Many people agree that beans are a delicious and nutritious addition to your meals. However, what’s frequently misunderstood is which food group they belong to.
Like vegetables, beans are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that promote your health.
But unlike most vegetables, beans also offer a substantial amount of plant-based protein.
This article tells you whether beans are vegetables or should be categorized as something else.
Botanically, beans are classified into a group of plant foods known as legumes.
All legumes are members of a family of flowering plants called Fabaceae, also known as Leguminosae. These plants produce fruits and seeds inside a pod (1).
As legumes are nutritionally unique, they’re sometimes considered their own food group. However, more frequently they’re categorized with other plant foods like vegetables.
Though the term “bean” may refer to different plant species, many of the types of beans frequently eaten by humans can be further classified into a subgroup called pulses.
Pulses are the edible, dry seeds from legume plant pods (2).
Common varieties of pulses include:
- Beans: Kidney, adzuki, black, pinto, black-eyed pea, mung, fava
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans): Desi and kabuli
- Dry peas: Whole green, split green, whole yellow, split yellow
- Lentils: Red, green, brown and black
Other types of edible legumes that are not considered pulses but still types of beans include soybeans and fresh beans.
Summary Beans are plant foods known as legumes. Many commonly consumed beans also fall into a category of foods known as pulses.
Nutritionally, beans are famed as a rich source of protein, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, including both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Here’s the nutrient content of a typical one-cup (177-grams) serving of cooked black beans (3):
- Calories: 227
- Carbs: 41 grams
- Protein: 15 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Fiber: 15 grams
- Folate: 64% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Potassium: 17% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 24% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 30% of the RDI
- Iron: 20% of the RDI
Though the exact nutrient content of beans varies depending on the type of bean and the soil in which they’re grown, most beans are particularly high in folate, iron, magnesium, fiber and protein.
Like many vegetables, beans are rich in plant compounds known as phytonutrients, which may help prevent chronic diseases. Research indicates that regular consumption of beans and other pulses can significantly improve your overall diet quality (4).
Because of their nutrient makeup and high fiber content, beans and other legumes are often classified as part of the vegetable food group (5).
They may also be further categorized into the subgroup “starchy vegetables,” alongside potatoes and squash, due to their relatively high starch content compared to other types of vegetables.
Summary Beans are nutrient dense with high fiber and starch content. Thus, they’re frequently considered part of the vegetable food group. They may be further classified as a “starchy vegetable,” along with potatoes and squash.
Perhaps one of the most unique nutritional features of beans is their protein content.
Unlike other types of vegetables, beans are often considered to be part of the protein food group, too. In fact, beans are a popular substitute for meat and other animal-based protein sources in vegetarian and vegan diets.
Beans are also one of the most affordable protein sources, making them an invaluable component of the global food supply (6).
The USDA counts beans as part of both the vegetable and protein food groups. If they’re used for protein, 1/4 cup of beans (43 grams) is equal to one ounce of meat (28 grams) or other animal-based protein (5).
Essentially, this means that, compared to animal-based protein, you need to eat more servings of beans in combination with other plant-based protein sources to meet your daily amino acid and protein needs.
Summary Beans are also included in the protein food group because they supply a significant amount of amino acids. They’re often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian and vegan diets.
Though technically a separate food group known as legumes, beans are very similar to vegetables due to their high fiber, vitamin, mineral and health-promoting phytonutrient content.
Yet, they’re unique to most vegetables, as they’re also quite rich in protein.
Essentially, beans may be considered a legume, protein or vegetable.
Regardless of which category you place them in, regularly consuming beans and other legumes can contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.