Protein is a vital component of any diet. Beans, peas, and other plant-based proteins are especially important for vegans who don’t eat meat or animal products. Beans and peas have different amino acid profiles but both are great sources of protein. This article will detail the differences between peas and beans, as well as what makes them both healthy sources of protein for vegans. So read on and eat up!
Legumes, Pulses, and Beans
Pulses are an inexpensive source of protein for vegans, and they have more than twice as much protein per serving as cereal grains like rice and oats. And, a one-cup serving also provides just under half of your recommended fiber intake, which aids digestion and promotes gut health.
There can be a lot of confusion about the differences between beans, pulses, and legumes (or are they all the same thing?). I’m here to set the record straight, simply.
Legumes are the entire plant (leaves, stems, and pods).
Pulses are the edible seeds.
So, beans and peas are both pulses and legumes!
The pulses you are probably the most familiar with include dry beans, dry peas, chickpeas, and lentils.
And yes, peanuts are indeed legumes.
What are Beans?
Beans are legumes and members of the family Fabaceae. There are over 20,000 species in this family! Dried beans are very healthy and provide a high amount of protein, fiber, thiamin, folate, iron, calcium, potassium; the list goes on!
My personal favorite beans include:
- chickpeas/garbanzo bean
- mung beans
- kidney beans
- pinto bean
- adzuki beans
- black beans (sometimes called turtle beans)
- black-eyed peas (yes! They are actually beans!)
- edamame (soybeans)
- lima beans (they’re really good! If you haven’t tried them since you were a child, give them a shot!)
But my absolute favorites are red, yellow, and green lentils. I can easily eat these every day! Super easy to cook and incredibly high in protein. And, they’re absolutely delicious!
What are Peas?
Dried peas are another great source of vegan protein as well as fiber, folate, vitamins A and C, and beta carotene. Peas are also legumes, but they were considered different species from beans for centuries before a botanist realized that peas and the fava bean were actually the same thing, just grown differently!
My favorite peas are:
- English Pea (these are the peas that you will typically find frozen or canned, outside of their shell and ready to go)
- Green Pea
- Sugar Snap Peas
- Snow Pea
- yellow and green split pea
I love to add these to salads and grains. The next time you cook up some rice or quinoa, throw some peas in there. You get some added protein, slight sweetness, and that fun little pop green peas make when they’re cooked just right.
What are the Differences Between Peas and Beans
While they are both great sources of protein, they do have their differences. Back in my meat-eating days I liked to rotate my protein sources. I didn’t eat meat at every meal, or even every day. I would rotate between fish, meat, pork, poultry, and eggs.
I like to think of peas and beans in much the same way. I have my favorite staple vegan I like to think of peas and beans in much the same way. I have my favorite staple vegan proteins, and I like to rotate them around so that I am constantly getting different nutritional profiles. Not to mention different flavors and dishes!
Here are some of the main differences, nutritionally, between beans and peas.
Protein: Beans have more protein than peas do. A one-cup serving of beans has roughly 16 grams of protein, while the same amount of peas has about 10 grams.
Fiber: Beans have more fiber than peas do. A one-cup serving of beans has about 40 grams of fiber, while a one-cup serving of peas has only 8.
Digestion: Peas, as well as lentils, are easier to digest than beans. As a general rule, the sweeter the legume, the easier it is to digest.
If you’re looking for a great vegan protein powder, it’s pea protein for the win. It is high in every essential amino acid except methionine, it’s well digested, highly bioavailable, mixes well in shakes, and tastes great.
Nutrition Profiles of Beans and Peas Compared
|1/2 cup cooked||Beans||Peas|
As you can see, beans are a much more calories dense food. This makes beans and peas great additions to your meals for different reasons. If you need to calorie boost or are really hungry, go for beans. If you are looking to get in some more protein for the day but don’t want to add in a lot of calories, peas may be the better choice.
Cooking Peas and Beans
I eat beans and peas all the time. Seriously, a couple of nights a week at least!
Peas are best eaten out of the pod, so to speak. Boil them until they are soft enough to eat whole. Be careful though, overcooking peas makes them hard and unpleasant to eat.
If you find yourself with a large bag of peas that is looking less than delightful, make pea soup! Split pea soup is delicious and super versatile; you can flavor it any way you want and add almost any other vegetable. Frozen peas work great here, too!
