Legumes belong to a family of foods that includes peas, beans, lentils and peanuts. Though most legumes are quite small, these tiny foods offer a powerful dose of certain nutrients. In addition to protein, potassium, zinc and niacin, legumes are an excellent source of dietary fiber and iron, two essential nutrients you should include as part of your daily diet.
Fiber is defined as the part of plant foods that your body isn't able to digest. While that sounds fairly unpleasant, it's actually good for you. Fiber helps lower your cholesterol levels, which can help protect the health of your heart and cut your risk of having a heart attack. The nutrient also improves your digestive health so you have normal bowel movements. That helps prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. Because fiber-rich foods, such as legumes, fill you up and are digested slowly, they can aid you in managing your weight by helping you feel less hungry. That can reduce your overall food intake so you can shed excess pounds or maintain a healthy weight.
A 1-cup serving of cooked black beans is among your top legume sources for fiber. That portion delivers 16.6 grams of fiber, which is 66 percent of the 25 grams women should include as part of a healthy daily diet. A cup of cooked lentils isn't far behind with 15.6 grams of fiber. A 1-cup serving of kidney or navy beans each supply about 13 grams of fiber, and the same portion of soybeans delivers 10.3 grams. Fava beans supply 9.5 grams per cup, while cooked peas contain 8.8 grams. Though usually grouped with other nuts, peanuts are actually legumes and supply 2.3 grams of fiber per ounce.
Iron is an essential mineral that serves several key functions in your body. Most notably, iron helps you make red blood cells, which are crucial for you to absorb plenty of oxygen. Iron also helps you make energy and supports healthy immunity. An iron deficiency is fairly common. In fact, it's the leading nutritional deficiency in the world with up to 80 percent of people lacking adequate iron, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Too little iron leads to anemia, a medical condition that causes weakness and fatigue.
Soybeans supply a hefty dose of iron with 8.84 milligrams per cup. That's about 50 percent of the 18 milligrams women need on a daily basis. A 1-cup serving of cooked lentils is another impressive source with 6.59 milligrams. A cup of black or navy beans each supplies close to 5 milligrams of iron, and a cup of kidney beans delivers 3 milligrams. Fava beans and cooked peas each provide 2.5 milligrams per cup. With 0.64 milligram per ounce, peanuts don't supply nearly as much as peas, beans and lentils.
Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.