uses.
  • Current National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health-funded studies on soy and its components are investigating a variety of topics, including stroke outcomes, anti-inflammatory effects, and effects on diabetes.

Summary: Although there have been many studies on soy products, there are still uncertainties about soy’s health effects 120, 87. Except for people with soy allergies, soy is believed to be safe when consumed in normal dietary amounts. However, the safety of long-term use of high doses of soy extracts has not been established.

The most common side effects of soy are digestive upsets, such as stomach pain and diarrhea. Long-term use of soy isoflavone supplements might increase the risk of endometrial hyperplasia (a thickening of the lining of the uterus that may lead to cancer) 87. Soy foods do not appear to increase the risk of endometrial hyperplasia. Current evidence indicates that it’s safe for women who have had breast cancer or who are at risk for breast cancer to eat soy foods. However, it’s uncertain whether soy isoflavone supplements are safe for these women 87.

Mung bean

Mung bean (Vigna radiata L.) is a popular pulse eaten around the world, particularly in Asian countries, and has a long history of use in traditional medicine 6. Mung bean has long been recognized as a high-quality source of protein, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and considerable levels of bioactive substances such as polyphenols, polysaccharides, and peptides, making it a preferred functional food for maintaining good health 121. The essential amino acids like leucine (1.847%), phenylalanine (1.443%), valine (1.237%), tryptophan (0.26%), isoleucine (1.008%), arginine (1.672%), lysine (1.664%), methionine (0.286%), threonine (0.782%), and histidine (0.695%) are highly present in mung bean 122. The proteins present in mung bean (60%) have higher in vitro digestibility compared to soybean protein (65%) 123. Apart from protein content, mung bean also serves as a good source of minerals that are found in different ranges like magnesium (129–166 mg/100 g), sodium (8.7–13.2 mg/100 g), iron (3.4–4.4 mg/100 g), calcium (81–114 mg/100 g), zinc (1.2–2.1 mg/100 g), and potassium (363–414 mg/100 g) 81. Your body requires mineral for various crucial functions, including enzyme reactions, protein synthesis, glucose control, and muscle and nerve function 51, 124. The polyphenols, polysaccharides, and polypeptides found in mung beans all have antioxidant properties, which can help to prevent various diseases by lowering bad LDL cholesterol levels and reducing chronic disease risk 123, 125, 126. The mung bean and its extracts have demonstrated excellent health benefits, including hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects, as well as having antihypertensive, anticancer, anti-melanogenesis, and immunomodulatory properties 127.

Figure 3. Mung beans

Mung beans

Table 7. Mung beans, mature seeds, raw, Nutrition Content

Name Amount Unit
Total lipid (fat)1.15g
Carbohydrate, by difference62.6g
Fiber, total dietary16.3g
Sugars, total including NLEA6.6g
Calcium, Ca132mg
Iron, Fe6.74mg
Magnesium, Mg189mg
Phosphorus, P367mg
Potassium, K1250mg
Sodium, Na15mg
Zinc, Zn2.68mg
Copper, Cu0.941mg
Manganese, Mn1.04mg
Selenium, Se8.2µg
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid4.8mg
Pantothenic acid1.91mg
Vitamin B-60.382mg
Folate, total625µg
Folic acid0µg
Folate, food625µg
Folate, DFE625µg
Choline, total97.9mg
Vitamin B-120µg
Vitamin B-12, added0µg
Vitamin A, RAE6µg
Carotene, beta68µg
Carotene, alpha0µg
Cryptoxanthin, beta0µg
Vitamin A, IU114IU
Lutein + zeaxanthin0µg
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)0.51mg
Vitamin E, added0mg
Vitamin D (D2 + D3), International Units0IU
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)0µg
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)9µg
Fatty acids, total saturated0.348g
SFA 4:00g
SFA 6:00g
SFA 8:00g
SFA 10:00g
SFA 12:00g
SFA 14:00g
SFA 16:00.25g
SFA 18:00.071g
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated0.161g
MUFA 16:10g
MUFA 18:10.161g
MUFA 20:10g
MUFA 22:10g
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated0.384g
PUFA 18:20.357g
PUFA 18:30.027g
PUFA 18:40g
PUFA 20:40g
PUFA 20:5 n-3 (EPA)0g
PUFA 22:5 n-3 (DPA)0g
PUFA 22:6 n-3 (DHA)0g
Fatty acids, total trans0g
Aspartic acid2.76g
Glutamic acid4.26g
Alcohol, ethyl0g
[Source 128 ]


