When it comes to choosing the right sources of plant-based nutrients, legumes top the list. This is especially true in the face of so many people discovering a sensitivity to wheat and gluten. For those that want to practice a vegan diet, but can’t do grains, legumes are the obvious and natural alternative!

To begin, legumes are a great source of plant-based protein and are actually higher than most other plant-based foods, including having about twice as much protein as cereal grains.

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What’s next? Fiber!

Yep, that lovely nutrient that not only keeps your bowels running smoothly, keeps you satiated, but also feeds those healthy gut microbiota.

Of course, before embarking on introducing new foods to a diet, it’s always a good idea to figure out what they are, where they come from, what’s in them, and how to cook them. So, here we go! This is your go-to 101 guide on legumes!

What Are Legumes?

Did you know that peanuts are a legume? So are black beans? What about peas?

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Yep. All legumes. So, how do you identify a legume when you can’t exactly identify it?

First off, the “legume family consists of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside.” In fact, the specific termlegume is used to describe the seeds of these plants.” In some circles, legumes are identified as “the most versatile and nutritious food available.”

So, what’s so great about these little bits of plant-based joy?

Legumes are “typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium.” These are all incredibly essential nutrients for a healthy, balanced diet. On top of that, legumes “also contain beneficial fats and soluble and insoluble fiber,” which is great for your gut health and can improve digestion. Lastly (but not least), legumes are one of the best sources of protein for plant-based eaters.

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Basic Nutritional Profile of Legumes

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Even though all legumes have different nutritional profiles and varying amounts of vitamins and minerals, all legumes offer a basic “blanket” source of certain nutrients.

First off, all legumes are a great high-quality source of fiber and protein. Take a cup of cooked lentils, which offers 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber. How about a cup of cooked black beans, which has 15 grams of protein and a matching 15 grams of fiber.

Next up, let’s take a look at those vitamins! While this may be where legumes lag in the plant-based world, they are an excellent source of folate, also called vitamin B9. One cup of cooked lentils offers 358 mcg of folate, while a cup of cooked chickpeas offers 282 mcg of folate. Legumes offer not just B9, but also a slew of other B vitamins including “vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B6.” Plus, most legumes offer a healthy dose of vitamin A, C, K, and choline.

What’s more, the same amount offers over 10% of the DV for vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B6, as well as phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.

Legumes also provide a plant-based source for essential minerals, especially calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. For instance, one cup of cooked soybeans offers 175 mg of calcium, 8.8 mg of iron, 148 mg of magnesium, and 866 mg of potassium. One cup of green peas offers 43.2 mg of calcium, 2.5 mg of iron, 62.4 mg of magnesium, and 434 mg of potassium. Plus, while they don’t offer a plentiful source, legumes also have over 10 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of “phosphorous, zinc, copper, and manganese.”

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Yet, when it comes to integrating legumes into your diet, it’s all about proper portion and balance!

Keep in mind that while legumes offer protein and fiber, they also “pack more carbohydrates than nuts and seeds.” Therefore, mix your legumes into your diet with a colorful mixture of other vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds in order to reap the most benefits of these powerfully healthy plant-based foods!

All in the Family: The Different Legumes

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We’ve got the whole “legume” thing down pat and we know why it’s a good idea to include these in a plant-based diet. It’s time to take a look at integrating these essential little foods into our diet! While it may seem easy — just throw them in a pot with spices and cook — some legumes can be quite finicky. Who wants to eat a pile of unrecognizable and neutral-flavored mush? Not me and probably not many! So, here’s a rundown of the most popular legumes and how to use them.

Beans

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Where to go to find more information about lovely beans? How about the Bean Institute? From black to navy to pinto to white, this website has any kind of bean along with the pertinent information you’d like to know.

You’ll learn about the nutrients of most beans, which generally have between 6 and 9 grams of protein and around 5 to 10 grams of fiber per serving. They’re also low in sodium and fat and are moderately packed with healthy carbs. Yet, when focusing on integrating beans into your diet, if you’re looking for potassium, these little nuggets are where it’s at! Beans are one of the best plant-based sources of potassium, ranging between 300 mg and 500 mg per serving.

While canned beans are super easy — simply dump, rinse, and enjoy — they also tend to be mushier. Plus, many companies add preservatives, such as salt, in order to keep the beans from going bad. Therefore, it’s generally recommended to start from dried beans. This requires a little bit of prep time including soaking and rinsing before cooking. Then there’s the actual cooking of the raw beans. With that said, you’ll end up with meatier and hardier beans that can then be used in a variety of recipes such as these Black Bean Burgers With Cilantro Lime Sauce, these High-Protein Kidney Bean Brownies, or in this 5-Bean Salad.

Chickpeas

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After lentils, chickpeas might be the most popular legume to hit the plant-based world. Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are a hard-hitting nutritional source of protein and also happen to be incredibly diverse in the kitchen.

