15 Beans & Legumes With The Most Protein (Complete List)

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Beans and legumes are great plant-based sources of protein, but not all of them are created equal; some beans and legumes are much higher in protein than others.

Which beans have the highest amount of protein? The bean or legume with the highest amount of protein is peanuts, which have 38 grams of protein per cup. The next highest options are soybeans, with 31 grams, and lentils, with 18 grams of protein per cup. 

If you struggle to consume enough protein, knowing which beans and legumes are the highest in protein and how to include them in your diet can be the difference between hitting your protein intake or not.

In this article, I will cover why beans and legumes are a good source of dietary protein, how much protein you should get from them, and rank the top 15 beans from highest to lowest protein content per serving.

Why Are Beans and Legumes A Good Source of Protein? 

Beans and legumes are good sources of protein because they contain an average of 17 grams of protein per cup, are a plant-based protein source for those who don’t eat animal products, and contain a variety of nutrients that your body needs to function optimally.

For the average adult, it’s recommended that you consume around 0.8 grams of dietary protein per pound of body weight each day. However, if you’re somebody who works out regularly and is actively trying to gain muscle, then you should aim for at least 1 gram of protein per body weight.

For example, if you weigh 160lbs and your goal is to gain muscle, your daily protein intake should be around 160 grams.

Beans and legumes are some of the best protein sources for those who are vegan or vegetarian because it’s harder to get enough protein from plant-based foods.

Beans and legumes are also packed full of fiber, which can improve digestion and speed up your metabolism, and they contain a variety of micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) to support your overall health. 

How Much Protein Should You Get From Beans and Legumes? 

Beans and legumes are good protein sources but often have more carbs per serving than protein. To hit your protein target without overconsuming carbs, I recommend keeping your bean and legume consumption to 1 to 3 servings (~16g to 48g of protein) per day and consuming other protein sources to help you fit your daily goal.

To better reference the carb-to-protein ratio of beans and legumes, I’ve created the following table.

Type Of Beans/LegumesCarb Content
(Per Cup)
Protein Content
(Per Cup)
Peanuts24g38g
Soybeans31g14g
Lentils18g40g
Cannellini Beans17g45g
Kidney Bean15g40g
Black Beans15g41g
Chickpeas15g45g

As you can see, most beans and legumes have far more carbs per serving than protein, except for peanuts and soybeans. Even though peanuts and soybeans are lower in carbs than protein, they still offer a significant amount of carbs per serving. 

Therefore, if you’re finding yourself consuming too many carbs while trying to hit your protein intake, it’s best to reach for other low-carb protein sources (which I’ll discuss shortly).

Another reason to limit yourself to 1 to 3 servings of beans and legumes is to emphasize other food sources of protein in your diet to reach your daily protein goal. It’s important to eat a variety of protein sources to ensure that you’re consuming a variety of nutrients.

If you’re not getting enough variety in your protein sources (i.e. exclusively eating beans and legumes), you have a higher chance of becoming nutrient deficient because you’re not consuming adequate amounts of all the nutrients that your body needs to get from food.

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Protein in Beans and Legumes Compared With Alternatives 

Beans and legumes should be combined with other protein sources to help you reach your daily protein target, increase the variety of nutrients you’re consuming, and to optimize how these proteins are used by the body.

Below, I’ve included a table showing the amount of protein in different food sources to show how they compare with the protein in beans and legumes.

Food Protein Content
(Per 1 Cup Serving)
Tuna45g
Chicken breast43g
Cottage cheese (2%)25g
Greek yogurt23g
Eggs22g
Oats10g
Quinoa9g

Beans and legumes are slightly lower in protein compared to animal-based protein but have similar protein content to other plant-based protein sources.

Something to note is that beans and legumes are “ incomplete proteins” (except for soybeans), meaning they don’t contain all 9 essential amino acids that your body needs to get from food. Sources that have all of the 9 nine amino acids are considered complete and allow the body to use the protein effectively.

Examples of complete protein sources are:

Beans and legumes can become complete sources of protein if they’re combined with other foods that contain the amino acids that they’re missing.

What to Combine With Beans & Legumes to Make Complete Proteins 

To make beans and legumes complete proteins, they need to be combined with other foods containing the amino acids they lack. A complete protein can be formed by pairing a bean and a legume together or by mixing them with other food sources of protein. 

The food combinations for turning incomplete proteins into complete proteins are:

  • Nuts & seeds + Whole grains (peanut butter and whole grain bread)
  • Nuts & seeds + Beans (cashews and chickpeas)
  • Whole grains + Beans (rice and black beans)

Alternatively, you can pair any complete protein with an incomplete protein source to ensure you’re getting a complete protein.