Cowpeas (Vigna unguculata L.) are a member of the Fabaceae family. Cowpeas are grown for both grains and veggies 6. Cowpea is one of the most nutrient-dense African indigenous vegetables with the potential to improve food and nutrition security 6. The crop originated in West and Central Africa, from where it expanded to Latin America and Southeast Asia through cultivation and production 129. Cowpea has high protein content, and it differs with variety 130. The protein profile of cowpea is complex and unique. Cowpea leaves are high in protein, vitamins like provitamin A, folate, thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin C, as well as minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and iron 131. The essential amino acids present in cowpea are cysteine, histidine, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, threonine, and tryptophan. Cowpea proteins are composed of amino acids like phenylalanine, valine, leucine, and lysine, which are found in higher levels than sulfur-containing amino acids. The amino acids are utilized during seed development; because of this, the free amino acid content is higher in immature seeds compared to mature seeds 132, 133. Cowpea leaves have long been used to produce food and feeds, nutraceuticals, micronutrients, and natural antioxidants 134. Alpha-tocopherols, flavonoids, lycopene, and anticancer agents are among the antioxidants found in the leaves 135. In cowpea, the mean value of the mineral elements calcium, chloride, sodium, magnesium, and potassium is 892.1, 177.7, 106.4, 2477.0, and 14710.0 μg/g, respectively 136. Cowpea seeds have different ranges of micronutrients in different genotypes. The range for zinc is 33.9–69.2 μg/g, for iron is 45.1–67.0 μg/g, 5.2–8.1 μg/g for copper, and 10.1–17.4 μg/g for manganese 137. Cowpea possesses iron in high quantities, which eliminates anemia and assists in protein metabolism, which is essential for red blood cells and hemoglobin production. Manganese also maintains the structure and strengthening of bones 138. It assists in the formation of bone by regulating the enzymes and hormones which are involved in the process of bone metabolism 137.

Proteins, peptides, and protease inhibitors in cowpea have been shown to improve lipid profile, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure, as well as help to prevent cancer by reducing the growth of various cancer cell lines 137, 139, 140. Cowpea protein isolate can be used in food items as an alternative. Protein isolation is a viable option for reducing antinutritive effects and increasing digestibility and bioavailability of leguminous amino acids. In impoverished nations, a mixed meal of legumes and grains can compensate for inadequacies or low levels of lysine and sulfur amino acids in cereals and grain legumes, respectively 133, 141.

Figure 4. Cowpeas


Table 8. Cowpeas, young pods with seeds, raw, Nutrition Content

Name Amount Unit
Total lipid (fat)0.3g
Carbohydrate, by difference9.5g
Fiber, total dietary3.3g
Sugars, total including NLEA5.04g
Calcium, Ca65mg
Iron, Fe1mg
Magnesium, Mg58mg
Phosphorus, P65mg
Potassium, K215mg
Sodium, Na4mg
Zinc, Zn0.34mg
Copper, Cu0.1mg
Manganese, Mn0.308mg
Selenium, Se0.9µg
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid33mg
Pantothenic acid0.945mg
Vitamin B-60.173mg
Folate, total53µg
Folic acid0µg
Folate, food53µg
Folate, DFE53µg
Choline, total22mg
Vitamin B-120µg
Vitamin A, RAE68µg
Carotene, beta794µg
Carotene, alpha55µg
Cryptoxanthin, beta0µg
Vitamin A, IU1370IU
Lutein + zeaxanthin932µg
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)0.49mg
Vitamin D (D2 + D3), International Units0IU
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)0µg
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)31.5µg
Fatty acids, total saturated0.079g
SFA 4:00g
SFA 6:00g
SFA 8:00g
SFA 10:00g
SFA 12:00g
SFA 14:00.001g
SFA 16:00.063g
SFA 18:00.01g
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated0.027g
MUFA 16:10.001g
MUFA 18:10.016g
MUFA 20:10g
MUFA 22:10.01g
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated0.127g
PUFA 18:20.072g
PUFA 18:30.052g
PUFA 18:40g
PUFA 20:40g
PUFA 20:5 n-3 (EPA)0g
PUFA 22:5 n-3 (DPA)0g
PUFA 22:6 n-3 (DHA)0g
Fatty acids, total trans0g
Alcohol, ethyl0g
[Source 128 ]

Common bean

The common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) is second to the soybean in economic and societal importance as a leguminous food crop. There are numerous varieties of common beans, including many popular garden types such as pole, snap, string, and bush beans. A common bean is called French bean, haricot bean, or kidney bean in various countries; in the United States, however, kidney bean refers to a specific type that is definitely kidney-shaped and is red, dark red, or white. Green beans, anasazi beans, navy beans, black beans, northern beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, and cannellini beans are all varieties of the species. Some varieties of the common bean are grown only for the dry seeds, some only for the edible immature pods, and others for the seeds, either immature or mature.

