The Difference Between Beans and Lentils

by Joanna

I’ve been using a lot of recipes lately that use different kinds of beans or lentils.  One of my favorite properties of beans is that, according to USDA’s ChooseMyPlate, beans are a protein AND a vegetable.  Talk about multi-tasking!



I recently used a recipe that called for black lentils and I used black beans.   This got me wondering what the difference was between them: beans, lentils, and the different colors.  Here’s what I found out:


  • Oval or kidney shaped
  • Grow in pods
  • Can be purchased canned (cooked) or dried (uncooked)


Two main types: red or white

Red beans include:

  • Pinto
  • Pink beans
  • Light red kidney
  • Dark red kidney
  • Red beans
  • Pea beans
  • Black beans

White beans include:

  • Navy
  • Small white
  • Great northern
  • Cannellini (white kidney bean)
  • Garbanzo (chickpeas)



  • Round, flat disks
  • Primarily used in soups
  • Typically only purchased dried

Lentils Include:

  • Green
  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Black




Typically beans should be soaked in water for 8 hours before cooking.  Cover the beans with at least two inches of water. Beans will absorb a lot of water and swell, so make sure you use a pot that will accommodate the expansion.

Lentils cook more like pasta than rice.  Bring liquid up to a boil, add lentils, and then turn down the heat to a simmer for at least 25-30 minutes.  Check along the way to see if they are at the consistency you are looking for. 

Always make sure to follow cooking instructions on the package for best results for both beans and lentils.


Which is best?

Nutritionally, they are about the same.  Hope you weren’t expecting a huge smackdown between the two!  Both are low in fat, calories, and sodium but high in dietary fiber and complex carbs (the good carbs).  So they are definitely worth incorporating into your diet.  But if your recipe calls for lentils specifically, try to use lentils.  If it calls for beans, try to use beans.  There’s a reason for the specificity.  I have a blog coming up using black lentils and jicama that is great!  Keep an eye out for it soon!


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