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Legumes are the seeds and the fruit of a legume plant. There are many varieties of legume. Some are eaten immature and fresh as a vegetable, some are sprouted and eaten as a salad vegetable, but most legumes are grown to maturity, dried and later re-hydrated and cooked before eating. They are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.

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What it is

A legume is a plant. The fruit, also called a legume, develops as a pod, which usually opens along it seems on both sides to reveal the seeds we commonly call Legumes, simple examples are broad bean (fava bean) and pea pods. The legume pods can be picked when they are green and immature, in this way they are eaten fresh like a vegetable, sometimes only the seed is eaten, as with peas, or whole, including the pod, as with green beans. Most often the legume pods are dried and the seeds stored and later re-hydrated and cooked, these legume seeds are also referred to as pulse. They can also be sprouted and eaten more like a salad vegetable.

The most common legumes that are eaten are Beans, peas, Lentils, lupins and peanuts, although peanuts are commonly referred to as a nut in the culinary sense.


The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations gives the name “pulses” to the legumes that are dried. There are a few legumes that do not fit into the pulse category.

• Green Peas (considered a vegetable crop)
• Green beans (also considered a vegetable crop)
• Peanuts  (used mainly for oil extraction, referred to as an oilseed)
• Soybeans (also considered an oil seed)

• Dry Beans;
o Kidney bean, haricot bean, pinto bean, navy bean.
o Lima bean    
o Adzuki bean
o Mung bean
o Black gram
o Scarlet runner bean
o Rice bean
o Moth bean
o Tepary bean
• Dry Broad beans
o Horse bean
o Broad bean
o Field bean
• Dry Peas
• Chick peas
• Black-eyed pea
• Pigeon Pea
• Lentil
• Bambara groundnut
• Vetch
• Lupins

Also there are other minor pulses like, hyacinth bean, jack bean, winged bean, velvet bean and yam bean.

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What is in it


Pulses are usually 20 to 25% protein by weight and for this reason are sometimes called poor mans meat. Although legumes are generally high in protein, they do not contain all the essential amino acids, being deficient in the essential amino acid methionine. Combining legumes with grains can form a complete protein.
Legumes are a good source of fiber, protein and many vitamins and minerals. See the pages for the particular legume for more detail.

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Which to select


Buy only organic legumes, as toxins tend to concentrate in the seeds of legumes
Pulses, dried mature legumes, can usually be bought packaged or in bulk containers. For the freshest product buy beans that are stored well in sealed airtight containers in markets or shops with good turnover. Be sure that there is no evidence of moisture of mold. The beans should be whole and not split.
Canned beans retain most of their nutritional value so unlike canned vegetables, which have lost, a lot of their goodness, using canned beans is still a nutritious option. This will seem obvious when you consider that fresh vegetables should be cooked only lightly and so the long cooking time needed to can food means that the vegetables have been over cooked and will have lost most of their nutritional value. On the other hand, beans need to be cooked for a long time, so the canning process is well suited to legume cooking methods. 

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Where to store

Store dried legumes in a well-sealed container away from light and heat. If stored correctly they can keep well for up to 1 year. Once they have been cooked, store them in a sealed container in the refrigerator where they will keep for a few days keep for a few days.

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How to use


Wash the legumes in cold water to ensure they are free of any debris and remove any damaged beans.
All dried legumes should be re-hydrated by soaking overnight.
For full details on preparing legumes see our Special Guide to Legume Preparation, this will guide you on reducing flatulence and reducing cooking times.

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How much you need


To reach your health goals and become healthy the most important step is to eat a well balanced diet of food from across all the food groups.
For an average person
Servings per food group.
Whole Grains (Carbohydrates):  6 – 8
Meat and beans (Protein):  1 – 2
High quality fats: 1
Dairy:     2 - 3
Fruit: 2
Vegetables: 5
Water: 6
This list is of recommended daily amount of each food group for an average person 19 to 50 years old with a low level of exercise (30minutes of less a day). If you are older you may need a little less, if you are younger, a little more and if you are very active even more food should be eaten. For more information on serving sizes see our special feature on Sizing Up A Serve.
It is important to ensure that the foods that you eat are of a high quality. The highest quality product is one that is fresh, whole and organic.
Fresh – over time the quality of nutrients degrades with their potency dying off.
Whole – many foods, particularly vegetarian foods carry a lot of their nutrients in their outer skins. So leave bran, germs and skins on the food where possible. Always with grains and whenever the fruit of vegetable permits.
Organic – ensure you have the cleanest food by using only foods that are grown without pesticides, or other chemicals, in a natural way as people have in all bar the last 80 years of history. Chemical burdened foods are a modern invention designed to increase output with little regard to the health of the end user.

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The Journal of Nutrition – The American Society for Nutrition,, retrieved 05/2009.
Wikipedia,,  retrieved 05/2009
Legumes for Health, ARC Centre of Excellence for Integrative Legume Research,, retrieved 05/2009
Beans and other legumes: Types and tasty tips, Mayo Clinic,, retrieved05/2009.
Prepared by the editors at Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Meir J. Stampfer, M.D., Dr.P.H., Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Vitamins and Minerals: What you need to know,  Harvard School of Public Health, 2008.
Bratman, Steven, and David Kroll. Natural Health Bible. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1999.
Paul Pitchford. Healing with whole food, North Atlantic Books, 2002.
Goldman L, Ausiello D. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders, 2004.
Norton Greenberger M.D. and Roanne Weisman, 4 Weeks to Healthy Digestion, Harvard School of Public Health. (2008)

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