Grains (legumes/pulses/peas, beans and seeds)

Beans are seeds from the Fabaceae family, commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family. This is what sets them apart from other fruits and seeds. They are an affordable source of protein, fiber, iron, and vitamins that offer many health benefits.

Beans offer a range of potential health benefits due to their high nutrient content. Some of the potential benefits that they provide include:

  • reducing cholesterol
  • decreasing blood sugar levels
  • providing protein for energy

Beans, Peas, Lentils, and Nutrition

The fat content of beans, peas, and lentils is generally very low, and there is no cholesterol. Protein content is relatively high, more than the amount of protein that is found in cereal grains (USDA n.d.-b). Obtaining protein from legumes is a healthy choice.

Another important component of beans, peas, and lentils is fiber. Fiber is a part of plant foods that cannot be digested. Beans, peas, and lentils have about 7 g of dietary fiber in a 1/2-cup serving and are especially high in insoluble fiber (USDA n.d.-b). Insoluble fiber bulks stool and decreases transit time through the colon, thereby preventing constipation. The soluble fiber in beans, peas, and lentils is highly fermentable in the colon, which is thought to be health enhancing. However, fermentation also produces some gas (flatulence) that may cause discomfort for some individuals. Enzyme preparations containing alpha-galactosidases may lessen gas production.

Beans, peas, and lentils are also rich sources of some vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium (USDA n.d.-b). Folate and iron are important for preventing anemias, as well as maintaining many normal metabolic functions. Potassium and magnesium are important for muscle and nerve function.

Let’s take a look at some of the possible health benefits of eating black beans.

Black beans are rich in a certain mineral you may not be familiar with but should be…

Molybdenum. Legumes are reportedly the food group that has the highest amount of molybdenum. This mineral’s actions are mainly in the production of enzymes, proteins that trigger chemical reactions in the body. These enzymes are involved in uric acid formation, transportation of iron, carbohydrate metabolism and sulfite detoxification. This essential mineral is a trace element mainly found in the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, bones and skin, but it exists in all body tissues. The body eliminates it in bile, urine and stool.

Black beans are rich in resistant starch, and this may be a very good thing.

Resistant starch is a type of dietary fiber that is essentially resistant to digestion. Resistant starch passes through the upper digestive tract without being broken down. Since the starch is not broken down, it is not converted into simple sugars. This may prevent the blood sugar level from rapidly rising and also may improve insulin sensitivity, which is great for diabetics. It may help you feel fuller for a longer period of time and, overall, improve digestion. In the lower digestive tract, resistant starch may be broken down by bacteria once it reaches the large intestine. This fuels cells in the intestine and produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

“In the last few decades, it became apparent that SCFAs might play a key role in the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome, bowel disorders, and certain types of cancer,” according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH). In clinical studies SCFA administration positively influenced the treatment of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.”

Black beans are a good source of prebiotics.

You have likely heard of probiotics and how important they are for gut health, but have you heard of prebiotics? Prebiotics are the food source for probiotics, so without them we would have a hard time maintaining a healthy, balanced gut. To learn more about the importance of prebiotics, click here.

Black beans are heart friendly and anticancer.

Black beans contain plant compounds called flavonoids, which have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation is key in protecting yourself from heart disease and every type of cancer.

Black beans are also rich in soluble fiber.

Soluble fiber absorbs water, turns to a gel-like material and passes more easily through the digestive tract than insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber may help prevent heart disease by balancing unhealthy cholesterol levels.

An added benefit of soluble fiber is it may help reduce belly (visceral) fat, one of the most dangerous types of fat. A 2011 study found evidence showing that a 10-gram increase in soluble fiber per day decreased visceral fat by nearly 4% over the course of five years.

Maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your belly in check may also help reduce heart disease and certain cancers.

