The beautiful benefits of beans, pulses and legumes

When I was a kid we used to sing a little ditty (which we laughed at because we knew it sounded a bit rude). It went like this;

“Beans, beans good for your heart, the more you eat the more you ……”.

Now in essence it wasn’t wrong. But if we’d said it in actuality of what happens, it simply wouldn’t have sounded the same;

“Oligosaccharides, oligosaccharides good for your heart, the process of fermentation in the large intestine can give us energy but may also create gas, bloating and uncomfortableness”.

So, what’s the deal with these small key macronutrients? How can they benefit us and what do we need to know before we eat them?

They’re similar but also slightly different

Beans, pulses and legumes are sometimes thought of as the same thing. This is probably for our ease, but although their origins are the same, there are subtle differences between them.

Beans – These are a type of pulse – varieties include: kidney, pinto, mung, butter, black, haricot and cannellini

Pulses – These are derived from the dried seed within the legume pod – varieties include: chickpeas, lentils and split peas

Legumes – This refers to the whole plant or plants that belong to the Leguminosae family (which beans and pulses do).

What are some of the benefits of Leguminosae?

Heart health – There are so many benefits. The ditty was right. Beans are good for our heart. One of the reasons for this is because they contain phytosterols (or plant steroids).

In addition, the compacted soluble fibre within them is beneficial for supporting healthy cholesterol levels.

Blood flow – Heart disease poses a huge threat to our health. Beans and pulses provide minerals (copper, iron, potassium and manganese) which support our heart vessels and healthy blood flow. This means that there is less likelihood to develop hardened arteries and clogged veins. This is good news for reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes which according to BHF currently affect 190,000 people every year in the UK.

Healthy gut – Although legumes can upset the gut, they can also in many cases, provide benefits. We will discuss insoluble fibre below, but in short, insoluble fibre bulks out our stools making them easier to pass.

This not only avoids constipation, but also means that waste does not accumulate and sit in our intestinal tissue where it can harden. If this happens it can result in infections, bloating and some of the unpleasant symptoms associated with IBS.

Toxin removal – Mung beans are one of my favourite foods. I have a wonderful recipe that I got from an ayurvedic practitioner years ago. I still use today (and I’ll include at the bottom).

These along with a number of other legumes have some powerful antioxidant properties.

Bone support – Whilst our body readily stores a little manganese, these important micronutrients need to be topped up to support our bone health. Beans and pulses can help here.

Adults require 2-5mg a day. Whilst we can get higher doses from foods like oats and hazel nuts, cooked chickpeas contain about 0.9 mg per serving. Lentils 0.5 mg and canned kidney beans 0.3 mg. Chickpeas also benefit from containing calcium.

Weight management – Legumes are largely low in calories and along with grains form a healthy protein source. Being a plant, they also form a good carbohydrate source. They are low on the glycemic index which means that they break down slowly in the gut. This helps us to feel fuller for longer and is beneficial for supporting diabetes health and also our weight management.

Our mental health – Legumes are rich in B vitamins. Adzuki beans are particularly high in B1 (which is good for our nervous system), B2 (supports our breathing capacity) and B3 (is good for our nervous system). We can further increase the benefits by combining beans and pulses with leafy green vegetables and whole grains.

Why legumes are a gut issue

Legumes are complex carbohydrates or multiple bonded sugars, also known as oligosaccharides or galacto-oligosaccarides (GOS).

If you have gut issues or have experienced the bubbling, as if your belly was part of a washing machine, then you’ll know that this can be extremely uncomfortable. In some cases, it can even be quite painful.

This is all as a result or by-product of the breaking down or fermentation (which is similar to brewing beer) of the bean. Fermentation creates a great deal of energy and is useful for feeding the gut tissue, but it can also create a lot of gas (which is where you see and can feel the bloating).

Oligosaccharides are made up of insoluble fibre. This is derived from the plant’s cellular walls and unlike other sugars can’t be broken down (insoluble) in the small intestine. Instead they pass through to the large intestine which contain a large diverse species of bacteria which can begin to break them down.

The importance of soaking

One of the things which can reduce the gas produced from legumes, is to soak them.

Most beans and pulses (and in turn your gut) will benefit from legumes being soaked overnight, you can also add in a little baking soda. Do make sure that you soak

Aduki               Black eyed                   Barlotti            Broad              Butter              Chickpeas

Cannelleni       Haricot                        Mungbeans     Pinto                Red kidney       Soya bean

Obviously if you’ve bought canned, that’s fine as these already benefit from having been pre-cooked and immersed in fluid for some time.

When you’re cooking mung or soya beans you can also add 1tsp of asafoetida to break down the bean and lessen the gas. This was another really useful tip that I gained from the Ayurvedic practitioner

Tins or packets?

I personally often use tinned rather than packet legumes simply to save time. Not only does the canning process preserve the bean but it also protects it against spoiling.

It is important to make sure that you rinse them well before use if they were stored in salted water, but adding a little of the stored water can really enhance the flavour of dishes.

A vegan food swap

It may surprise you to know that the fluid that tinned chickpeas are soaked in can be used as an egg white substitute for vegan recipes. Aquafaba (the juice) can be whisked into submission to make desserts like strawberry or chocolate mousse.


Short on ideas, try these:

Mixed bean chilli – 1 tin of mixed beans (or black beans), 1 tin of tomatoes, 3 medium sized fresh tomatoes chopped (or 6 baby tomatoes roasted), 1 -2 fresh chillies, ½ red or yellow pepper, handful of coriander, lime juice.

Butternut chowder (adapted from an old Waitrose recipe) – 1 medium sized butternut squash, ½ leek, 2 celery stalks, can of cannellini beans, stock.

I like to take our half of the cooked ingredients and blend the other half with some almond milk until it’s quite runny, before returning the cooked ingredient. It gives it a really nice texture. The recipe also suggests sweetcorn and parsley which I sometimes (or sometimes don’t) add.

Green lentil soup – 2 small potatoes, 1 onion, 2-3 cloves garlic (optional) green lentils, stock, ½ tin of tinned tomatoes or 3 fresh chopped tomatoes.

Mung bean soup (from Ayurvedic Practitioner Rebecca Kriese). Funnily enough my mung bean delivery has arrived whilst I’ve been typing this! Anyway, the recipe.

300g mung beans, 1 tsp turmeric powder, ¼ tsp asafoetida, 2-3 cloves garlic, fresh root ginger, 2 tsp cumin seeds, 2 tsp coriander seeds, rock salt. This is one of the most nourishing and cleansing soups.

For other health food ideas do take a look here and if you want to receive a useful monthly nutrition, stress management and making the world a better place tip, sign up to my newsletter here.


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