These are the healthiest beans and legumes, according to nutritionists

Beans, which are technically legumes, are an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber. They are also full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that the body needs.

It’s no surprise that beans and other legumes are commonly eaten around the world and a staple of many cuisines. Beans are cheap and versatile, and lend themselves to a variety of delicious dishes.

Strolling through the bean section of the grocery store you will find countless cans and bags of beans in different colors, shapes and sizes to meet your culinary needs. It’s natural to wonder which ones have the most health benefits.

What are beans?

Beans are the edible seeds of a legume plant, which means that all beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans, Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinics Center for Human Nutrition, tells

Legume is an umbrella category that includes beans, legumes and peanuts. Legumes are the dried seeds of a legume plant, Zumpano says. These include lentils, peas or dried beans. Fresh beans that are still in their pods, like green beans, are also legumes.

Health benefits of beans

Beans are an excellent source of protein, amino acids and fiber. Most varieties offer eight grams of protein per half cup, registered dietitian nutritionist Frances Largeman-Roth tells

The US Department of Agriculture considers beans and legumes to be part of both the plant food group and the protein food group, along with meat and fish.

Beans are classified as a high-fiber food, also called prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria in the gut and support the microbiome and immune function, Zumpano says. Beans also contain complex carbohydrates, which provide energy to the body and help control blood sugar.

They are also naturally low in fat. In fact, they have no saturated fat (and) no cholesterol, Zumpano says, adding that beans and legumes are good for heart health.

Eating beans regularly has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve gut health, reduce the risk of heart disease, and help maintain a healthy body weight, says Largeman-Roth.

Beans and legumes are a big part of the Mediterranean diet, which is consistently ranked as the best diet for health and longevity. They are one of the main sources of protein in the medical diet, says Zumpano, who recommends beans at least three times a week.

Beans are rich in vitamins, minerals, including iron, zinc, folate and potassium, according to the USDA. They are also rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Another reason beans are great? They’re affordable, Zumpano says. Beans are not only good for your health, they are also good for your wallet.

Healthier beans and legumes

Which beans are healthier? The good news is that most beans are a nutritious choice. I hate playing favorites, because they’re all healthy, says Largeman-Roth.

All beans are good, some of them have slightly different (nutritional) profiles, but there really aren’t any bad ones, Zumpano says.

However, some beans provide a little more macro or micronutrients per serving, making them super-sized. Here are the experts’ top picks for superfood beans.


Lentils are packed with protein and high in fiber, making them a healthy and satisfying option. This small but mighty legume is a staple in South Asian, Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean cuisine.

There are several varieties of lentils, including brown, red, green, yellow and black.

The nutritional overview of lentils will vary slightly depending on the type and how they are cooked.

According to the central USDA FoodData database, a single serving (half cup) of boiled lentils provides approximately:

115 calories

9 grams of protein

20 grams of carbohydrates

8 grams of fiber

0.3 grams of fat

In addition to providing protein and fiber, lentils are rich in B vitamins, potassium, iron, folate and thiamine. Lentils are also a good source of polyphenols, Zumpano says, which are plant compounds that can help fight inflammation and protect brain health, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Lentils are rich in prebiotic fiber that can aid in healthy digestion. I think of all the beans, lentils tend to be the easiest to digest, (especially) for people who have trouble breaking down or digesting beans, Zumpano says.

Lentils are a great addition to soups, stews and vegetarian curries.

black beans

Among the many different types of beans and legumes, black beans are another favorite that offer impressive nutrients.

According to the USDA, one serving or half cup of cooked black beans provides:

114 calories

8 grams of protein

20 grams of carbohydrates

8 grams of fiber

0 grams of fat

Black beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein and fiber. Adding them to your diet can help with satiety or satiety, help control blood sugar and help prevent constipation, previously reported.

Black beans are also rich in micronutrients and antioxidants, experts note, including calcium, iron and folate. Eating black beans can help with heart health as well as growth and development.

Black beans are slightly sweeter than other beans and have a smoother texture. They pair well with rice, Zumpano says, and can be just as delicious in brownies as they are in burritos or veggie burgers.

