Healing Foods Pyramid™

PyramidBeans, Peas & Lentils
Beans, Peas & Lentils
are included in the Healing Foods Pyramid™ as part of a balanced, whole foods,plant-based diet. This Food Pyramid emphasizes foods that nourish the body, sustain energy over time, contain healing qualities and essential nutrients, and support a sustainable environment.

What are the recommended servings per day?

Why choose legumes?

What are legumes?

Beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts are collectively known as legumes, which are plants that have pods with tidy rows of seeds inside. The seeds are the fruit of the plants and are removed from the pod then dried for human and animal consumption. There are many types of legumes used throughout the world in different cuisines. Various foods in this category are metabolized differently and provide different essential nutrients. Because of these variations, common legumes such as peanuts, sugar snap peas, and soybeans are highlighted in other categories as follows:

Selected Sources of Legumes


Serving Size



garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans, fava beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, navy beans, great northern beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, mung beans

1/2 cup canned or cooked
1/3 cup mashed

~ 8 grams

~ 8 grams

split, yellow or green

large or small; brown, green, red or black

Specific Considerations


Legumes are rich in essential nutrients that exhibit antioxidant effects such as vitamin C, copper, selenium. They are also rich in phytochemicals such as saponins and inositol that are thought to decrease the risk of lung, blood, and colorectal cancers.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is an indicator of a specific food’s effect on blood sugar levels. Legumes are generally low on the glycemic index indicating that they slowly increase blood sugar over time which leads to better health outcomes including lower risk of diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Protein Complementation

Protein has a variety of functions throughout the body. It is essential for healthy nails and hair as well as for the construction and repair of tissues. The body also uses protein to make enzymes, hormones, bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids that must be consumed in the diet in order for the body to make new proteins. Our bodies can make some amino acids from the protein we eat, but not others; the ones the body cannot make are considered essential amino acids because they must be consumed from the diet.

Canned versus Dried Beans

Intestinal Gas

Many people who eat beans have a problem with intestinal gas. Humans are missing an enzyme required to break down raffinose sugars found in beans. The bacteria in our gut feast on these sugars, giving off hydrogen and carbon dioxide and causing intestinal gas. Some people avoid beans due to the intestinal gas or bloating they may produce. Gradually increasing the amount of beans you eat over several weeks can help in overcoming this problem.

To decrease intestinal gas from beans, peas, & lentils

Dried Beans

Canned Beans

Ideas for Increasing Consumption of Legumes


Beans and Legumes
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
Available at: www.uihealthcare.com
Accessed June 4, 2009

Fiber: Start Roughing It!
Harvard School of Public Health
Accessed June 4, 2009

Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center
Accessed June 4, 2009

Legumes: Using beans, peas and lentils instead of meat
Mayo Clinic
Accessed June 4, 2009

Meatless Monday
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
Accessed June 4, 2009

Protein: Moving Closer to Center Stage
Harvard School of Public Health
Accessed June 4, 2009

Protein in Diet
Medline Plus – A Service of the US National Library and the National Institute of Health
Accessed June 4, 2009

The Benefits of Protein
Osterwel, Neil WebMD
Accessed July 20, 2009

USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory
Available at: www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata
Accessed on June 4, 2009

Original Research and Review Articles

Barampama Z, et al. Effects of soaking, cooking and fermentation on composition, in-vitro starch digestibility and nutritive value of common beans. Plant foods for Human Nutrition. 1995; 48: 349-365.

Bazzano, LA, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women. Archives of Internal Medicine.2001;161:2573-2578.

Flight I, et al. Cereal grains and legumes in the prevention of coronary heart disease and stroke: a review of the literature. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006; 60: 1145-1159.

Granito M, et al. Effects of natural and controlled fermentation on the flatus-producing compounds of beans (phaseolus vulgaris). Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2003; 83: 1004-1009.

Kushi LH, et al Cereals, legumes, and chronic disease risk reduction: evidence from epidemiologic studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999;70(suppl):451S-458S.

Lanza E, et al. High dry bean intake and reduced risk of advanced colorectal adenoma recurrence among participants in the polyp prevention trial. The Journal of Nutrition. 2006; 136 (7)1896-1903.

Messina MJ. Legumes and soybeans: overview of their nutritional profiles and health effects. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1999;70(suppl):439S-450S.

Slavin JL, et al. Position of the American dietetic association: health implications of dietary fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2008;108: 1716-1731.

Winham D, et al. Beans and good health. Nutrition Today. 2008; 43 (5): 201-209.

The Healing Foods Pyramid™ was created by the Nutrition Education Team at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine in 2005 and updated in 2009.