A one-ounce serving of chickpeas offers up 3 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, 8 grams of carbs, as well as a slew of vitamins and minerals including folate (12% RDI), iron (4% RDI), phosphorus (5% RDI), copper (5% RDI), manganese (14% RDI). Chickpeas also offer smaller amounts of vitamins A, C, B6, and choline, as well as small amounts of minerals including calcium, magnesium, and selenium.

Chickpeas have also been linked to specific health benefits including appetite control, healthy weight management, blood sugar support, better digestion, and reduced risk of certain conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

These lovely legumes can be used in a plant-based diet in a variety of ways. With that said, there are four distinct avenues that seem to promise the best experience: roasting — such as these super simple Oven Roasted Chickpeas or these Buffalo Roasted Chickpeas — blending — such as this Hummus Chickpea Burger or this Chickpea Loaf with Maple Glaze, slow-cooking — such as in this Moroccan Chili or this High-Protein Lentil, Kidney Bean, and Chickpea Chili, or simply eating raw — such as in this Lemony Chickpea Salad.

Lentils

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Lentils may be the most popular variety of legumes due to their whopping protein and fiber content. Plus, there are quite a few to choose from including brown, red, green, yellow, black beluga, and puy. Each variety offers a slightly different flavor and texture. It’s best to try out as many as you can and select your favorites based on your personal taste preference!

One cup of cooked lentils offers 17 grams of protein, 15 grams of fiber, as well as a healthy dose of vitamin A, C, K, niacin, folate, and choline. When it comes to minerals, lentils are a greats source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Plus, you’ll get a healthy dose of plant-based polyphenols, which have been linked to a decreased risk of cancer, lower inflammation, and better blood sugar levels.

The one issue with cooking lentils is flavor. Most lentils have a very bland or neutral natural taste, which means you’ll need to spice things up … literally! Luckily, there are a ton of recipes to give you inspiration. For instance, using lentils in stews and soups is a great way to slowly infuse them with flavor such as in this Hearty Mung Bean and Lentil Stew or this Red Lentil Potato Soup. Use your favorite powerful spices such as in this One-Pot Potato, Spinach and Lentil Dal, this Curried Lentil Stuffed Squash, or these Pumpkin Oatmeal Lentil Cups. If you’re looking for something simpler, go with a glaze or dressing such as in this Mediterranean Lentil Salad or this Beluga Lentil Broccoli Salad.

Peas

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I feel like peas are the often-forgotten little legume! Yet, they are super nutritious, protein-rich, and are one of the few legumes that are sweet.

One cup of cooked peas offers 16 grams of protein and matching 16 grams of fiber. Plus, don’t forget your vitamins — such as A, K, folate, and choline — as well as minerals — such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and a tad bit of selenium. If you’re looking for a rich and pure source of protein, without overdoing the fiber, then peas are your jam! Plus, pea protein powders are becoming one of the best vegan options on the market.

Peas are very gentle legumes, therefore, if you’re looking to eat them whole make sure to treat them with care. One of the best ways to prepare peas without reducing nutritional content and preserving their sweetness is by steaming! Simply pop your peas into a steamer basket, place the basket into boiling water, and then cover the pot for anywhere between 2 to 4 minutes. It’s super fast and you’ll get the most out of your peas!

When it comes to eating these morsels, try going raw or slightly cooked such as in this Tofu Fried Rice, Seeds and Greens Kaniwa Salad, or this Hearty Superfood Salad with Arugula, Kale, and Beets. Peas are also great when they’re blended or emulsified down into soups such as this Asparagus and Pea Soup or this Summer Greens Vichyssoise With Spicy Mint Sauce.

Soybeans

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Yes, soybeans are super popular, but generally, soybeans are consumed as tofu or tempeh and not generally in the whole soybean form. With that said, it’s a great way to eat these protein-rich legumes!

In fact, if you’re looking to up your plant-based protein intake, soybeans are one of the best ways to go, even better then lentils for some! One cup of cooked soybeans offers around 28 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, a variety of vitamins — including A, C, K, folate, and choline — and minerals — including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium,  and a little bit of zinc.

When it comes to preparing soybeans in the kitchen, you can always purchase dry soybeans, rinse them well, and then boil on the stovetop. With that said, cooking soybean takes a long time … I mean you’ll need to put aside at least 3 to 4 hours to boil these little legumes. Once they’re cooked, you can pretty much use them like any other bean out there!

Of course, it’s always super easy to get your daily dose of soybean protein from an already processed sources such as tofu! This ingredient is wonderful for plant-based eaters, substituting for meat in recipes — such as in this Rhubarb-Marinated Tofu Steaks, this Cheesy Tofu Breakfast Bagel, or this Italian Spinach and Tomato Quiche or used as a thickening agent — such as in this Smoked Tofu Rice And Barley Risotto, this Easy Autumn Cornbread, or this Pina Colada Slice.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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