home icon work icon education icon city icon

Legumes – What They Are and Why You Should Consume Them Daily

Legumes are nutritious, satisfying, inexpensive and good for the environment

What are legumes?

A very large range of legumes are available in supermarkets. This photo (Hebrew) shows the most common types in Israel: chickpeas, peas of all colors, lentils of all colors, beans of all types and colors, broad beans, turmos (lupini bean), soy, and more.
Photo: Ofir Gefkovitz, Design: Orit Ofir and Sharon Cohen

Note: green and yellow beans as well as green peas (as opposed to dry peas) are vegetables. Rice, quinoa and spelt are grains.

Legumes are an essential part of a healthy daily menu

According to the national dietary guidelines and the New Nutritional Rainbow, legumes should be consumed at least once a day, as they help prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Moreover, they are nutritious, satisfying, inexpensive and good for the environment – a winning dish!

What are the benefits of legumes?

  • Legumes protect health.
  • Legumes may help prevent and treat cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, facilitate weight loss and maintenance of proper weight and prevent colon cancer. Legumes are beneficial due to their nutritional composition: legumes contain almost no saturated fat, are free of cholesterol while rich in dietary fiber and antioxidants.
  • Legumes are nutritious and satisfying.
  • Legumes contain protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, dietary fiber and vitamin B. White beans and soybeans also contain calcium.

This dietary composition allows legumes to serve as an excellent basis for balanced and satisfying meals while helping reduce or even completely replace meat.
For example, one cup of cooked lentils contains:

  • 18 grams of protein (more than 2 eggs).
  • 6.6 mg of iron (similar to the quantity in 600 gr of chicken breast).
  • 2.5 mg zinc (more than in 2 cans of tuna).

The absorption of plant-based iron and zinc is lower but you can increase it by soaking the legumes and eating fresh vegetables along with the meal (a habit that should be adopted in any case).

Legumes are friendly to the environment

In comparison with other foods, cultivating legumes requires very little land, water and energy, and emits less greenhouse gases than most agricultural crops. Their inclusion in the daily diet can help reduce consumption of meat, the production of which is extremely damaging to the environment.

Legumes are inexpensive and available in every grocery store

You can purchase legumes at any grocery store or supermarket. They are generally inexpensive, particularly when bought in bulk. Due to their health benefits, legumes can help reduce long-term health expenses.

Legumes diversify meals

Legumes provide culinary richness in terms of color and flavors. Over 20 types of legumes can be purchased in Israel and they can be used to make almost anything: soups, stews, spreads, salads, and more.

What about soy?

Eating soy is safe in all stages of life, including while breastfeeding, during childhood and adolescence, for both men and women. Soy consumption is safe and may even be beneficial for patients with breast cancer.
It is recommended to consume foods in their natural state or after minimal processing. Soy should be eaten as tofu, edamame, sugar-free soy beverage and food supplements, dried soybeans and tempeh.

Additional information on the position paper of Atid – the Israeli Dietetic Association and the Ministry of Health (Hebrew)

How should you make legumes?

  1. Soaking: place legumes in a large bowl with plenty of lukewarm water. Small legumes, such as lentils and fenugreek, can be soaked for 2-3 hours and even this is not necessary if you are in a rush. Larger legumes, such as chickpeas and beans, must be soaked for 10-12 hours (or even more). When soaking for a longer period of time, replace the water at least once, and on hot days, place the bowl in the refrigerator.
  2. Draining and washing: put the legumes in a colander and thoroughly wash under running water.
  3. Cooking: put the legumes in a pot with plenty of water. Boil and then cook on a low flame until the legumes soften.

Shortcuts in the kitchen

  • Quick legumes: orange lentils cook within 15-20 minutes even without soaking. The other types of lentils and fenugreek within half an hour.
  • Preparation in advance: soak and cook a large quantity of legumes. Divide them into portions and freeze for future use. Legumes can easily defrost when needed, added to soups, salads or ground into a paste.
  • Buy ready-made: supermarkets offer a range of frozen and ready-to-use legumes. Other fast products include tofu, legume flours and legume-based pasta. Less preferably, you may use vacuum packed legumes and canned legumes. Legumes should be washed of any preservative fluids before use to reduce the amount of salt (sodium).
  • Baking soda: the addition of a small amount of baking soda (approximately half a teaspoon to a medium-sized pot) when soaking or cooking can significantly reduce cooking time and may also improve the digestion of the legumes.

