What Kind of Beans Should I Eat? The Great Slow Carb Bean Index

SlowCarb Beans and Lentils

Lentils, Lentils and More Lentils

If you’re following the Slow Carb Diet to a “T”, you are likely consuming a lot of beans and lentils. Perhaps too many .  Perhaps not enough.  It’s friggin’ confusing, isn’t it?  One of the most common questions I see posted on forums is people asking what type of bean they should be eating and how much of them should they eat.

This is a particularly important question for those who have reached a plateau on their weight loss or those who are vegetarians and trying to maximize protein intake.

(Really quick question – would you be interested in a slow-carb meal planner?

Bean Quality – what gives the most bang for your buck?

I decided to do a little research on the macro-nutrient counts of various legumes to see how they stack up.  For this chart, I’ve compared 1 cup, cooked of each type of legume.

Bean  Type Calories Carbs Protein Fiber Fat
Black Beans 227 40.8g 15.2g 15g 0.4g
Red Beans 225 40.36 15.35 13.1g .88g
Pinto Beans 245 44.8g 15.4g 15.4g 1.2g
Great Northern Beans 209 37.3g 14.7g 12.4g 0.9g
Cannellini Beans 282 46g 20g 12g 2g
Lima Beans 216 39.3g 14.7g 13.2g 0.8g
Navy Beans 255 47.5g 15g 19.1g 1.1g
Fava Beans 187 33.5g 12.9g 9.2g 0.7g
Mung Beans 212 38.8g 14.2g 15.4g 0.8g
Adzuki Beans 294 57g 17.3g 16.8g 0.2g
Black-eyed Peas 220 32g 16g 8g 1g
ChickPeas (Garbanzo Beans) 269 44.9g 14.5g 12.5g 4.3g
Lentils 230 40g 18g 16g 1g
Soy Beans (edamame) 254 20g 22.2g 7.6g 11.5g

The results don’t look staggeringly different on the surface, but there’s a few interesting things to note.

  1. Lentils have 18g protein per cup.  When comparing lentils to most beans, that can amount to anywhere from 3-5 additional grams of protein depending on what kind of bean you’re comparing it to.  This can be helpful for those trying to hit their 30g first thing in the morning.
  2. Cannellini Beans have 20g of protein per cup, but they also have about 6 additional grams of carbohydrate which can slow weight loss, especially for us women.
  3. Edamame (soy beans) have a whopping 22.2g of protein per cup, but they’re definitely iffy in my book.  A few points about Soy Beans.  Soy beans contain Enzyme Inhibitors which block the action of enzymes that are needed for protein digestion. In other words, these prevent our bodies from absorbing proteins and amino acids in our foods.  In addition, soy beans contain Phytic Acids which block the uptake of essential minerals in the intestinal tract – blocking absorption of these minerals by our bodies.  In other words, the good minerals like Calcium, Magnesium, Copper, Iron, and Zinc that we would normally obtain from our foods is not able to be absorbed by our bodies when Phytic Acids are present, and instead is passed straight through in our waste.  This is not intended to be a rant on soy beans, but given that on the surface, they seem to be such a great option, it’s worth mentioning so you can make an informed decision.

Bean Quantity – How much should you eat, how often?

For those of you who are struggling with weight loss on the Slow Carb Diet, I want to make the point that quantity may be the issue that’s causing you to plateau or even gain weight.  While Tim Ferris does not advocate that people track carbs or calories, I do think there is a point where legumes can stall your weight loss.

Mark Sisson, the creator of The Primal Blueprint has put together an awesome diagram of what he calls the Carbohydrate Curve.

Carbohydrate intake is often the decisive factor in weight loss success and prevention of widespread health problems like Metabolic Syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes. These average daily intake levels assume that you are also getting sufficient protein and healthy fats, and are doing some amount of Primal exercise. The ranges in each zone account for individual metabolic differences.

