Both beans and lentils fall under the "pulse" category of produce. Pulses are the seeds from legume plants, and are typically rich in protein, fiber, and vitamins; lentils and beans also have long shelf lives and can last at least a year, though they may wane in quality and nutrient levels as time passes. So what is the real difference between them?
Lentils make for varied, versatile dishes and are considered a staple in countries like India, and much like lentils, beans come in many shapes, sizes, and styles that can be used in various recipes. Differences between beans and lentils include the specific prep required before cooking with either ingredient, and the different health benefits offered.
Many people think that beans require soaking to speed up cooking, whereas lentils typically do not, as they are smaller in size. Yet contrary to common opinion, soaking beans may not be necessary, since it reduces bean flavor and only nominally reduces cooking time; still, the point stands that these two staples are typically prepared differently.
Beyond preparation and appearance, lentils and beans differ in nutritional content, specifically when it comes to phytates. Phytates inhibit the body from absorbing micronutrients and are the predominant nutritional difference between beans and lentils; beans have more phytates than lentils, giving the latter a slight nutritional edge.