The Difference Between Beans And Lentils

I was 9 or so when we took a trip to my Grandma’s house and we arrived at dinner time. I was starving, like eat an entire grocery store hungry.

We dropped our stuff quickly and sat down to commence ravenous eating at the dinner table when a bowl of soup was set in front of me.

Soup isn’t my favorite food to eat when I am in HANGRY beast mode. I noticed strange discs inside that were unfamiliar…and I was afraid. I quietly whispered to my mom, “What is it?”

She whispered back, “Bean and Lentil soup.”

GROSS, I thought.  I reluctantly dug in and was pleasantly surprised by what ensued. It would soon become the first of many lentil and bean meals.  

Beans and lentils have been a great source of plant-based protein since the beginning of time.  Many people lump both beans and lentils into one category.

You are probably asking yourself “Is one better or are they just the same thing? Which one is right for me?”. To answer your question, let’s dive into these nutrient-packed powerhouses.

What Are Beans And Lentils?

A legume is the fruit or seed of plants found in a pod or shed and is used for food.  The list of legumes is long (who knew?) and the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council can provide you with a complete list here.  

Some of the most common legumes you might be familiar with are:

Peanuts

Peas

Soybeans

Alfalfa

Lentils

Beans

how many carbs in lentils

Why Should I Eat Legumes?

Legumes are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are higher in protein than most plant-based foods. This is why many plant-based eaters rely on legumes for much of their protein needs.  

According to the USDA, a fourth cup of dry red lentils contain 12 grams of plant-based protein. Both beans and lentils are a very cost-effective way to get in your protein. They are inexpensive and readily available.    

Most are low in fat and have quality energy-giving carbohydrates while being low in the glycemic index. They are filled with nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium. Not to mention, they’re also a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber which according to the Harvard School of Public Health has its own long list of benefits. One cup of cooked black beans contains 15 grams of filling fiber which is 60% of your daily recommended allowance. And of course, legumes are gluten-free.

Let’s Start With Some Background

The harvest and origin of lentils are impressive. Lentils are one of the oldest pulse crops grown and date all the way back to 11,000 BC in Greece. In the US, most lentils are grown in Idaho and eastern Washington State.  They are also grown in Canada, India, and Australia. The plants have pods that contain the seeds known as lentils. A combination of gravity, screens and air flow help sort and clean the lentils getting them ready to be sold.  

Dried beans are grown just like fresh beans, however, harvested a little later. The difference is dried beans are harvested when they are completely brown and the pods are beginning to crack. 90% of the leaves on the plants are dead when it is time to harvest.  

Many beans are grown in the United States as well as other parts of the world like China and Mexico. They were originally domesticated 7000 years ago in Central and South America.  Today, most harvesting is done with machines specially manufactured to be gentle enough to keep the beans whole and avoid damage.   

Is There a Difference?

The biggest difference between beans and lentils is the cook time. Lentils are much smaller and can cook more quickly. They do not require pre-soaking so you can bring them home, rinse them off and start cooking. Lentils usually take about 15-20 minutes on the stove.

If you have trouble digesting lentils, you can sprout them prior to cooking which will help cut down on the phytic acid which can be difficult to digest. This will add to the prep time and is not a necessary step for everyone. Another thing to keep in mind with both beans and lentils is to make sure you rinse and sort them before cooking. There can be small stones or debris that may have wound up mixed in.  

Beans are best when soaked overnight before cooking. This cuts down on the cooking time and also helps remove some of the indigestible sugars that have potential to cause flatulence. The childhood mantra of “Bean, Beans, the magical fruit” is actually well warranted.

You can also use the quick soak method which requires you to bring the beans to a boil, turn off the heat, and let the beans stand for an hour. Either way, there is a lot more prep time involved when it comes to beans. Once you have soaked the beans they can take anywhere from one to three hours to fully cook.

Fiber Differences

The other main difference is fiber content.  A fourth cup of dry lentils contains a whopping 13 grams of fiber. Red lentils come in even higher at 15 grams of filling fiber. A fourth cup of kidney beans comes in at about half that with 7 grams of fiber and garbanzo beans only have 6 grams of fiber.

Besides cook time and fiber, beans and lentils are very similar so now we can focus on the different varieties.

Beans vs Lentils Nutritional Information per 1/4 cup (Source: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list)
Type (1/4 cup)CaloriesCarbohydrates (g)Protein (g)Fat (g)Fiber (g)Sugar (g)
Brown Lentils16027121130
Red Lentils18030131151
Black Beans1653010.517.51
Kidney Beans1552810.4171
Garbanzo Beans1893210.2365

Lots of Lentils

Most people are familiar with brown lentils. Those are the flat brown discs you see in most grocery stores. When cooked they usually turn a darker brown and hold their shape nicely, depending on how long you cook them. Cooking time varies from 20-30 minutes.  