Common beans are an important dietary protein source to large populations of northern Mexico to Colombia, contributing to about 15% of calorie intake and up to 36% of total daily protein in parts of Africa and the Americas 142. Seeds of common bean have ∼25% protein along with minerals like magnesium, copper, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins such as folate 6. Common beans have useful levels of mineral micronutrients like copper (9.1–11.6 mg/kg), selenium (381–500 μg/k), potassium (18,854–23,175 mg/kg), magnesium (1,845–2,383 mg/kg), and zinc (24.8–33.3 mg/kg) 143. Common beans have 25–30% of the recommended content levels of iron in food and are known as rich sources of several other minerals 144. Common bean has a lesser genetic complexity than soybean, and the new genetic information available for the Andean and Mesoamerican pools makes it an appealing model for studying molecular mechanisms like symbiosis and nutritional deficiency adaptation 142. Common beans have a lot of potential as a nutraceutical food 6. Encouragement of its consumption could aid in the prevention of chronic diseases, diabetes, and high cholesterol 145. The processing of ordinary beans into a range of goods may expand the number of products available for consumption 146.

Figure 5. Common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

Phaseolus vulgaris

Bean Nutrition Facts

There appears to be little difference in nutrient profiles among cooked, sprouted and canned beans, but some canned beans may contain up to one hundred times more salt than beans prepared at home. It’s never too late to accrue health benefits from switching to a healthier diet with lots of legumes and lifestyle with lots of exercise.

One should also be aware that the plastic linings in bean cans produced by certain companies contain BPA (bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins often used in containers that store food and beverages).

Table 9. Data based on ½ cup servings of beans that have been cooked from the dry form and drained of cooking liquid. Canned beans will contain more sodium.

Type of BeanBean PhotoCaloriesProtein (g)Fat (g)Total Carb.
Fiber (g)
Black black-bean11480.52081305
Cranberry Cranberry-Bean12080.42291342
Great Northern great-northern-bean10470.41962346
Navy navy-bean12780.624100354
Pink pink-bean12680.42452429
Pinto pinto-bean12280.62281373
Light Red Kidney light-red-kidney-bean11280.42072357
Dark Red Kidney dark-red-kidney-bean10980.21984335
White Kidney white-kidney-bean12490.32265502
Small Red small-red-bean11060.51961371
[Source 147 ]

Dry Beans Provide Complex Carbohydrates

  • Complex carbohydrates, also referred to as dietary starch, are made of sugar molecules strung together like a necklace. Complex carbohydrates are typically rich in fiber.
  • The majority of the calories in dry beans come from carbohydrates in the form of starch, resistant starch (digested by beneficial bacteria in the gut), and small amounts of non-starch polysaccharides (also digested by beneficial gut bacteria).
  • Being rich in complex carbohydrates, as well as a good source of protein, beans have a low glycemic index. This makes them an ideal food for the management of insulin resistance, diabetes and hyperlipidemia 148, 149.
  • Beans contain some complex sugars called oligosaccharides, which 
are non-digestible, fermentable fibers. They are broken down by beneficial bacteria in the colon, which may result in gas production and flatulence. There is increasing research and attention about the health of the gut or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and how certain foods benefit or harm the gut 150. Beans may be a very important food for a healthy gut.

Dry Beans Provide Beneficial Dietary Fiber

  • Dry beans are rich in both soluble and insoluble fibers 151.
  • Soluble fiber traps dietary cholesterol inside the digestive tract. The cholesterol is then excreted versus being absorbed, which helps to lower blood levels of LDL cholesterol, especially if LDL cholesterol levels were high to begin with.
  • Dry beans also provide substantial amounts of insoluble fiber, which help attract water to the stool and keeps you regular. This may help to combat constipation, colon cancer, and other digestive health conditions 152.