 

0-50 grams per day: Ketosis and I.F. (Intermittent Fasting) zone. Excellent catalyst for rapid fat loss through I.F. Not recommended for prolonged periods (except in medically supervised programs for obese or Type 2 diabetics) due to unnecessary deprivation of plant foods.
50-100 grams per day: Sweet Spot for Weight Loss. Steadily drop excess body fat by minimizing insulin production. Enables 1-2 pounds per week of fat loss with satisfying, minimally restrictive meals.
100-150 grams per day: Primal Maintenance zone. Once you’ve arrived at your goal or ideal body composition, you can maintain it quite easily here while enjoying abundant vegetables, fruits and other Primal foods.
150-300 grams a day: Insidious Weight Gain zone. Most health conscious eaters and unsuccessful dieters end up here, due to frequent intake of sugar and grain products (breads, pastas, cereals, rice, potatoes – even whole grains). Despite trying to “do the right thing” (minimize fat, cut calories), people can still gain an average of 1.5 pounds of fat every year for decades.
300+ grams a day: Danger Zone of average American diet. All but the most extreme exercisers will tend to produce excessive insulin and store excessive fat over the years at this intake level. Increases risk for obesity, Metabolic Syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Now, back to legume consumption. If you’re eating 1 cup of beans at approximately 40g of carbs per meal, 3 meals a day, and you’re consuming a reasonable amount of veggies that also contain some carbs, unfortunately my friend, you are likely in the Maintenence Zone or the Insidious Weight Gain Zone.

My recommendation would be to cut your serving size to either ¼ cup with each meal or ½ cup but only at 2 meals and see how this impacts your weight loss.

If you’re really looking to drill down to what quantity you can eat without spiking your insulin levels too much, and you’re not keen to test your bloof glucose levels multiple times a day a la Tim Ferris,  here’s another less scientific, but still fairly accurate way to make sure you aren’t overdoing it.

This is from Jorge Cruise’s book The Belly Fat Cure.  Jorge classes one serving of carbohydrate   as any food or combo of foods with 5 to 20 grams of carbohydrates; two servings is anything with 21 to 40 grams; three is anything with 41 to 60 grams.

To control insulin levels, Jorge recommends six servings of carbs throughout the day, but NEVER more than 2 servings at any given time.  That means at any given meal, you can likely have just under a cup of beans or lentils without putting your blood glucose levels into “fat storage’ mode.  Again, I’d probably stick with no more than ½ a cup, since you’re likely taking in some additional carbs in your other foods.

I’d also encourage you to see how you feel when reducing beans.  After several months of eating beans, I’ve nearly eliminated them and I have noticed a huge spike in my energy.  Others seem to need the extra calories and carbs from the beans in order to feel satiated and not cheat.  For some, this changes over time.

For further reading on the pros and cons of legumes, check out the Legume Manifesto over at the WholeNine website.  I learned quite a bit.

I hope this is helpful.  I took a break from posting my normal recipes this week because I think this is an area that confuses a lot of people (I know it took awhile for me to figure out what works for me.)  I’d love to hear from some readers how beans have impacted either your energy or weight-loss progress.  Are you eating beans?  What kind?  How often?

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About Laura

I’m a 29 year old female currently living in Melbourne, Australia (originally from San Francisco.) I enjoy cooking, travel and lifestyle design.

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33 Responses to What Kind of Beans Should I Eat? The Great Slow Carb Bean Index

  1. Brian Buckley July 25, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    Thanks for this list and your insights. We were just debating whether the info from a cookbook was for dry or cooked lentils. I’m printing this out.

  2. Liam July 25, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    Hiya,

    One of my faves (not on your list) is the Harricot bean – 12.5g of carb per 100g cooked, but 9g of fibre, so net carb of 3.5 – and very tasty! Plus 15g of protein, so pretty high.

    Great site btw, cheers ;)

  3. Stephen July 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    This is a wonderful comparison of the different types of beans. I really was just looking for something like this. Jason from Finding My Fitness has recommended your blog so I decided to take a look and stumbled on your post! Also I was just reading elsewhere about the carbohydrate curve, love this chart. I am going to download actually and use this as print material for my patients! Well Done!!

    • Laura August 2, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

      Stephen – I’m glad you found this useful. I think unmeasured Slow Carb is helpful for a lot of people to break bad habits and establish new ones. For those with less fat to lose, sometimes a little more precision is necessary. Thanks for reading and contributing.

  4. Michael August 2, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    Initially I lost weight steadily with slow carb, until I hit 275 and plateaued for 5 weeks. Eventually I began to suspect the amount of carbs I was taking in through legumes with each meal was the culprit. As soon as I cut back, I immediately started losing again. Now I’m consistently dropping at least two pounds each week, as well as enjoying increased energy.