Let’s check out additional essential nutrients in one cup of cooked (boiled) black beans:

  • Calcium, 46 mg. You probably know that this mineral is essential for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Did you know this mineral may also decrease your risk for colorectal cancer? Recent studies confirm that high calcium intake is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer among both men and women. Maintaining the correct levels of calcium in your system may also reduce your risk of breast cancer as well.
  • Iron, 3.61 mg. Iron is a critical mineral that every single cell in your body needs. It is needed to make hemoglobin, a component of your red blood cells that delivers oxygen to all the cells in your body. Without adequate iron, the resulting lack of oxygen may cause fatigue. Decreased levels of iron may also result in apathy and depression. Many women are depressed during their childbearing years (25-45), and one reason for this could be that women lose iron during menstruation.
  • Magnesium, 120 mg. Magnesium is a calming mineral with muscle relaxing and antioxidant properties. It may also help people with high blood pressure and improve symptoms of depression. There is even some evidence that suggests magnesium may reduce the overall risk of cancer.
  • Phosphorus, 241 mg. This mineral works with calcium to build strong bones and teeth. It is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and zinc.
  • Potassium, 611 mg. Adults generally need about 4700 -5100 mg. of this must-have mineral daily. It may help to control blood pressure, reduce kidney stones and prevent bone loss as you age. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), potassium may help reduce osteoporosis and prevent heart failure.
  • Folate, 256 mcg. Folate (also called vitamin B9) is a very important nutrient, especially for pregnant women. The RDA is 400 mg. Folate may help prevent cancer and heart disease and improve mental health.
  • Vitamin K, 5.7 mcg. This vitamin is critical for proper blood clotting and bone metabolism. It may also help maintain brain function, a healthy metabolism and may even help prevent cancer.

To get more black beans in your diet or to use them as a meat substitute, you can also try making black bean burgers. Also serve black beans over brown rice or quinoa for a delicious meal that is high in protein and will give you lasting energy. Top it with a lot of fresh veggies for more nutrients, flavour and great texture.

There may be something tricky when it comes to preparing and eating black beans and legumes in general. As nutritious as they are, legumes reportedly also contain anti-nutrients. I know this sounds scary, but hear me out before you decide to avoid legumes like the plague. These anti-nutrients found in legumes may interfere with digestion and the absorption of other nutrients.

For example, one of these anti-nutrients is called phytic acid or phytate, and it may affect the absorption of iron, zinc and calcium. For meat eaters and seafood eaters, this is not really something you have to worry about. If you eat meat, even not every day, you likely get enough iron and zinc and do not have to worry about the intake of phytic acid, even if you eat legumes.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you may have to be a bit more proactive when it comes to eating black beans and other legumes. The NIH and other reports recommend soaking legumes in water before you cook them. Some reports suggest soaking in warm, filtered water for 12-24 hours. After that, just drain and prepare as usual. Another method, which is a little more time consuming, is sprouting legumes. Some reports say boiling the legumes also helps remove anti-nutrients.

There are also other reports that say worrying about anti-nutrients in legumes is a waste of time. I think it can’t hurt to just soak them. After all, you wouldn’t eat your produce without washing it first.

Enjoy your healthy life!

Health Benefits


Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, as well as many developed countries (CDC n.d.). Because processed and red meats are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (Abete et al. 2014), choosing legumes in place of some meat may benefit health and improve overall diet quality (Mitchell et al. 2009). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, recommend that we consume 1.5 cups of legumes each week. Research has shown that consumption of beans may reduce heart disease risk (Afshin et al. 2014).


Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States (CDC n.d.). Consuming legumes (including soybean) is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer (Zhu et al. 2015) and prostate cancer (Diallo et al. 2016). The dietary fiber found in beans, peas, and lentils may help to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer (Dahl and Stewart 2015). Beans, peas, and lentils also contain significant levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals, which are substances associated with preventing chronic diseases like cancer (Sanchez-Chino et al. 2015).


The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks foods based on how they raise blood glucose levels compared to glucose, a sugar. Beans, peas, and lentils are foods that typically have a lower GI (Mudryj, Yu, and Aukema 2014). Low-GI foods provide a slower release of glucose into the blood, and thus, decrease after-meal peaks in blood glucose levels. For people who have diabetes or are at risk of developing diabetes, low-GI foods are good choices (Wang et al. 2014). The fiber in beans, peas, and lentils may help slow the rate of digestion of the starch and absorption of glucose, which helps regulate blood glucose levels.


Individuals with celiac disease must follow a lifelong diet free of gluten. Gluten is a common name for certain proteins in wheat and related grains such as rye, barley, triticale, and spelt. Beans, peas, and lentils are gluten free and are an excellent starchy alternative to these foods, allowing people with celiac disease to also consume adequate amounts of fiber.