Dry Beans Are A Source of Plant-based Protein

  • Dry beans are a good source of plant-based protein and have therefore been identified as a meat alternative by the USDA My Plate food guidance system (USDA Dietary Guidelines, 2015-2020 ((
  • Beans contain between 21 to 25% protein by weight, which is much higher than other sources of vegetable protein 153.
  • Regular intake of dried beans is extremely important worldwide as they provide a good source of protein at a low cost compared to animal protein sources like beef, pork, and chicken.

Dry Beans Contain Essential Vitamins and Minerals

  • Most types of beans are good sources of potassium, a mineral that promotes healthy blood pressure levels.
  • Beans are excellent sources of copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium—nutrients that many Americans don’t get enough of.
  • Most types of dry beans are rich sources of iron, which makes them important for vegetarians and vegans who do not get an animal source of iron.
  • Dry beans are an excellent source of the water-soluble vitamins thiamin and folic acid and a good source of riboflavin and vitamin B6.

Beans and Health Overview

There is abundant research showing that regular bean consumption provides a variety of health benefits. Numerous studies indicate that frequently eating beans as a part of a healthful diet may reduce risk as well as aid in management of many chronic diseases.

Beans and Weight Management

The interest and research in identifying foods that may help individuals maintain a healthy body weight is growing. As the global overweight and obesity epidemic continues, identifying foods that may aid in weight loss and weight management is extremely important.

Beans are a healthful, plant-based protein. They are naturally low in fat, high in fiber, and a good source of protein. Research shows that people who eat more fiber tend to weigh less, and protein has been shown to help people feel full longer. Consuming beans may contribute to feelings of fullness and satiety as a result of the beans’ fiber and protein content 154.

A number of studies have sought to determine the role of beans (and other pulses) and their contributions to maintaining a healthful weight and aiding in weight loss.

In a study of 35 obese men fed four different protein-rich diets, the diet providing the majority of protein from legumes (including beans) produced the greatest amount of weight loss in an eight-week period 155. Members of the group instructed to eat legumes at least four days a week also experienced significant reductions in waist circumference, body fat mass, blood pressure, and total cholesterol when compared with members of the other groups.

According to results from the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), adults who consumed beans on a regular basis were less likely (−22%) to be classified as obese, have reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight and a higher waist circumference (−23%) than those who did not consume beans 156.

According to the results of studies conducted in Brazil, a traditional diet high in rice and beans was associated with a lower body mass index (BMI), compared with a typical Western diet containing more fat, snacks and soda 157, 158.

Researchers also have studied the role of hormones, including leptin and ghrelin, in regulating appetite and weight. Researchers measured the leptin and ghrelin levels in 36 insulin-sensitive and 28 insulin resistant men. Leptin levels decreased among the group consuming a diet enriched with legumes. When leptin is present in smaller concentrations, it is more effective in regulating appetite and may aid in weight loss and weight maintenance 159.

A randomized controlled trial looking at the effect of pulse consumption in combination with whole grains in obese adults found that participants who consumed 2 servings of pulses and 4 servings of whole grain foods per day, as substitutions for more refined carbohydrates, had higher intakes of fiber and a greater reduction in waist circumference (−2.8 cm after 18 months) than the control group 160. In addition, American bean consumers aged 12–19 years weighed significantly less than non-consumers and had smaller waist measurements when compared with their non-consuming counterparts 161.

Overall, research supports the regular consumption of beans as part of a healthy diet to promote weight control.

Beans and Longevity

An individual’s diet has been shown to affect disease susceptibility and survival. Comparing the dietary patterns of older adults is one approach to discovering if there is a common denominator that promotes longevity. In a cross-cultural study looking at food intake patterns of adults 70 years and older, the only statistically significant consistent indicator of longevity was legume intake 162. For every 20 grams of legumes consumed each day, there was a 7-8% reduction in mortality (based on hazard ratios). A half-cup serving of beans weighs about 85 grams, so based on these findings you may reduce your risk of all-cause mortality by 30-34% if you consume a half-cup of beans most days.

Beans and Diabetes

Diabetes is becoming more common around the world as the overweight and obesity epidemic continues. Eating a variety of legumes, including beans, may be valuable not only in the prevention but also management of diabetes.

Beans are rich in slowly digestible carbohydrates and fiber as well as protein, giving them a low glycemic index. This makes them an ideal food for the management of insulin resistance and diabetes. Beans also provide protein as well as important vitamins and minerals in the diet.

According to the American Diabetes Association, “The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those that are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health.”

