Glycemic Index for Pinto Beans

Beans
Pinto beans pouring into a bowl. (Image: MGovantes/iStock/Getty Images)

Rich in protein, fiber and low-fat carbohydrates, pinto beans and other dried legumes deserve to feature more prominently in the American diet. Because they contain soluble fiber, a type of fiber that prolongs digestion, pinto beans cause only small fluctuations in your blood sugar. Eating pinto beans and other carbohydrate-containing foods that keep your blood sugar stable may improve blood glucose control and reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

Glycemic Index Value

Pinto beans rank low on the glycemic index, or GI, a tool for measuring the effect of a food on your blood glucose level. The GI ranks the effects of foods that contain carbohydrates on a scale of 1 to 100, based on how quickly and significantly your blood sugar increases after you eat them. Steamed pinto beans have a GI value of 33, which means that they rank on the lower end of the scale and cause a slight increase in blood sugar.

Dietary Role

Although pinto beans and other legumes serve as significant sources of protein in the dietary traditions of cultures around the world, beans play a relatively minor role in the American diet, Mark J. Messina, Ph.D., notes in an article published in the September 1999 issue of the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Pinto beans and other legumes are staples of traditional Mexican cuisine. Given their low glycemic effect and the abundance of protein, fiber and other essential nutrients that beans offer, people in the United States should eat them more frequently, Messina advises.

Nutritional Advantages

The complex carbohydrates in pinto beans give you fiber and low-calorie energy without dramatic fluctuations in your blood sugar. Pinto beans contain a combination of insoluble and soluble fiber, which perform different functions in digestion. Soluble fiber dissolves partially into a gelatinous substance that delays the breakdown of carbohydrates during digestion, which may stabilize your blood sugar. A 1-cup serving of boiled pinto beans has 245 calories, 1g of fat, 45g of carbohydrates, 15g of fiber, 4mg of iron and 746mg of potassium. This serving of pinto beans also contributes to your daily requirements of several of the B vitamins.

Health Benefits

Replacing meat with pinto beans and other legumes as a source of protein can lower your intake of calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Messina notes that the fiber and other nutrients in beans promote glycemic control, which may reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes. In an article published in the July 2003 issue of “Diabetes Care,” Dr. Arturo Jimenez-Cruz notes that a Mexican-style diet based on pinto beans and other low-GI foods decreased body mass index and improved blood sugar control in a group of study participants with Type 2 diabetes.

Food Combinations

Because pinto beans have such a low-GI value, you can combine them with other foods without increasing the overall GI value of your meal, according to the Glycemic Index Foundation. A serving of pinto beans with wheat tortillas and tomato sauce has a GI value of 28. A breakfast burrito made with pinto beans, scrambled eggs, tomatoes and onions on a flour tortilla has a GI value of 29. Try boiled or steamed whole pinto beans in your meals instead of refried beans to reduce fat, cholesterol and sodium.

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