Legumes, which consist of beans, peas and lentils, may offer a number of health benefits, such as lowering your risk for heart disease and cancer and making it easier to control your blood sugar and weight, according to the North Dakota State University Extension. Like most foods, legumes contain a mix of carbohydrates, protein and fat.
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Vegetable or Protein Food?
The fat content in legumes tends to be minimal, with most of the calories in these foods coming from carbohydrates, as with other vegetables, and protein. For example, a cup of chickpeas contains 45 grams of carbohydrate and 14.5 grams of protein, a cup of kidney beans has 40.4 grams of carbohydrates and 15.3 grams of protein, and a cup of lentils has 39.9 grams of carbohydrates and 17.9 grams of protein. Their nutritional composition allows them to be used as either a protein food or a vegetable when planning your diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When to Count as a Vegetable
Whether legumes count toward your protein or vegetable intake for the day depends on whether you've gotten enough protein for the day from other foods. A 1/4-cup serving of legumes counts as 1 ounce of protein if you haven't met your protein needs. Otherwise, a cup of beans counts as a cup of vegetables. Counting legumes as a protein doesn't mean you can ignore their carbohydrate content, however, if you're counting carbohydrates.
Type of Carbohydrate
When it comes to carbohydrates, beans are one of the better choices. They have only small amounts of sugar paired with a lot of fiber. A 1-cup serving of kidney beans, for example, has just 0.6 gram of sugar and 11.3 grams of fiber, or 45 percent of the daily value. Some beans, such as chickpeas, have a bit more sugar, with 7.9 grams per cup, but are also high in fiber, with 12.5 grams, or 50 percent of the DV. The rest of the carbohydrate content in beans is made up of the third type of carbohydrate -- starch -- which is more slowly digested that simple sugars.
Fitting Legumes Into Your Diet
Between 40 percent and 60 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates, according to MedlinePlus. Of these, most should come from complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables, whole grains and legumes, rather than refined foods high in simple sugars. Replace part of the meat in mixed dishes with beans to decrease your fat intake. Add beans to salads, soups and pasta dishes, or use them to make dips. You can also substitute pureed beans for some of the fat in baked goods.