Numerous studies show that consuming a low glycemic load diet may be protective against developing diabetes, while consuming a high glycemic load diet may increase the risk. This makes beans an important food for individuals working to manage blood sugars.

The glycemic load of a food is calculated by taking the glycemic index and multiplying it by the amount of total carbohydrate in a portion of food. Pinto beans cooked from the dry form have a glycemic index of 39, meaning the pinto beans only increase a person’s blood sugar by 39% compared to glucose or white bread. A ½ cup portion of pinto beans contains 22 grams of total carbohydrate, so the glycemic load is approximately 9.

The American Diabetes Association suggests that people with diabetes include dry beans (like kidney or pinto beans) and lentils into meals. The USDA MyPlate also recommends beans as a healthy food choice. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 3 cups of legumes (including beans) per week. That is equal to approximately ½ cup per day.

Beans, glycemic index, and glycemic load

The study by Livesey 163 provides very strong evidence that eating diets with a low glycemic index (< 45), a low glycemic load (<100 g equivalents per day), and more than 25g per day of fiber will help normalize blood glucose, blood insulin, and body weight. Controlling blood glucose, blood insulin, and body weight in turn will reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as certain types of cancer.

Beans are the perfect food to improve glycemic control. Beans have a low glycemic index, varying from 27-42% relative to glucose and 40-59% that of white bread (Table 2). Beans are also high in non-starch polysaccharides (typically 18-20%), 5% resistant starch, and 4% oligosaccharides to give a dietary fiber value of 27 – 29%. Consuming beans may significantly increase dietary fiber intake, and that is particularly important for blood sugar control.

Table 10. Glycemic Indices of Various Beans

Glycemic index White BreadGlycemic index Glucose
Pinto beans5539
Kidney beans4227
Baked beans, canned5740
Dried beans4029
Black-eyed peas5942
Butter beans4431
Chick peas4733

Footnote: * Calculated glycemic index when white bread or glucose were used as a reference food. Expressed as a percentage of the reference food.

[Source 164 ]

Beans and Heart Health

Beans promote heart health because of what they contain (fiber and potassium) as well as what they don’t contain (no saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium).

Elevated blood levels of triglycerides and cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, are significant contributing factors to the risk of heart disease. Legume and dry bean consumption have been shown to improve serum lipid profiles in patients with coronary heart disease and research shows that a healthful diet that includes beans may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) is a program from the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) to help lower cholesterol through lifestyle approaches (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2005). As dietary changes are typically the first step in lowering cholesterol, the TLC diet is a great first approach to lower one’s cholesterol.

The TLC diet emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy. It recommends limiting consumption of saturated and trans fat, and fatty meats. It also includes recommendations for the use of functional foods such as legumes, oats, and margarines containing plant stanols/sterols to lower cholesterol.

The National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines identify legumes as a good low saturated fat protein source and also recognize their contribution to viscous or soluble fiber intake in the diet 165. One-half cup of legumes supplies 5.5 – 8 grams of total fiber including 1 – 3.5 grams of viscous or soluble fiber or 10-35% of the 5 – 10 grams of daily viscous or soluble fiber intake recommended by the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III 165.

Beans and Cancer

Research has revealed that a healthful diet including beans may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Beans are natural sources of antioxidants and phytochemicals; these compounds work in the body to decrease the risk of cancer, as well as other chronic diseases.

The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research 166 published a comprehensive review that linked diet to cancer at 19 different locations in the body. Considering the cause of cancer at many of the sites, one would expect that diet would have little impact except for excess body fat possibly increasing the risk. Beans were not considered a separate set, but part of a group of foods labeled “pulses (legumes)”. If a food, group of foods, and/or individual nutrient was found to be related to cancer incidence at one of the 19 sites, the relationship was classified as “decreased the risk” or “increased the risk”. The strength of the evidence was classified as “convincing”, “probable”, “limited – suggestive”, or “limited – no conclusion”. To be classified as “probable”, there had to be considerable data demonstrating a relationship existed.

The panel of experts did not feel that the evidence relating legume consumption to a decreased risk of developing cancer was “convincing” or “probable” for cancer located at any of the 19 sites in the body. However, fiber-containing foods were considered “probable” for reducing the risk of cancer in the colon and rectum. Since beans are rich in fiber, it can be inferred that eating beans will probably reduce one’s risk of developing colon and rectal cancer. The data relating legume consumption to a reduction of stomach and prostate cancer was considered “limited, but suggestive”. The link between stomach cancer and legume intake is most likely based on soy and not on legumes other than soy. The study panel concluded that the data suggest that eating non-soy legumes would result in a reduction in prostate cancer. The panel also felt that the data relating foods rich in folate (naturally occurring or fortified) to a reduction in colon and rectal cancer was suggestive, but limited. The data relating legume consumption to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung, pancreas, breast, ovary, and endometrium was too limited and no conclusion could be reached.

