Beans and weight loss, huh? When you're trying to lose weight you may be willing to do just about anything. But given that beans are often the butt of a joke (the more you eat, the more you toot), you may be a little leery about adding them to your diet.
But if you're avoiding beans because of their gassy reputation, you're missing out on their amazing health benefits. Not only are beans chock full of nutrients that support your health, but there's evidence that adding them to your diet may help you get closer to your weight-loss goals.
Eating beans may help you lose weight without having to be too restrictive with your calorie intake. High in fiber and protein, beans keep hunger pangs away, which may help you eat less and support your weight-loss efforts.
What Are Beans Anyway?
They go by many names: beans, legumes, pulses. Beans are the edible seeds found in legumes, which is a family of plants. The beans grow in pods and are released when the natural seam in the pod splits open.
There are many different types of beans, including kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans and soybeans, and they have different tastes, textures and uses. They're also part of many healthy eating plans, including the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet and the vegetarian diet.
What makes the bean such a standout is its nutritional profile. Beans are so full of nutrients, they fall into both the protein and vegetable food groups. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, beans are an excellent source of protein, zinc and iron, similar to meat, fish and poultry. They're also full of fiber, potassium and folate, like vegetables.
Basic Bean Nutrition
As already noted, beans are a nutrient-rich food. While the nutrition profile varies a bit from bean to bean, you can't really go wrong with any of them when you're trying to pack more nutrition into your daily diet.
Here is a list of healthy beans and their nutrition content per cup cooked:
- Kidney beans: 225 calories, 0.9 gram of fat, 15 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbohydrates, 11 grams of fiber
- Chickpeas: 269 calories, 4.2 grams of fat, 14.5 grams of protein, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 12.5 grams of fiber
- Black beans: 227 calories, 0.9 gram of fat, 15 grams of protein, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of fiber
- Soybeans (mature): 296 calories, 15 grams of fat, 31 grams of protein, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of fiber
- Pinto beans: 245 calories, 1.1 grams of fat, 15 grams of protein, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 15.4 grams of fiber
These beans are also rich sources of vitamins and minerals, including many of the B vitamins, iron, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and magnesium.
Soybeans may have a significantly higher fat content than the other beans, but they're the only bean that contains all of the essential amino acids, so they contain complete protein. But for the record, you can easily complete the amino acid profile of any of the other beans by eating a varied diet that includes a variety of vegetables and whole grains.
Read more: Nutritional Facts of Black Beans
Watch Out for Sodium
Canned beans are a convenient way to get more of these nutrient-rich legumes in your diet. However, canned beans can be very high in sodium. For example, 1 cup of canned kidney beans has 758 milligrams of sodium, while homemade kidney beans have less than 2 milligrams.
Too much sodium in your diet increases your risk of high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends you limit your intake of sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day. One cup of canned beans may wipe out nearly half that amount.
To keep a lid on sodium, look for low-sodium versions of your favorite canned beans, or better yet, make your own beans. While making beans from scratch is a bit more time consuming than picking up a can, it's not difficult. Simply soak your beans overnight, discard the water, rinse the beans and cook according to the package directions. It may take up to two hours of cooking to soften your beans.
Beans and Weight Loss
Weight loss is all about creating a calorie deficit, which means you need to eat less, exercise more or both. Most diet strategies focus on cutting foods out of your diet to achieve the right calorie balance.
But when it comes to beans and weight loss, adding them may be all that's needed, according to a May 2016 meta-analysis review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The authors of this review found that adding beans to your diet may be an effective weight-loss strategy that doesn't require a calorie restriction.
The researchers noted that beans may be considered a good weight-loss food because of their satiating power, meaning they keep you feeling full longer so you eat less. The fiber and the protein may have a lot to do with keeping your hunger pangs away. The soluble fiber in beans delays gastric emptying, while the protein stimulates the hormones in your stomach that tell your brain that you're full.
Beans are also a low-glycemic food, which means they don't have a drastic affect on your blood sugar and keep energy levels steady, which also helps keep hunger away.
Read more: What is a Healthy Weight Loss Per Week?
More Than Just Weight Loss
You may be excited about adding beans to your weight-loss foods list, but beans can do more than help trim your waistline. Adding beans to your diet may also improve heart health and lower your risk of diabetes.
According to a February 2017 meta-analysis and systematic review published in Public Health Nutrition, eating beans decreases your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as your risk of coronary heart disease (which you may know better as clogged arteries) and stroke. These benefits likely stem from the fiber in beans, which helps reduce cholesterol levels, as well as the potassium that may help regulate your blood pressure.
A June 2018 prospective study published in Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat more legumes are also less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. Beans also benefit those with diabetes by helping to improve blood sugar levels. In fact, the American Diabetes Association considers beans a superfood and recommends they be part of a balanced diet to promote health and prevent disease.
Adding Beans to Your Diet
Beans are a versatile food and can easily be incorporated into your weight-loss foods list. You can mash your favorite bean and use it as a spread for your morning toast or add whole cooked beans to your veggie omelet. Beans also make a great protein for your lunch salad, or they can be used to make a hearty and healthy soup.
At dinner, toss your beans with brown rice or any other grain for a protein-rich side dish. You can also saute your beans with some greens and toss with pasta or serve over grilled salmon.
Because beans have a mild flavor, you can incorporate them into your baked treats, including brownies and cakes, to boost nutrition. Use pureed beans in place of some of the fat in your recipe.
Read more: 10 Desserts That Won't Derail Your Diet
Avoiding the Gassy Consequences
When it comes to weight loss, the bean is a clear winner. Unfortunately, the carbohydrates in beans are difficult to digest and can lead to flatulence. However, you may be able to reduce the embarrassing consequences of beans by rinsing your beans after you cook them. Eating them on a regular basis also improves digestion and decreases the embarrassing side effects.
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effects of Dietary Pulse Consumption on Body Weight: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials"
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: "Beans and Peas are Unique Foods"
- Clinical Diabetes: "Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake"
- MyFoodData: "Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Black Beans, Soybeans, Pinto Beans, Canned Kidney Beans"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Legumes"
- Public Health Nutrition: "Legume Consumption and CVD Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Clinical Nutrition: "Legume Consumption Is Inversely Associated With Type 2 Diabetes Incidence in Adults: A Prospective Assessment From the PREDIMED Study"
- American Diabetes Association: "Diabetes Superfoods"
- Food and Nutrition: "Beans: Pantry Staples, Nutrition Stars"
- American Heart Association: "Get the Scoop on Sodium and Salt"
- Vegetarian Resource Group: "Protein in the Vegan Diet"