White beans

White beans are another favorite. I would group all white beans together, says Zumpano. These include navy beans, cannellini beans, great northern beans, butter beans and more.

A serving or half cup of boiled white beans, according to the USDA, provides about:

130 calories

9 grams of protein

25 grams of carbohydrates

6 grams of fiber

0.3 grams of fat

White beans have slightly less fiber than lentils, but about the same amount of protein and slightly more calories and carbohydrates, Zumpano says. They are filling and help boost energy and support digestive health.

White beans are also rich in calcium, folate, and iron, Zumpano says. They are especially rich in potassium, an electrolyte that we know has been helpful in helping control blood pressure values, adds Zumpano.

A serving of white kidney beans packs more than 500 milligrams of potassium, according to the USDA, which is comparable to that of a banana.

White beans are delicious additions to soups and stews, and can be pureed into a healthy, high-fiber dip.

beans (chickpeas)

Beans or chickpeas are another favorite among dieters for their many health benefits. The nutrient-dense legume is often considered a superfood, and chickpeas are a staple of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet.

One serving or half cup of boiled chickpeas provides approximately:

135 calories

7 grams of protein

22 grams of carbohydrates

6 grams of fiber

4 grams of fat

Chickpeas contain an impressive amount of protein and fiber, Zumpano says, and are an excellent plant-based substitute for meat. They provide all 9 essential amino acids, which are building blocks that help the body function properly, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Plus, chickpeas are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium and folate, Zumpano notes.

I love them because they’re super versatile, says Largeman-Roth. They can be roasted, mashed or mixed into a creamy hummus. You can even whip up aquafaba (the liquid that canned chickpeas come in) to make vegan whipped cream, says Largeman-Roth.


Soybeans, also called soybeans, are another healthy bean option, full of protein and other nutrients.

Immature green soybeans are known as edamame, while mature soybeans are brown and firmer. Soy is a staple in East Asian cuisines and is used to make products such as soy milk and tofu.

One serving or half cup of boiled soybeans provides approximately:

148 calories

16 grams of protein

7 grams of carbohydrates

5 grams of fiber

7 grams of fat

Although lower in fiber and higher in fat, soybeans have the highest protein content of any bean. This makes them a great choice for people following a vegetarian diet, says Largeman-Roth.

They are a good source of nutrients including iron, folate, potassium and calcium. Soy is also an excellent source of choline, with one-half cup providing about 107 milligrams (20% of your daily value), according to the National Institutes of Health.

Choline is a nutrient many of us don’t get enough of, which helps build membranes that surround the body’s cells and supports the brain and nervous system, Zumpano says.

Do beans cause gas?

Beans sometimes get a bad rap for causing gas thanks to their high fiber content, experts say. Beans also contain a carbohydrate called raffinose, which is difficult for the body to digest, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Most people can get some gas and bloating from beans, but I think a little is considered completely natural, Zumpano says.

The severity of your symptoms may depend on how many beans you eat and how much fiber you normally get from your diet. If you’re not used to high-fiber foods, you may experience some stomach cramps when you eat kidney beans, which should subside over time, says Largeman-Roth.

The more beans and legumes you eat regularly, the more your body will adapt, and you’ll likely experience less gas and bloating, Zumpano says. Eating smaller portions of beans at a time and taking an over-the-counter anti-gas medication can help prevent gas or ease discomfort, experts say.

It’s important to increase your water intake when you’re consuming more fiber, which will help keep your bowels more regular and reduce the potential for gas, Zumpano adds.

Canned beans vs

Beans usually come dry or canned. While dried beans tend to be healthier, experts note, they can also be tedious and time-consuming to soak and cook.

Canned beans can still be healthy, but the sodium content can add up quickly. Some brands have as much as 330 milligrams of sodium per half-cup serving, Largeman-Roth adds. The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

Opt for low-sodium varieties, experts say. Draining and rinsing any canned beans can cut the sodium by about a third, Largeman-Roth notes.

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