Pigeon pea

Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) is a perennial plant in the Fabaceae family. Pigeon pea is a popular legume crop in South Asia, providing high protein content and nutritional benefits for over a billion people 167. Red gram, congo pea, gungo pea, and no-eye pea are some of the other frequent names for this tropical legume 6. Due to its higher yield under extreme environmental circumstances, such as heat, drought, and low soil fertility, this hardy legume has a significant potential positive influence on the lives of impoverished farmers when compared to other legumes 168. Pigeon pea contains higher amounts of amino acid like aspartic acid, lysine, leucine, arginine, and glutamic acid 169. The sulfur-containing amino acids (methionine and cystine) are limited in major legumes but are found in pigeon pea 170. It has a good number of health-promoting phytochemicals in addition to protein and fiber. Phenolic acids, flavonoids, tannins, saponins, and phytic acid are the most common phytochemicals identified in pigeon pea seeds. Antioxidant, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties are the most common bioactivity of these components 171, 172. The functional characteristics of pigeon pea flour make it a good ingredient for culinary products such as bread, pasta, and nutritional bars, and it can be used as a gluten-free cereal substitute 173. Recent data suggests that bioactive compounds found in pigeon peas play an important role in modifying the gut microbiota and, as a result, can lower inflammation. Animal models have also been used to examine the prebiotic potential of non-digestible raffinose family oligosaccharides 174. Pigeon pea helps in maintaining blood pressure, preventing anemia, aiding weight loss, and boosting energy 174, 175.

Pigeon pea can also be used as a substitute for artificial nutrition formulae that cause low-level inflammation. Now it is used as a unique nutritional ingredient in foods such as biscuits, noodles, pasta, and sausages because of its high fiber and protein content, gluten-free status, low glycemic index, antioxidant levels, and functional features such as fat absorption and water-binding capability 176.

Figure 6. Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan)

Cajanus cajan

Table 11. Pigeon peas (red gram), mature seeds, raw, Nutrition Content

Name Amount Unit
Total lipid (fat)1.49g
Carbohydrate, by difference62.8g
Fiber, total dietary15g
Calcium, Ca130mg
Iron, Fe5.23mg
Magnesium, Mg183mg
Phosphorus, P367mg
Potassium, K1390mg
Sodium, Na17mg
Zinc, Zn2.76mg
Copper, Cu1.06mg
Manganese, Mn1.79mg
Selenium, Se8.2µg
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid0mg
Pantothenic acid1.27mg
Vitamin B-60.283mg
Folate, total456µg
Folic acid0µg
Folate, food456µg
Folate, DFE456µg
Vitamin B-120µg
Vitamin A, RAE1µg
Vitamin A, IU28IU
Vitamin D (D2 + D3), International Units0IU
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)0µg
Fatty acids, total saturated0.33g
SFA 16:00.307g
SFA 18:00.024g
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated0.012g
MUFA 18:10.012g
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated0.814g
PUFA 18:20.778g
PUFA 18:30.035g
Fatty acids, total trans0g
Aspartic acid2.15g
Glutamic acid5.03g
[Source 128 ]


Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L), often known as garbanzo beans or Bengal gram, are the third most significant variety of legume 6. The chickpea is divided into two types: Kabuli and Desi. Desi grain has 327 kcal/100 g of energy, while Kabuli grain has 365 kcal/100 g 177. Chickpea grains have a greater protein content than any other pulse crop, with 60–65% carbohydrate, 6% fat, and between 12 and 31% protein. Chickpeas are high in protein, carbohydrates, and all the essential amino acids. Chickpea seed has the highest digestibility as compared to other dry edible legume, with 23% protein, 64% total carbohydrates, 47% starch, 5% fat, 6% crude fiber, 6% soluble sugar, and 3% ash. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and manganese are all abundant in chickpeas 178. When compared to legumes like the common bean and soybean, chickpea seeds have a similar protein content. Chickpea protein has a high bioavailability and digestibility (48–89.01%) 179. Chickpea is a rich source of several minerals like manganese (21.9–25.4 mg/kg), copper (6.6–8.7 mg/kg), iron (48.6–55.6 mg/kg), zinc (21.1–28.3 mg/k), selenium (629–864 μg/kg), and magnesium (1,525–1,902 mg/kg) 180, 143. These micronutrients are responsible for a variety of health benefits like improving digestion, aiding weight management, and reducing the risk of heart disease. Chickpeas have higher levels of selenium (731 μg/kg) but lower levels of calcium compared to other legumes 143. Chickpeas can boost a food’s nutritional value while also lowering its acrylamide concentration. Acrylamide is a toxic chemical that can be found in meals including bread, crackers, and chips. The application of chickpea flour and protein could be a novel technique to lower the amount of acrylamide in these goods. The sensory and textural qualities are affected by the inclusion of chickpea flour 181. The protein quality of legumes is improved by heat treatment because heat inactivates several heat liable anti-nutritional factors Chickpeas have several possible health benefits, and when combined with other pulses and grains, they may be able to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, digestive illnesses, and several other malignancies. It regulates blood pressure, improves digestion, and boosts immune health and hemoglobin level 182. Overall, chickpeas are a valuable pulse crop with a wide range of nutritional and health benefits 183.

Figure 7. Chickpeas

garbanzo beans

Table 12.  Chickpeas (garbanzo beans, bengal gram), mature seeds, raw, Nutrition Content

Name Amount Unit
Total lipid (fat)6.04g
Carbohydrate, by difference63g
Fiber, total dietary12.2g
Sugars, total including NLEA10.7g
Calcium, Ca57mg
Iron, Fe4.31mg
Magnesium, Mg79mg
Phosphorus, P252mg
Potassium, K718mg
Sodium, Na24mg
Zinc, Zn2.76mg
Copper, Cu0.656mg
Manganese, Mn21.3mg
Selenium, Se0µg
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid4mg
Pantothenic acid1.59mg
Vitamin B-60.535mg
Folate, total557µg
Folic acid0µg
Folate, food557µg
Folate, DFE557µg
Choline, total99.3mg
Vitamin B-120µg
Vitamin B-12, added0µg
Vitamin A, RAE3µg
Carotene, beta40µg
Carotene, alpha0µg
Cryptoxanthin, beta0µg
Vitamin A, IU67IU
Lutein + zeaxanthin0µg
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)0.82mg
Vitamin E, added0mg
Vitamin D (D2 + D3), International Units0IU
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)0µg
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)9µg
Fatty acids, total saturated0.603g
SFA 4:00g
SFA 6:00g
SFA 8:00g
SFA 10:00g
SFA 12:00g
SFA 14:00.009g
SFA 16:00.508g
SFA 18:00.086g
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated1.38g
MUFA 16:10.012g
MUFA 18:11.36g
MUFA 20:10g
MUFA 22:10g
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated2.73g
PUFA 18:22.63g
PUFA 18:30.102g
PUFA 18:40g
PUFA 20:40g
PUFA 20:5 n-3 (EPA)0g
PUFA 22:5 n-3 (DPA)0g
PUFA 22:6 n-3 (DHA)0g
Fatty acids, total trans0g
Aspartic acid2.42g
Glutamic acid3.6g
Alcohol, ethyl0g
[Source 128 ]


Green pea also known as Pisum sativum, pea or garden pea, is the only species in the Leguminosae family, under the genus Pisum. Pea is one of the world’s most important legumes, with global annual production estimated at roughly 13.5 million metric tons and at present it is grown in over 90 countries 184. In peas, protein content largely varies based on genetic and environmental factors 6. Peas also contain high quantities of lysine, which might help to compensate for lysine shortage in cereal-based diets 185. Peas nutritional values are defined by amino acid content. Peas have a good content of valine, arginine, and methionine, although a poor content of cysteine and glutamic acid 6. In raw pea, the protease inhibitors present are responsible for decreasing in vitro digestion 186. Because of their high carbohydrate, protein, and other nutrient content, peas have long been an important part of the human diet. The content and characteristics of starch, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in peas are primarily responsible for their health advantages 187. Fiber from the seed coat and cotyledon cell walls improves gastrointestinal function. Pea starch decreases the glycemic index and lowers starch digestibility due to its intermediate amylose level 188. Peas include several phytochemicals that were previously thought to be antinutritive. Polyphenolics, found in colored seed coat types, have antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties, as well as saponins, which have hypocholesterolemia and anticarcinogenic properties, and galactose oligosaccharides, which have beneficial prebiotic effects in the large intestine 189, 190. Other than protein, peas also contain minerals like zinc (27.4–34 mg/kg), copper (5.2–6.3 mg/kg), manganese (9.0–15.6 mg/kg), nickel (2.3–3.4 mg/kg), and iron (47.7–58.1 mg/kg), while potassium and magnesium are somewhat lower 191. Peas are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin E, and other antioxidants; these help to improve the immune system, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of chronic condition like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis 143.