Here are some examples (complete + incomplete):

  • Tofu + Peanuts
  • Tempeh + Lentils
  • Chicken + Black Beans
  • Beef + Kidney Beans
  • Edamame + Chickpeas

Highest Protein Beans: 15 Options

The beans and legumes with the highest protein content are:

Type of Beans Protein Content
(Per 1 Cup Serving)
Peanuts38g
Soybeans31g
Lentils18g
Cannellini beans17g
Borlotti beans16g
Split peas16g
Lima beans15g
Pinto beans15g
Kidney beans15g
Black beans15g
Chickpeas15g
Flageolet beans15g
Mung beans14g
Black eyed peas13g
Fava beans13g

1. Peanuts

Peanuts

Peanuts contain the most protein out of all the beans or legumes, with 38 grams per cup. Despite having the word ‘nut’ in the name, peanuts are a type of legume.

Peanuts are a great source of healthy fats to include in your diet because they’re high in monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which help reduce your risk of heart disease.

That being said, the high-fat content of peanuts makes them a higher-calorie food so having a cup of peanuts per day to increase your protein intake would significantly increase your caloric intake.

For example, 1 cup of peanuts has 828 calories and 38 grams of protein. But 38 grams worth of protein from soybeans only has 363 calories, and 38 grams of protein from chicken has 165 calories.

Peanuts can be used in smaller servings sizes to add protein to your meals and snacks. You can use them to make peanut butter or add them to stir-fries, pasta dishes, and salads to enhance the nutty flavor and add a little extra crunch. 

Or if you’re like me and you like snacking on peanuts, try these Honey Roasted Peanuts for a healthy, high-protein snack.

Macronutrient breakdown of peanuts per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 828 
  • Carbohydrates – 24 grams 
  • Protein – 38 grams 
  • Fat – 72 grams 

2. Soybeans

soybeans

Soybeans are the best source of protein of all the beans and legumes despite being slightly lower in protein than peanuts because they are the only complete protein. Soybeans are used to create many of the popular plant-based proteins, like tofu, tempeh, and some meatless grounds. 

Soybeans have a very mild flavor that makes them ideal to use as a base ingredient to make other foods. Soy products are a great option for vegans, vegetarians, and those who have dairy sensitivities because they’re used in many plant-based dairy alternatives (i.e. soy milk, soy cheese, soy yogurt)

My favorite way to use soybeans is in this soybean falafel because it’s delicious, high in protein, and easy to make!

Macronutrient breakdown of soybeans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 296 
  • Carbohydrates – 14 grams 
  • Protein – 31 grams 
  • Fat – 15 grams 

3. Lentils 

lentils

Lentils are one of the most popular plant-based proteins because they can be used in a variety of dishes. Lentils are a legume that’s high in carbs and protein but low in fat. 

Lentils have a relatively mild taste compared to other beans and legumes, which is why they complement many different flavors. When cooked, the lentils soften and can be easily pureed into a soup or sauce, added to a salad, or used as an alternative to beef in tacos and burritos. 

You can buy canned lentils that are already cooked or purchase dried lentils and cook them yourself. My favorite way to use lentils is this Red Lentil Dahl, which is a type of Indian curry that’s flavorful and high in protein.

Macronutrient breakdown of lentils per 1 cup serving 

  • Calories – 230 
  • Carbohydrates – 40 grams 
  • Protein – 18 grams 
  • Fat – 0.8 grams 

4. Cannellini Beans 

cannellini beans

Sometimes also called white beans, cannellini beans have a slightly nutty flavor. They are the perfect addition to chilis, pasta dishes, soups, and stews when you want to add lots of extra plant-based protein.

Cannellini beans are higher in carbs than protein but very low in fat. Combining cannellini beans with healthy fats and vegetables makes them a perfectly balanced meal that will keep you full for longer.

My favorite balanced meal using cannellini beans is White Bean Soup because it’s hearty, easy to make, and really tasty!

Macronutrient breakdown of cannellini beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 249 
  • Carbohydrates – 45 grams 
  • Protein – 17 grams 
  • Fat – 0.6 grams 

5. Borlotti Beans

borlotti beans

Borlotti beans are larger beans that can be identified by their tan color that’s generally streaked with a magenta. Borlotti beans are also referred to as cranberry beans, Roman beans, or rosecoco beans. They are high in protein and carbohydrates, with 16 grams and 52 grams in a cup, respectively. 

Borlotti beans have a similar texture and taste to cannellini beans, making them an ideal bean to add to soups, chilis, stews, or pasta dishes.

