Which beans are the healthiest to eat and what should you be looking out for?

It’s not a secret that legumes are very good for us and should definitely be part of a healthy diet. They are high in fibre, micronutrients and are an excellent source of plant-based protein. Not only this but legumes are cheap, non-perishable and take very little skill to prepare. But which legumes are better, nutritionally?

I’ll compare a few of the most common legumes for you to see what differences they have, starting with the black bean.

1. Black Beans

Black beans are the little “black” beans which are commonly used in Mexican-style dishes. They are high in fibre at 15g per serve* and have very low sodium at 14mg per serve [1-3]. Their protein content is great too at 14g per serve.3 Black beans do have quite a high sugar content at 8.2g per serve; this is higher than what you would find in baked beans [3].

2. Kidney Beans

Kidney Beans are the maroon, ‘kidney’-shaped beans. Kidney beans have a slightly lower protein punch than black beans at 10g per serve – but this is still great [3]. They do have moderate salt at around ¼ of the daily recommendations for salt intake per serve at 500mg [2,3]. BUT! It’s not all bad news, there are ‘no added salt’ kidney beans available which have more protein and only 21mg of salt[3]! However, this version also comes with about 230kJ extra, so make sure you take this into consideration when choosing the rest of your meals for the day [3].

3. Baked Beans

Baked beans, the beans everyone has probably tried at least once in their lifetime and a rainy day staple in many Aussie homes. Baked beans are packed with protein and fibre, however, they do come with quite a hefty salt content. ‘Regular salt’ baked-beans (ie, the ones that don’t have ‘reduced salt’ smeared all over their packaging) have about 1000mg of salt - that’s around half the recommended daily salt intake [2,3]! The ‘regular salt’ baked beans have about 6g of sugar per serve too, which is moderate – but higher than their other legume friends (not including black beans) who top about 2g [3,4]. On the other hand, ‘reduced salt’ baked beans have about half the amount of salt at about 500mg (still ¼ of the daily recommendations) [2,3].But this reduced salt comes at a cost, with the sugar content of these guys at 9.5g per serve [3].

4. Lentils

Lentils are the small, round legume commonly used in curries and casseroles. These guys have the least amount of kilojoules, salt and sugar of the legumes I’ve discussed today. But they’ve kept their protein high at about 13g per serve and fibre moderate at about 7g [3]. If you are looking for something to bulk up your meals with added protein and fibre (but without excess salt and kilojoules) then lentils are the legume for you.

5. Chickpeas

Last but certainly not least is chickpeas. Chickpeas are arguably the most versatile legume, they are the key ingredient in so many delicious foods, including hummus and falafel! What’s better is they are equally as nutritious as all of the legumes I’ve already discussed with about 770kJ, 11g protein and 8g of fibre [3]. Chickpeas are another example of a legume where you might wish to choose a ‘reduced salt’ or ‘no added salt’ version as regular chickpeas come with about 430mg of salt (just under ¼ of the daily recommendations) [2,3]! A reduced salt serve will bring that salt level back to only about 55mg of salt – much better [3]! A lower salt version may also bring the protein and energy level down slightly, but not enough to dull their nutritional shine.

So, which are the best for you?

I’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you here and it might seem a little overwhelming, but let’s take a step back and look at these legumes with a bit less of a critical mind to see the bigger picture.

All in all, most legumes are on a fairly even playing field in terms on their nutrition with some slight variances in kilojoules here and fibre there. As I started out saying, they are all high in fibre (which is great for our gut!) and are an excellent source of plant-based protein. However, the main nutrient which varies significantly when it comes to legumes is salt.

As we have seen, kidney beans and chickpeas can come with quite a high salt percentage; even reduced salt baked beans have about ¼ of our daily intake! Excess salt can lead to high blood pressure and eventually heart disease; so it is important that where possible, you check the nutrition labels and choose a ‘reduced salt’ or ‘no added salt’ version [5]. If that isn’t possible, just remember to be aware of the salt content of these legumes and reduce your daily salt intake in other ways – such as not adding salt at the table, or choosing less processed foods and more whole, plant-based foods!

I have included a table of all the nutrients of interest for each legume I discussed today to make it clearer for you.

Happy leguming!


[1]Serve sizes | Eat For Health. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/how-much-do-we-need-each-day/serve-sizes

[2] Sodium | Nutrient Reference Values. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/sodium

[3] Easy Diet Diary – Because what you eat matters. (2019). Retrieved from https://easydietdiary.com/

[4] How to Understand Food Labels. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/Eating%20Well/efh_food_label_example_large.pdf

[5] Aburto, N., Ziolkovska, A., Hooper, L., Elliott, P., Cappuccio, F., & Meerpohl, J. (2013). Effect of lower sodium intake on health: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ, 346(apr03 3), f1326-f1326. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f1326

This article was written by one of our amazing PNW Interns Donna Harris. Donna is in her final year studying a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics with Honours at QUT in Brisbane. Being fresh into the nutrition scene, Donna is up-to-date with all of the current information. With a keen interest in research and clinical nutrition, her nutrition articles are designed to relay all the latest nutrition science to you in easy to understand terms. You can follow Donna on instagram @pepperandcorndietetics.

Kiah Paetz is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and founder of Plant Nutrition and Wellness. She operates her private practice clinic at North Lakes, Hamilton and offers online consultations via Skype/Facetime. For bookings, please visit our website or contact admin@plantnutritionwellness.com

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