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Beans, Peas, and Lentils: Health Benefits1

Lakshmi Mahan, Lauren Foster, and Wendy J. Dahl2

Bean Basics

Bean, peas, and lentils are known collectively as legumes or pulses. Beans are great sources of many nutrients, including protein, fiber, and potassium.

Beans, peas, and lentils can be placed either in the vegetable group or the protein group of MyPlate, the food groups that the building blocks of a healthy diet ( The food group you decide to place beans, peas, and lentils in depends on how successful you have been in meeting the suggested servings for the two groups. If you have consumed enough protein choices, then you can count beans, peas, and lentils in the vegetable group, and vice versa. For example, vegetarians, especially vegans, tend to consider legumes as their primary protein source. Meat eaters may choose to count legumes as vegetables because obtaining sufficient protein through meats and dairy is rather easy.

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 high, more than the amount of protein that is found in cereal grains (USDA 2015). 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 2015). 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 prevent some of the gas production.

Beans, peas, and lentils are also rich sources of some vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium (USDA 2015). 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.

Health Benefits

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, as well as many developed countries (CDC). As processed meat and red meat 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). In the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, it is recommended 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 US (CDC). 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.

Celiac Disease

Individuals with celiac disease must follow a lifelong diet free of gluten. Gluten is a common name for certain proteins in wheat and wheat-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.

Where Can I Get More Information?

The family and consumer sciences agent at your county UF/IFAS Extension office may have more information and nutrition classes for you to attend. Also, a registered dietitian can provide you with reliable information. If you have concerns about your specific health condition, speak to your doctor.


Abete, I., D. Romaguera, A. R. Vieira, A. Lopez de Munain, and T. Norat. 2014. "Association between total, processed, red and white meat consumption and all-cause, CVD and IHD mortality: a meta-analysis of cohort studies." Br J Nutr 112 (5):762–75. doi: 10.1017/s000711451400124x.

Afshin, A., R. Micha, S. Khatibzadeh, and D. Mozaffarian. 2014. "Consumption of nuts and legumes and risk of incident ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Am J Clin Nutr 100 (1):278–88. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.076901.

CDC, NCHS. Underlying Cause of Death 1999–2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2015. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999–2013, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed May 20, 2016. Accessed May 20, 2016.

Dahl, W. J., and M. L. Stewart. 2015. "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber." J Acad Nutr Diet 115 (11):1861–70. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003.

Diallo, A., M. Deschasaux, P. Galan, S. Hercberg, L. Zelek, P. Latino-Martel, and M. Touvier. 2016. "Associations between fruit, vegetable and legume intakes and prostate cancer risk: results from the prospective Supplementation en Vitamines et Mineraux Antioxydants (SU.VI.MAX) cohort." Br J Nutr:1–7. doi: 10.1017/s0007114516000520.

Mitchell, D. C., F. R. Lawrence, T. J. Hartman, and J. M. Curran. 2009. "Consumption of dry beans, peas, and lentils could improve diet quality in the US population." J Am Diet Assoc 109 (5):909–13. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2009.02.029.

Mudryj, A. N., N. Yu, and H. M. Aukema. 2014. "Nutritional and health benefits of pulses." Appl Physiol Nutr Metab 39 (11):1197–204. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2013-0557.

Sanchez-Chino, X., C. Jimenez-Martinez, G. Davila-Ortiz, I. Alvarez-Gonzalez, and E. Madrigal-Bujaidar. 2015. "Nutrient and nonnutrient components of legumes, and its chemopreventive activity: a review." Nutr Cancer 67 (3):401–10. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2015.1004729.

US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2015. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. Nutrient Data Laboratory Home Page. Available at:

Wang, Q., W. Xia, Z. Zhao, and H. Zhang. 2014. "Effects comparison between low glycemic index diets and high glycemic index diets on HbA1c and fructosamine for patients with diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Prim Care Diabetes. doi: 10.1016/j.pcd.2014.10.008.

Zhu, B., Y. Sun, L. Qi, R. Zhong, and X. Miao. 2015. "Dietary legume consumption reduces risk of colorectal cancer: evidence from a meta-analysis of cohort studies." Sci Rep 5:8797. doi: 10.1038/srep08797.



This document is FSHN13-06, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date May 2013. Revised May 2016. Visit the EDIS website at


Lakshmi Mahan; Lauren Foster; and Wendy J. Dahl, assistant professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.