Brown Lentils

They have a mild flavor and are very versatile. Brown lentils make a great side dish or addition to salads. They can also be used in place of meat for dishes like tacos or chili. Because they hold up well, brown lentils can also be used to make delicious veggie burgers.

Lentil Sweet Potato Kale Soup

Classic Lentil Burgers

Red Lentils

Another common lentil you have probably seen are red lentils. These are smaller than green lentils and are a bright orange color. These lentils are the sweetest variety and have a bit of a nutty flavor. They take about 20 minutes or less to cook and get mushy easily. Red lentils are often used for curries in Indian dishes. The nice thing about red lentils is they take on the flavor of whatever you cook them with, so they make a nice addition for thickening soups and chili.

One Pot Red Lentil Chili

Lentil Bolognese

Brown and red lentils are two of the most common types. If you are feeling daring and want to expand on your lentil experience, there are other types out there including black lentils and french lentils. They may not be as easy to track down but are just as tasty and full of nutrition.

Balsamic Kale and Black Lentils

French Lentils with Garlic and Thyme

All The Beans

There are many different types of beans out there. They too are nutrient powerhouses. With such a huge variety of beans, let’s focus on a few common varieties that are easy to find in your local grocery stores. Just keep in mind when you are planning to cook beans that they need to be either soaked overnight or have a quick soak (which is still at least an hour) before you can prepare.  

If you don’t have the time, canned beans are another great option, but just be mindful that the sodium levels in canned beans can be high. Giving them a good rinse and drain can help lower the sodium content a bit, or look for low sodium or no salt added canned beans.

Black Beans

Black beans are a very common type of bean that have been used in many different cultures for hundreds of years. You can find both dried and canned black beans at most grocery stores.  They are colored a shiny black just like the name and have a dense, almost meaty, texture. They have a very mild almost sweet flavor. When combined with brown rice, black beans create a complete protein which is why you see black beans and brown rice as a diet staple. Also, cooked black beans mash well into an almost creamy consistency and are often used to make dips.  

30 Minute Black Beans and Lime Rice

The Best Black Bean Dip

Kidney Beans

Next up are kidney beans. There are two different colors of kidney beans. White kidney beans — also known as cannellini beans and red kidney beans, which are a dark red in color. Both are shaped like little kidneys and have similar nutrient content. They are easy to find and a great meal staple to keep on hand. Red kidney beans hold their shape well and are best for dishes that require longer cooking times. White kidney beans have a thinner skin and cook faster so are better for dishes with less cook time.  

Mediterranean Style Kidney Bean Salad

White Bean Hummus with Roasted Garlic

Garbanzo Beans

Perhaps my favorite bean is the garbanzo bean, also known as a chickpea. The most common type of chickpea is round and beige. You can find them both canned and dried in most grocery stores. There are other less common colors of chickpeas including black, green and red.  

They have a bit of a nutty taste and a very fluffy texture once cooked.  When blended, chickpeas get a very smooth texture which makes them great for dips. They are the main ingredients in traditional hummus, and can also be roasted for a great protein-packed snack or addition to a salad. Once roasted they become light and crunchy.  

Vegan Kale Caesar Salad with Garlic Roast Chickpeas

Favorite Homemade Hummus with Spiced Pita Chips

Sweet Cocoa Hummus (this is delicious and so easy)

I often see beans and lentils as an untapped treasure of potential for clients. Unless you live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, both beans and lentils are often of little exposure.  

When talking about nutrition, we spend so much time talking about what foods to exclude that we forgot the potential of so many other amazing foods out there. When we work on being inclusive and exposing ourselves to new foods, we find it much easier to incorporate diversity and motivation into our lifestyle. Beans and lentils can be a simple, cost-effective, and yummy addition to your diet.

Do you cook beans and lentils often?  I’d love to hear about your favorite and why!

Work Hard Be Kind,

Amanda

1 reply
  1. Misty
    Misty says:

    I love my beans and rice combos! My latest favorite is “refried” beans (cooked pintos that I’ve run through the food processor) and Spanish rice burritos.
    I actually just wanted to offer a gardening hack for you. When you plant your garden, plant a row of vegetables, then a row of marigolds, two rows of vegetables, a row of marigolds, and so on. The bugs will feast on the marigolds and mostly leave your veggies off of their menu. Also, check Amazon for a liquid plant vitamin concoction called Super Thrive. Not only does it help your plants to grow strong, but also boosts the nutrients in the vegetables. I hope this helps. Good luck on your next garden!

    Reply

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