The most delicious way that I’ve eaten borlotti beans was in this Easy Risotto, which was great because a traditional risotto is low in protein, so the addition of the borlotti beans was perfect to balance out the meal.

Macronutrient breakdown of borlotti beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 280 
  • Carbohydrates – 52 grams 
  • Protein – 16 grams 
  • Fat – 0 grams 

6. Split Peas 

split peas

With 16 grams of protein per cup, split peas are an excellent plant-based protein to add to your favorite dishes. They’re often used as a substitute for lentils in Indian cuisine as they have a similar texture and flavor.

Split peas are high in carbs and protein, and provide 48% and 56% of your daily iron and magnesium requirements, respectively. Including split peas regularly in your diet can help boost your protein take and promote heart health

If you haven’t cooked with split peas before or you simply want to try a new recipe, I recommend this Mediterranean Split Pea Soup. I prefer this recipe because it’s heartier than other pea soups, and keeps me full for longer.

Macronutrient breakdown of split peas per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 231 
  • Carbohydrates – 41 grams 
  • Protein – 16 grams 
  • Fat – 0.8 grams 

7. Lima Beans

lima beans

Also called butter beans or Great Northern beans, Lima beans are a legume with a slightly tangy and nutty taste. Similar to other beans, lima beans make a great addition to stews, soups, or salad dishes.

I personally prefer to eat lima beans in a salad, like this Peruvian Salad, because the tanginess pairs perfectly with a vinaigrette and fresh veggies. The lima beans serve as a carb and protein source, which, when combined with vegetables and the fat from a vinaigrette makes a perfectly balanced meal.

Macronutrient breakdown of lima beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 209 
  • Carbohydrates – 37 grams 
  • Protein – 15 grams 
  • Fat – 0.8 grams 

8. Pinto Beans

pinto beans

Pinto beans have a slightly earthy taste and can be cooked and seasoned to become the perfect bean to use for re-fried beans. Re-fried beans are a delicious addition to tacos, burritos and with chips and salsa for an extra boost of protein.

Pinto beans also pair up nicely with kidney beans and borlotti beans, so you can combine all three of these beans to make a high-protein bean salad.

Although I’m a big fan of re-fried beans and bean salads, my favorite way to use pinto beans is actually this Smoky Pinto Bean Recipe that uses bacon to give this meal a complete source of protein.

Macronutrient breakdown of pinto beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 245 
  • Carbohydrates – 45 grams 
  • Protein – 15 grams 
  • Fat – 1.1 grams 

9. Kidney Beans

kidney beans

Kidney beans are red beans that can be identified by their resemblance to human kidneys. Kidney beans are often added to chili, burritos, and tacos because of their mild flavor that pairs well with Mexican flavors. 

Kidney beans are high in carbs and protein, but they also contain a significant amount of dietary fiber and iron to help improve digestion and protect against chronic diseases.

 Kidney beans are versatile enough to be added to any meal, but my favorite meal that uses kidney beans is this Spicy Kidney Bean Chili. This chili also has ground turkey to make a complete protein. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can add rice or quinoa in place of the turkey for a complete protein.

Macronutrient breakdown of kidney beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 225 
  • Carbohydrates – 40 grams 
  • Protein – 15 grams 
  • Fat – 0.9 grams 

10. Black Beans 

black beans

Black beans are one of the most popular beans and legumes because their neutral flavor and creamy texture make them versatile enough to be used in sweet and savory dishes.

Black beans are a staple in my weekly grocery shop because of their versatility, I add them to soups, chili, stir-fries, taco bowls, breakfast hashes, and even in baking.

Baking with black beans is becoming more and more popular because they add a fudgy texture to sweet treats like brownies and blondies. If you haven’t tried a black bean brownie then you’re probably thinking that there’s no way it would be comparable to a regular brownie, but trust me it is!

My favorite black bean brownie recipe is this one because it’s fudgy, decadent, and high in protein than regular brownies.

Macronutrient breakdown of black beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 227 
  • Carbohydrates – 41 grams 
  • Protein – 15 grams 
  • Fat – 0.9 grams 

11. Chickpeas

chickpeas

Chickpeas, also called Garbanzo beans, are high protein, high carbohydrate peas that have been popularized by their use in hummus, a creamy dip for your veggies, and pita bread. Chickpeas can be bought pre-cooked, dried, or roasted as a crunchy snack. 

Chickpeas taste great in curries, pasta, salads, and baked goods because of their earthy taste with nutty undertones. If you’re a blondie fan then you need to try this amazing high-protein Chickpea Blondie Recipe.