What do we do with the legumes we cooked?

Legumes can be incorporated in any meal on a daily basis and in a range of dishes, such as:


  • Stews: majadra of rice and lentils, white beans in tomato sauce, couscous with a lot of chickpeas and stir-fried dish with tofu and rice noodles.
  • Soups: pea soup, lentil soup, minestrone soup with white beans and harira soup with chickpeas, lentils and many green leaves.
  • Patties and hamburgers: lentil burger, baked felafel and tofu patties in chreime sauce.
  • Fillers: burrito with red or black beans, sambuusa filled with chickpeas and filo bourekas with tofu and spinach.
  • Substitute for ground meat: lentils or tofu in spaghetti bolognaise, kubbeh, lasagna or stuffed vegetables.
Tip: you can increase the quantity of legumes in stews, for example: a 1:1 ration between lentils and rice in majadra (or even larger quantities of lentils), and chickpeas can be added to a couscous soup. You should know that legumes contain 2-3 times more protein than grains, and the protein they contain is beneficial. There is therefore no need to include grains and legumes in the same meal.

Breakfast or dinner

  • Salads: sweet potato and black lentil salad, Mexican-style red or black bean salad and "tuna" salad made of chickpeas.
  • Spreads: hummus, "hummus" made of orange lentils, "cheese" made of tofu.
  • Gluten-free bread substitute: lentil flour tortilla, crackers made of chickpea flour, "pitas" made of lentils.
  • Egg substitutes: shakshuka or scrambled eggs made of tofu, eggs with lentil flour or chickpea flour.
Tip: you can enrich any soup, salad or stew with legumes, as a satisfying, nourishing and tasty addition.

How should you add legumes to the menu of children who are picky eaters?

Try including legumes in meals that generally do not include them. Orange lentils and legume-based flour can help with the task. Here are several examples:

  • Orange soup with lentils, sweet potato, carrot and pumpkin.
  • Stuffed pepper with lentils and rice.
  • White bean and potato puree.
  • Sweet potato and orange lentil puree.
  • Incorporation of legume-based flour in patties, quiches and other baked goods.
  • Tomato sauce with orange lentils.
  • Meat patties – replace some of the meat with ground lentils. Begin with one quarter of the amount and work your way up to half the amount or more.

Afraid of gas?

If you are not used to eating legumes on a daily basis and are afraid of gas or stomach aches, use our tips to improve digestion:

  1. Start small: begin eating relatively small quantities of legumes and try those that are easiest to digest - lentils (particularly orange) and tofu. Gradually increase the quantity and try to eat the other legumes as well.
  2. Patience and adjustment: the more you become used to eating legumes, the more the digestive system adapts to them. Over time, gas decreases and even disappears.
  3. Soak them: the longer you soak legumes, the better the dietary value and digestion of legumes become. You can extend the soaking time (small legumes – at least 12 hours, and large legumes – at least 24 hours) and replace the water at least twice a day. Legumes can also be sprouted.
  4. Cook until the legumes are completely soft: the texture of legumes, particularly large ones, must be extremely soft. Allow legumes to cook for a long time or add baking soda.

You can find sprouting instructions and other tips on the Israel Beans website (Hebrew)

The information is taken from the brochure "Health on a Plate - Guide on Incorporating Legumes into the Daily Diet"
Download a brochure (Hebrew)
Download a printable leaflet (Hebrew)

The brochure was written by Orit Ofir, Clinical Dietician (M.Sc.), Ph.D. in Nutrition, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
With the assistance of: Kerem Avital, Clinical Dietician (M.Sc.), Physicians Association for Nutrition; Roni Hason, Clinical Dietician (M.Sc.), Physicians Association for Nutrition; Dr. Moran Blaychfeld Magnazi, Clinical Dietician (Ph.DO), Deputy Director of the Nutrition Division, the Ministry of Health.