Grains VS Beans – What is the Difference?

The beauty of plants is not limited to the fact they provide us micronutrients in the form of vitamin and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables, but also because they provide us with macronutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, and fat in the form of grains, beans, and nuts.

If you don’t know the difference between grains and beans, don’t worry, you’re not the only one.

Put very simply, grains are seeds derived from grasses called cereals which can be eaten whole, made into breakfast cereals, and some are even converted into flour to make foods like bread, cakes, and tortillas.

On the other hand, beans are also edible seeds but they are considerably bigger and sprout from flowering plants instead of grasses (or cereals). 

In this article, we’re going to further explore the differences between grains and beans by explaining what each one is, and we’re also going to see how they vary from a nutritional standpoint.

What Are Grains?


Grains are small, hard, and edible dry seeds that grow on grass-like plants called cereals. Compared to other food groups, grains provide the human population with the most food energy.

The technological advancements in grain agriculture are certainly responsible for pushing forward the development of civilization in more than one way.

Grains are eaten by humans and animals, and can also be processed into numerous food products, namely bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, muesli, oatmeal, tortillas, as well as pastries, and cookies.

Grains can also be converted into ingredients that are used in processed foods, including high fructose corn syrup, which is one of the most used sweeteners in the United States, though it’s touted as an unhealthy ingredient.

Common varieties of grains include:

  • Most popular: corn, rice, and wheat
  • Less consumed: barley, oats, sorghum, millet, rye, and several others.

Additionally, there are also pseudocereals, which are technically not grains but are prepared and consumed like grains. These include quinoa and buckwheat.

Whole Grains VS Refined Grains

Like all foods, grains are also bound to have their differences, but the most important distinction to make among grains is between whole and refined grains. 

A whole-grain consists of three parts:

  • Bran: This is the hard outer layer of the grain. It contains fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.
  • Germ: This is the core of the grain which contains different macro and micronutrients. It’s also the part of the grain that allows a new plant to grow.
  • Endosperm: This is the biggest part of the grain and is comprised of carbohydrates in the form of starch, as well as protein.

A refined grain, however, is a grain that had its bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm; the part that is the least nutritious in the grain.

You have grains like oat that are generally eaten whole, but others are generally eaten refined, and oftentimes pulverized into a thin flour and transformed into something else.

Consider white and brown rice. Brown rice is a whole grain because it contains all the parts of the grain, which means its nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals remain. White rice, on the other hand, had the bran and germ removed, leaving it without any essential nutrients but with an increased shelf life.

Nutritional Content of Grains

The nutritional content of grains obviously varies with the type of grain, as well as the type of soil in which the grain was grown.

I’ve mentioned that refined grains are less nutritious than whole grains, as they basically consist of “empty” calories without any vitamins and minerals.

Whole grains, on the other hand, are rich in macro and micronutrients, which are associated with numerous health benefits, including longevity, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and more.

To give you an example, a half-cup of oats has the following nutrient profile:

  • Calories: 303 kcal
  • Carbs: 51 grams
  • Protein: 13 grams
  • Fat: 5 grams
  • Fiber: 8 grams
  • Manganese: 191% DV
  • Phosphorus: 41% DV
  • Magnesium: 34% DV
  • Copper: 24% DV
  • Iron: 20% DV
  • Zinc: 20% DV
  • Folate: 11% DV
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 39% DV
  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 10% DV

In other words, this means that oats are among the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat.

However, keep in mind that not all grains are the same.

What Are Beans?


Botanically-speaking, beans belong to a group of plant foods known as legumes.

All legumes are members of a family of flowering plants called Fabaceae, also known as Leguminosae.

These plants produce fruits and seeds that sprout from a pod.

Common varieties of beans include:

  • Common beans: kidney, pinto, white, and navy beans
  • Soybeans: edamame, tofu, and soy milk
  • Chickpeas: these are the ones used to make hummus
  • Peas: green, split-green, and split-yellow peas

The word “bean” refers to one category of legume seeds, but there are also other categories which include lentils, lupins, and peanuts. Beans, while often categorized as vegetables, they’re a rich source of protein.

Nutritional Content of Beans

Like any other food group, beans (or legumes) nutritional content varies based on the type of beans and on the soil in which the beans were cultivated.

For example, 1 cup of cooked black beans contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 227
  • Carbs: 41 grams
  • Protein: 15 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 15 grams
  • Folate: 64% DV
  • Magnesium: 29% DV
  • Iron: 20%  DV
  • Phosphorus: 19% DV
  • Potassium: 13% DV

Though the nutritional content of beans varies from one type to another, beans are all typically rich in fiber, protein, iron, folate, and magnesium.

For this reason, they’re associated with different food groups, including legumes, protein, and vegetables.

They are extremely versatile and an excellent addition to your diet.

Bottom Line

Technically, grains and beans are different.

Grains are seeds derived from grasses called cereals, while beans are derived from flowering plants.

Beans are associated with different food groups like legumes, protein, and vegetables, due to their unique nutritional composition, as they’re rich in many macro and micronutrients.

Grains, on the other hand, are a food group on their own with their unique set of characteristics, namely the fact that they can be eaten whole (oats), or processed into flours which can be used to create different food products.

However, if you can, do eat whole grains, as they’re more nutritionally-rich than refined grains.

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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