If you prefer savory flavors, then I highly recommend you try hummus either to dip your veggies and pita bread or to make this delicious Mediterranean Hummus Bowl.

Macronutrient breakdown of chickpeas per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 269 
  • Carbohydrates – 45 grams 
  • Protein – 15 grams 
  • Fat – 4.2 grams 

12. Flageolet Beans

flageolet beans

Flageolet beans are a great option for a  high-protein, low-fat addition to your meals. They’re a variety of white bean that has a pale green color and a mild taste, making them suitable to add to almost any dish to bump up the protein content without changing the flavor. 

Flageolet beans originated in France and are a very popular bean in french cooking, especially in dishes involving lamb, poultry, and seafood. These beans can be found in their dried form at your local supermarket; I’ve yet to see a pre-cooked canned version of flageolet beans.

I recommend that vegans and vegetarians try this White Bean Stew using flageolet beans as the protein source. You can add rice or quinoa to give this stew a complete protein. 

Macronutrient breakdown of flageolet beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 255 
  • Carbohydrates – 47 grams 
  • Protein – 15 grams 
  • Fat – 1.1 grams  

13. Mung Beans 

mung beans

Mung beans are part of the legume family and have 14 grams of protein per cup. Mung beans look like smaller green peas because of their color and shape, but their flavor is nuttier than peas.

Mung beans provide a significant amount of nutrients like folate, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus all of which are important for your overall health.

These beans are typically used in curries, stir-frys, rice dishes, soups, and salads to add additional protein.

If you want to add mung beans into your diet to increase your protein variety, try this Mung Bean and Coconut Curry recipe that is easy to make and tastes delicious.

Macronutrient breakdown of mung beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 212 
  • Carbohydrates – 39 grams 
  • Protein – 14 grams 
  • Fat – 0.8 grams 

14. Black-Eyed Peas 

black eyed peas

Black-Eyed Peas, also known as black-eyed beans, are a legume that’s high in protein, fiber, and micronutrients. They have a smooth and creamy consistency, making them perfect for soups, stews, and curries.

Black-eyed beans are white beans that have a distinct black spot. These beans can be purchased at your local supermarket in canned or dry versions.

If you eat meat, then you have to try this recipe of Black-Eyed Peas with Bacon and Pork. If you’re vegan or vegetarian then this Greek-Style Black Eyed Pea recipe is a fantastic option.

Macronutrient breakdown of black-eyed peas per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 198 
  • Carbohydrates – 35 grams 
  • Protein – 13 grams 
  • Fat – 0.9 grams  

15. Fava Beans

fava beans

Last but not least, are Fava beans, also called broad beans, which have 13 grams of protein per cup, and are packed full of vitamins and minerals, like folate, copper, manganese, and phosphorous. 

Many people say that fava beans have a slightly cheesy flavor, so they are the best option to use if you are looking for a high-protein, plant-based alternative to traditional dairy cheese. I would pair fava beans with nutritional yeast to really amp up the cheesy flavor and make a complete protein.

This Super Healthy Creamy Fava Bean recipe has me drooling! It has complete protein, and it’s dairy-free for those who can’t tolerate dairy products.

Macronutrient breakdown of fava beans per 1 cup serving: 

  • Calories – 188 
  • Carbohydrates – 34 grams 
  • Protein – 13 grams 
  • Fat – 0.7 grams 

Beans Highest In Protein: Frequently Asked Questions

What Beans Have More Protein Than Meat? 

There are no beans that have more protein than meat because meats are the best source of whole-food protein. However, the beans and legumes that are highest in protein are peanuts, soybeans, and lentils.

Can I Get Enough Protein From Beans? 

Although you could meet your daily protein goals with beans, it’s better not to. Beans are higher in carbs than protein, so in your pursuit of protein, you would be overconsuming carbs. Instead, it’s best to vary your protein sources by including animal-based proteins or other plant-based proteins.

Which Has More Protein Chicken or Beans and Legumes? 

Chicken is higher in protein than beans and legumes. One cup of cooked chicken breast has 43 grams of protein, and one cup of the highest protein bean and legume is the soybean which has 31 grams of protein. Chicken also has zero grams of carbs, whereas soybeans have 14 grams of carbs per serving.

Do Lentils Have More Protein Than Black Beans? 

Lentils have slightly more protein per serving than black beans. One cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein, and black beans have 15 grams of protein (-3 grams).

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About The Author

Athina Crilley
Athina Crilley

Athina Crilley is a Biochemistry graduate, a qualified personal trainer, and nutrition coach. She is passionate about helping women to balance their hormones and cycle. She is the host and producer of Finding Flo podcast, which covers all things women’s health and nutrition.