Wild rice in a white bowl on a table top

7 Healthiest Beans, Grains & Legumes

Wild rice in a white bowl on a wooden table


Beans, grains and legumes are praised far and wide by health experts with good reason; as nutrient-dense foods, grains & pulses are the fruit or seed of an edible cereal or plant.


These tiny little packages need to supply a growing plant with the necessities for life until they can produce their own nutrients and energy via photosynthesis.


Pulses 101

Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. The word ‘legume’ refers to plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. While there are several thousands of different species of legumes, more well-known ones include clover, alfalfa, fresh peas, soy, peanuts, and mesquite.


The term ‘pulse’ refers only to the dried seed of legumes. The most common types include dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.


Generally speaking, pulses are quite nutritious; high in protein and fibre, as well as, the minerals iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, B vitamins and they are naturally gluten-free. Pulses deliver a lot of nutrition for very little cost.


Pulses do not include fresh peas or fresh beans (think green or yellow) although they are related. Peanuts and soybeans mainly differ due to the fact that they are higher in fat whereas pulses are virtually fat-free.


Whole grains can be added to soups and stews; they can also be cooked into different types of hot cereals or porridge. Cooled, cooked grains and pulses make a great base for salads or they can be added to a green salad as a topping. Instead of rice as the go-to grain for rice pudding, try an alternate for a fun change.


A small portion of a cooled, cooked grain or pulse can also be added to smoothies and protein shakes for added smoothness and to up the nutritional oomph.


Check out my top 7 picks and why


Teff, a staple in Ethiopia and Eritrea, is gaining ground in Canada. Fifteen years ago, none of my clients had heard of it but today, that’s changing. Teff is a very tiny grain, similar in size to poppy seeds.


Teff is a heavy hitter when it comes to calcium; a one-half cup has 123 mg or about the same as a half cup of spinach. Teff is also rich in magnesium; 126 mg for the same half cup measure.


It also boasts an impressive amount of protein, fiber, potassium and is gluten-free. Teff has the advantage of cooking quickly making it easy to prepare.



Barley is an underrated grain. When asked, most clients say they occasionally eat barely as part of beef and barley soup which is great but there are so many different ways to include barley.


Barley can be enjoyed as a cooked whole grain or it can be milled and cut like oats and turned into barley grits or steel-cut barley, both of which can be used to make porridge.


Like wheat, barley can also be milled into flour and used in baking so sneaking in barley goodness is easy. Barley of course can be served hot like rice or pilaf or it makes a great base for a cold salad.


Like other whole grains, the nutrients in barley offer a range of health benefits maintaining a healthy blood pressure, support bone & heart health, reduce inflammation, support gut health and regularity.


One-third cup (80 ml) of uncooked barely has 27 mg molybdenum, 11 g fiber, 23 mcg selenium, 162 mg phosphorus, 82 mg magnesium and 3 mg vitamin B3.


A wooden spoon on a table with uncooked barley


Wild rice

Many may be surprised to learn that wild rice is a native grass to North America originally found in and around the upper Great Lakes.


Per one cup serving, wild rice boasts a decent amount of protein (6.5 g) and is a good source of fiber (3 g), vitamin B3 and zinc. Due to its dark colour which it gets from specific pigments, wild rice is rich in health-promoting antioxidants and phytonutrients.


Wild rice takes a longer to cook; when the rice bursts open, it’s done.



Another ancient grain, amaranth has a long culinary history in Mexico and is considered a native crop of Peru and was a major crop of the Aztecs some 6000-8000 years ago.


Amaranth, like all whole grains, is rich in the usual suspects of nutrients such as 4.6 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fiber, 166 mg potassium, 2.6 mg iron and 80 mg magnesium and only 125 calories per one-half cup.


Cooking amaranth is easy; use a ratio of 3 to 4:1 water to grain and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. Cooked amaranth will not lose its crunch completely so don’t let that fact fool you into thinking it’s not done.


The inner kernel will soften while the outer remains firm; cooked amaranth will ‘pop’ when you chew them. You can use cooked amaranth as you would use any other grain to make a pilaf or spread out cooked amaranth on a cookie sheet, let dry and add as a topping on salads, soups or stews.


A wooden spoon with uncooked amaranth on a wooden table




I love lentils. They are inexpensive, versatile, nutritious, and believe it or not, a proud Canadian food product. Most would be surprised to learn that Canada only started to grow lentils in the 1970s.


Canada now exports 67% of the worlds lentils making Canada the world’s largest lentil exporter – most of which goes to India.


Including more lentils in your diet makes sense. They provide a boat load of nutrition in a small package and are easy to prepare; even if you are a novice cook, lentils won’t let you down in the kitchen.


One-cup (250 ml) has a whopping 18 g protein, 16 g fiber, 358 mcg folate (a lot!), and 731 mg of potassium; more than a medium banana.


Mention antioxidants and everyone thinks of blueberries, pomegranate, or the expensive goji or acai berry, as well as, green tea and the like. But lentils, and all pulses [chickpeas, dried peas & beans] are rich in antioxidants for a fraction of the cost.



1 cup (250 ml) of cooked/canned chickpeas has an impressive 15 g protein, 13 g fiber, 282 mcg folate, 80 mg of calcium, 477 mg potassium and 4.7 mg of iron – not too shabby.


Chickpea flour can add fiber, protein, and an assortment of vitamins and minerals to gluten-free baking. Add chickpeas to vegetable soup to increase its nutritional content.


Sprinkle some canned or packaged roasted chickpeas over a salad to add a nutty flavor and to broaden the variety of textures. Toss chickpeas  with any vinaigrette for an easy protein-packed bean salad. Add some rice to make it a complete protein.


Cooked chickpeas in a glass bowl on a cutting board



All dried beans are essentially the same practically speaking whether its red, black or white kidney beans, fava, black eye peas, pigeon peas etc.  They’re all good sources of nutrients: such as molybdenum, folate, dietary fiber and copper, as well as, manganese, phosphorus, protein, vitamin B1, iron, potassium and magnesium.


Beans provide the body with soluble fiber, which plays an important role in balancing blood lipid [LDL, HDL & triglyceride) concentrations.


Studies find that about 10 grams of soluble fiber a day—the amount in 1/2 to 1 1/2 cups of navy beans—reduces LDL cholesterol by about 10 percent. Beans also contain saponins and phytosterols, which help balance cholesterol concentration.


Doug Cook RDN is a Toronto based integrative and functional nutritionist and dietitian with a focus on digestive, gut, and mental health.  Follow me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.


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