Green peas (Pisum sativum) are also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and these health-supportive nutrients are provided in a wide range of nutrient categories. For example, in the flavonoid category, green peas provide us with the antioxidants catechin and epicatechin. In the carotenoid category, they offer alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. Their phenolic acids include ferulic and caffeic acid. Their polyphenols include coumestrol. Pisumsaponins I and II and pisomosides A and B are anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found almost exclusively in peas. Antioxidant vitamins provided by green peas include vitamin C and vitamin E, and a good amount of the antioxidant mineral zinc is also found in this amazing food. Yet another key anti-inflammatory nutrient needs to be added to this list, and that nutrient is omega-3 fat. Recent research has shown that green peas are a reliable source of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In one cup of green peas, you can expect to find about 30 milligrams of ALA.

Figure 8. Green peas

Green peas

Table 13. Peas (Green Raw) Nutrition Content

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g0.4
Carbohydrate, by differenceg14.45
Fiber, total dietaryg5.7
Sugars, totalg5.67
Calcium, Camg25
Iron, Femg1.47
Magnesium, Mgmg33
Phosphorus, Pmg108
Potassium, Kmg244
Sodium, Namg5
Zinc, Znmg1.24
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg40
Vitamin B-6mg0.169
Folate, DFEµg65
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg38
Vitamin A, IUIU765
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg0.13
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg24.8
Fatty acids, total saturatedg0.071
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg0.035
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg0.187
Fatty acids, total transg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases. 94 ]


Is peanut a legume? Yes 192. Peanuts are legumes, not nuts, because they grow in bushes. The humble peanut—while technically a legume—appears to do just fine in helping to prevent heart disease and in extending life as almonds, walnuts, and other pricier tree nuts. Researchers at Vanderbilt University and the Shanghai Cancer Institute examined nut and peanut intake and mortality in three separate groups (participants included more than 70,000 Americans of African and European descent from the Southern Community Cohort Study, who were mostly low-income and more than 130,000 Chinese from the Shanghai Women’s Health Study and the Shanghai Men’s Health Study) over an average of six years and found lower rates of death, especially from heart disease 193. Peanut consumption was associated with a 17 percent to 21 percent reduction in deaths and a 23 percent to 38 percent decrease in cardiovascular death, across all three racial and ethnic groups, among both genders and among people with low socioeconomic status. The latest cohort study showed benefits from nut intake for people who ate 2/3 ounce, or about 18 grams, of peanuts a day, on average. That’s about a handful, with about 28 peanuts per ounce 193.

Currently, there are no treatments available for people with peanut allergy. According to researchers at Duke University Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital 194, a new treatment involving peanut sublingual immunotherapy may be a safe and effective form of immunotherapy for children with peanut allergy. The researchers found that the participants who had received peanut sublingual immunotherapy could safely consume 20 times more peanut protein than those who had received the placebo (1710 mg vs. 85 mg). This level of desensitization is clinically significant because it represents protection from accidental ingestion of peanut, which is often less than 100 mg (or one peanut). In addition, allergy skin prick tests showed a decreased allergic response to peanut in the treatment group. The blood tests showed immunologic changes in the treatment group, suggesting a significant change in allergic response 194.

Table 14. Peanut (Raw) Nutrition Content

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g49.24
Carbohydrate, by differenceg16.13
Fiber, total dietaryg8.5
Sugars, totalg4.72
Calcium, Camg92
Iron, Femg4.58
Magnesium, Mgmg168
Phosphorus, Pmg376
Potassium, Kmg705
Sodium, Namg18
Zinc, Znmg3.27
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg0
Vitamin B-6mg0.348
Folate, DFEµg240
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg0
Vitamin A, IUIU0
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg8.33
Vitamin D (D2 + D3)µg0
Vitamin DIU0
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)µg0
Fatty acids, total saturatedg6.279
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg24.426
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg15.558
Fatty acids, total transg0
[Source: United States Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service. USDA Food Composition Databases. 94 ]
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