Beans have more nutrition when cooked from dried. They are way cheaper this way, too! You definitely want to soak beans (not lentils or peas) before cooking, either through a long or quick soak process. This breaks down some of the raffinose (there’s your gas culprit right there) and phytic acid (an anti-nutrient that can block the absorption of some nutrients), making them much easier to digest and more nutritious.
See my article here on both long and quick soaking different varieties of beans (coming soon!).
After your beans have soaked, you’ll want to cook them thoroughly. My favorite way to cook beans is with my Instant Pot. So fast and easy! Most beans will cook in the Instant Pot for 20 minutes, as opposed to 45 to 50 minutes on the stovetop.
Canned beans are great in a pinch. I always have cans of a dark red kidney bean, black beans, lentils, and chickpeas in my pantry for nights when I don’t really feel like cooking much.
If you are going to go with canned beans, definitely spend the extra money and buy sodium-free if you can. Even low sodium versions have a ton of salt in them!
But can’t I just rinse them and get rid of the extra salt that way? Yes, you can. But, the vitamins in beans are water-soluble, meaning they leach out into the beans’ soaking water. When you empty the beans into a strainer and then rinse them off, you are washing away a ton of their incredibly healthy vitamins!
Buy sodium-free if you can, and then warm them on a stovetop or in the microwave in the canning water.
Or just eat them straight out of the can!
Legumes and Health
Legumes are a staple in the diets of the longest living populations on Earth. Not only are they delicious, they have a ton of health of benefits.
Legumes improve insulin sensitivity (1, 2, 4). They do this by decreasing the speed that food leaves your stomach and inhibiting the digestion of starch in the small intestine. They also ferment, which feeds your good gut bacteria and creates short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Since legumes only cause a minor insulin response, they can be beneficial for those that already have diabetes or a family history of it. In fact, eating beans causes lower glycemia for the rest of the day, regardless of what foods you eat (5)! Legumes eaten with breakfast lower postprandial glycemia at that meal and for the rest of the day. Beans consumed at night lower glycemia throughout the entire next day!
Beans are one of the lowest Glycemic Index (3) foods because they are high in fiber. This makes them great anti-diabetic food! Beans also have weak effects on blood sugar levels due to their slow digestion time. The slower the digestion, the lower the insulin increase, and vice versa.
Legumes lower LDL cholesterol levels and inflammation markers while significantly lowering homocysteine. These effects are mostly due to their high folate content, along with their anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. (6)
Beans are also especially rich in phytochemicals that protect the heart and blood vessels. These include their high potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, and manganese content, along with vitamins A and C. (7, 8)
Diets rich in legumes have been associated with a reduced risk of several different types of cancer, including colorectal, breast, prostate, ovarian, pancreatic, and lung cancers. This causality has been attributed to their phytochemicals (isoflavones, lignans), antioxidants, fiber, iron, zinc, copper, and selenium. Genistein, found in soybeans, has a well-established role in inhibiting angiogenesis (9), which feeds tumor growth.
Additionally, there is evidence that beans may protect against developing new tumors because they lengthen telomeres, the protective cap at the end of our chromosomes!
Dietary protein from beans has been shown to lower the risk of kidney disease. A study of 14,866 patients with chronic kidney disease found that “every 33% increase in the ratio of plant protein to total protein consumed resulted in a lower risk of death for those with chronic kidney disease (CKD). (10)
Additionally, kidney stones result from high concentrations of calcium oxalate, a compound that is produced when oxalic acid (oxalate) combines with calcium. Eating beans has been shown to decrease the risk of kidney stones because they inhibit the absorption of dietary oxalate.
Legumes may aid weight loss due to their high fiber content. Dietary fiber helps people lose weight by making them feel full, which promotes healthy eating habits and decreases calorie intake.
Legumes in particular create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) when their fiber is digested by gut bacteria. These SCFAs help improve satiety and increase energy expenditure. (11)
That’s a Wrap
I hope this article has helped you learn more about the similarities and differences between beans and peas, two great sources of protein for vegans, as well as why you should add them to your diet. If you’re vegan or just looking to add some plant-based proteins into your diet, beans and peas are the way to go!
Add them both to your plant-based armory and reap the benefits of these legumes!
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