    So glad I decided to tweak.

    • Laura August 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

      Michael – Thanks for sharing your experience, and glad to hear you are back to losing. I think a lot of people plateau and give up. It’s all about experimenting and tweaking things until you find what works for you.

  5. Luke - Four Hour Body Couple August 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    Hey Laura,

    I really appreciate your comparison on beans – very handy info to have on hand. Also, the reference to the Primal Blueprint is worthwhile for people who want to get more into fine tuning things, or trying to diagnose plateaus.

    Keep up the great work!!

    Cheers,
    Luke

  6. Jon August 10, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

    Hi Laura – so would you recommend cutting them all together or just cutting back to the 1/2 cup. Would one be more benificial? I realize that some feel the need to eat them in order to feel full, but could you replace them with something else? More protien or meat at each meal?I eat pinto beans the most, but that is the one bean I seem to be able to get down. Lentils arent bad, but they arent very appetizing to me. I too have wondered if they aren’t slowing my weightloss. I will try to cut back and them possibly eliminate them if that doesn’t work. Thanks! Jon

    • Laura August 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

      Hi Jon – It’s really a personal choice about whether to stick with beans/lentils.

      I know for me, I was nervous about cutting out legumes intitially and tried tapering off to smaller, less frequent portions. Doing this, I did not notice any difference in my weight-loss or my energy levels (at the time, I was finding myself dozing off at work and on my commute.) I was also concerned that if I went cold-turkey, I’d be starving all the time.

      The opposite turned out to be true. It really it helped me get through a weight-loss plateau, and I also have a lot more energy (no more sleeping on the train and missing my stop.) After reading the Legume Manifesto referenced in my blog post, I’m also not entirely convinced there’s much benefit to the legumes from a nutritional standpoint.

      I would probably suggest going one or two weeks without and seeing how you feel. Keep in mind that by eliminating the beans, you are cutting out a huge source of calories so you’ll want to make sure you’re eating enough, or you will likely feel awful (and probably cranky too!)

      I have increased my consumption of HEALTHY fats by cooking with healthy oils or organic grass-fed butter, fattier cuts of meat, avocados and nuts.

      I don’t measure quantities. I pretty much just eat till I’m full, not ridiculous portions, but certainly larger than when I was eating a more conventional diet. My hunger levels have really stabilized doing this, and I’m actually rarely hungry.

      I should also mention that at this point, I also incorporate a few Slow Carb illegal items into my diet. Because I’m not getting carbs from beans, I include a very limited number of carbs from Low-GI fruit (like berries and apples), an almost daily dose of 85% organic dark chocolate, some cheese on salads and occasionally roast pumpkin or sweet potato on days I’ve worked out.

      I’m not recommending this, but I do want to give the full picture of what I do eat, and what works for me. I wouldn’t recommend this to newbies as these are all domino foods and could certainly set off a carb binge. I added them back in at around 4 months into the diet (basically when the diet became a lifestyle, not a diet.)

      They keep me sane, and committed. I don’t do full-blown cheat days anymore – usually just a cheat meal or two meals (after a Slow Carb style breakfast.) And I tend to keep my cheat gluten free. At this point, I’ve been eating this way since January so I have broken my carb addiction (at least physically, mentally there is definitely still some temptation.)

      Again, I’m not advocating this for all. I encourage you to experiment with what works for you. We’re all different from both a nutrition and a lifestyle standpoint. I’m just sharing my own experience and hoping it’s helpful to others.

      Good luck, and let us know how you do!

  7. Jon August 12, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    I will definitely let you know. Fascinating data is popping up all over the place, just watched 5 youtube videos where Dr. Mercola is interviewing Dr. Richard Johnson from Colorado. Very good stuff and really gets into some new ideas about fructose, carbohydrates and the heightened levels of uric acid causing obesity and metabolic syndrome..

  8. Jon August 12, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    Here is the link if you would like to see it. Not an advertisement.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjG5t4LN0jA

  9. Kris August 29, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    hey guys, i love the organic vegetarian chili and the turkey chili with beans from trader joes. can you tell me if those fit into a slow carb diet ( i think it says there is a little bit of flour in there)?
    thanks!
    kris

    • Laura September 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      It’s hard to say without seeing all the ingedients. Flour is definitely not SCD approved. I’d avoid anything with flour of gluten in it as a regular part of this diet. If you had it on a rare occasion when you don’t have any other options, it probably won’t hurt your results too much, but I think it’s always preferable to make your own. I make really large batches and freeze extra portions for emergencies.

  10. Chris September 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    This is some really useful information Laura. I’ll definitely be more closely monitoring my carb intake now.

    I think it would be a good idea to look at weight of food rather than how much fits it a cup though when comparing nutritional content.

    I’ve created a spreadsheet for the types of beans I eat most of the time so I can compare carbohydrate and protein content and it implies different results to yours.

    Here in the UK I’m having canned green lentils, kidney beans (red beans) and cannellini beans. When I compare the protein and carb contents this is what I get.

    All values are per 100g

    Kidney Beans
    Carbs: 17.8
    of which sugar: 3.6
    Protein: 6.9

    Cannellini Beans
    Carbs: 12.5
    of which sugar: 0.8
    Protein: 7.1

    Green Lentils
    Carbs: 13.2
    of which sugar: 0.8
    Protein: 6.2

    From this data the cannellini beans look like the better choice to me.

    • Laura September 6, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

      Hi Chris, thanks for the comment. I used the comparison tool on CalorieKing.com for all my comparisons. I chose cups as my unit if comparison for a few reasons, but mainly because it’s the reference point I see most people using on various forums when they ask questions or make comments about their bean intake (e.g. Someone mentioning they eat 1/2 cup 2x per day.)

      You could certainly use grams (it all comes down to preference), but I most cans aren’t portionef out. I think most come with 400g (including the liquid which is drained off.) I think more people who are inclined to measure would reach for a measuring cup of some sort rather than weighing out 100g. of beans. Good to know on the cannellini beans though. I will go back and check my numbers again. Cheers.

      • Chris September 7, 2011 at 2:42 am #

        Ok I see.

        Yeah the cans are all slightly different weights once drained so I used the “per 100grams” for an exact comparison.

        I had been confused for weeks by the American “cup” measurement until I realised it was an exact measure.

        The sugar in the kidney beans is a little concerning I think so it’s good to know exactly what you’re eating.

        I guess most people don’t weight exact amounts but I have started in order to try and get the right amount of protein and carbs because I’ve really been struggling with energy so far. I think I’m starting to get on the right track though and this blog post is a great help.

  11. Alexis October 31, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    Hi Laura,

    It’s so nice to find a fellow blogger who doesn’t follow slow carb dieting to the letter!

    I kept pretty much to the “rules” for around 3 months. But have since cut down the legumes to usually 2 meals a day, and less than 1/2 a cup at each. I feel more energetic and never bloated anymore.

    Upping the yogurt and cheese a little to balance things out (once I had gotten over my unhealthy cheese addiction by going cold turkey for a few months), has made all the difference. Slow/low carb is now my way of eating, rather than my diet.

    The bean info is really interesting. I worry a little about people (myself included) relying too much on canned pulses as the sugar and salt content can be scary. I wonder if this is where Chris’s kidney bean’s scary sugar levels are coming from. So I try to use home cooked lentils (mixed with lemon juice onion slices and plenty of chilli to pep it up) regularly, since they are quick to cook. Though still fall back onto canned chick-peas regularly, and have to be strict with myself not to make addictive humus too often with them!

    • Laura November 1, 2011 at 11:29 am #

      Hi Alexis,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I think it’s really helpful for people to see others’ experiences who are adopting some key principles but not necessarily taking the plan as prescribed as gospel. I think that’s one of the key points Ferris is trying to make anyway – to experiemnt.

      The plan is a really good starting point for many, and if people are able to make small adjustments that work for them over time, it’s more likely they’ll stick to a healthy way of eating as opposed to yo-yo dieting.

      I my eating plan sounds quite similar to yours. I don’t follow Slow Carb to a T, but I did for several months in the beginning and then began making adjustments. I now consider it a lifestyle that I really only deter from when I travel overseas. I know many could argue that you could still do the plan overseas, but I like to try the local food when I travel. I consider it part of the experience. I don’t go too crazy, and I always know I’ll get right back to my healthy eating when I return.

      Thanks again for your comment. I just popped over to your blog – you look great, so whatever you are doing seems to work for you!

  12. Laurie November 5, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    Hi Laurie, thanks for posting such useful information!

    What do you think of red lentils? I really love them and can’t find anything about them…

    Thanks,

    Laurie

    • Laura November 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

      Hi Laurie – Sorry, I don’t really cook with red lentils so I’m not sure. If you love them, and the eating plan is working for you, then I’d stick with it. I only start to make adjustments when things AREN’T working.

  13. Laurie November 5, 2011 at 5:37 am #

    Laura*

    Oops, so used to writing my own name!

  14. Ben Tristem November 20, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    Beans are generally a wonderful slow-burning carb, which won’t make your insulin levels go up. This will help prevent fat deposits.

  15. Jason December 8, 2011 at 10:44 pm #

    Why does Tim Ferris in the 4 hour body give chick peas a bad rap? Looking at your chart it seems pretty comparable to the other beans.

    • Laura December 8, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

      Hi Jason – I think Tim’s issue with the chickpeas is really that he tends to over-do it with things like hummus. I don’t eat a lot of chickpeas, but many people have incorporated them and have been fine. So, as long as you can eat in moderation, I think they’re fine.

  16. Terri Hart December 9, 2011 at 5:07 am #

    I used the comparison tool on CalorieKing.com for all my comparisons. But have since cut down the legumes to usually 2 meals a day, and less than 1/2 a cup at each.

  17. Josh Schoenly of My Slow Carb Results January 28, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    I’ve personally had great results just having black beans, garbanzo beans (on occasion) and kidney beans.

    Also I agree with Laura on Tim’s comment on chick peas (garbanzo) I think his main point is not overdoing it, he also makes that reference for things like almonds and other nuts…

  18. Ada Harrington February 19, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    It’s so nice to find a fellow blogger who doesn’t follow slow carb dieting to the letter! Keep up the great work!! If you had it on a rare occasion when you don’t have any other options, it probably won’t hurt your results too much, but I think it’s always preferable to make your own.

  19. Stefan November 26, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    My own observation – I consumed about 300 cals beans for breakfast (70gr carbs from beans) – and had about 200gr of carbs per day. That worked fine when I did a lot of running – burning about 500-1000 cals per day. Altogether I lost 160lbs (most of it lost before I started with beans). Once I stoped running though I gained back 50lbs – while maintaining the rest of my diet. In other words – slow carb as recommended by Tim Ferris is not working for me.
    Now I cut beans out completely (saving 70gr carbs per day), I am aiming at 60-100 gr carbs per day and starting moderate running activity again,and the lbs are again falling.
    So just relying on beans and slow carb as a means to regulate calorie intake does not work for everybody, certainly not for me. Fortunately there is an easy remedy for me – cut beans out and add some protein instead…

  20. Jean December 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Excellent!

  21. mofogie April 4, 2013 at 12:22 am #

    good info, but i was also looking for extra info on the bean type: how they rank on glycemic index, and their composition of simple vs complex carbohydrates. This is very very important for many of the concerns that you mentioned: people with diabetes, looking to lose weight, etc.

  22. Tony April 23, 2014 at 4:21 pm #

    Thanks for the article and information. I lost 50+ pounds on 4 Hour Body, but could never get below 191. My ideal body weight according to a Body Scan was 178. I lost motivation when I couldn’t reach that weight. I have since gone up and down, but most recently when I have tried to be 100% on 4HB I haven’t been able to drop below 209! I read an article somewhere else saying to watch out for overeating Beans as they can irritate the intestines in large quantities.
    Going to make some modifications on bean amounts, and try again.

    • Jason April 23, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

      Hey Tony! Well done on the great weight loss! It’s possible that you don’t need as many beans anymore, so it’s not a terrible idea to cut back. It’s true that beans can be inflammatory, which is why I usually try to get mine dry, soak them well (changing the water once or twice), cooking them thoroughly as cooking helps remove most of the inflammatory antinutrients, and then rinse them at least twice after cooking. Personally, if I eat them at every meal, I *might* get a cup and a half in a day.

      Let us know how it goes!

      -jason

  23. fesenmyer May 11, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    Wow, thanks very much for posting this! It is gonna help me when I order Garbanzo Beans at the market! Super Astonishing!

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