Beans and legumes are a cornerstone of various cuisines across the world. From mung beans in East Asian dishes to pinto beans and black beans in Central and South American meals, all the way across the ocean to Mediterranean salads adorned with garbanzo beans — these small, protein-packed legumes are everywhere.
Beans are high-fiber and filling in part because of their relatively high carb count. But the carbs in black beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, and many others vary by type. Some can work for the keto diet, while others are too carb-heavy.
So, can these ubiquitous protein powerhouses be a part of your low-carb diet? What if you add fat to make refried beans? Does that help?
In this article, you’ll learn about the carb counts and net carb counts of different beans, and whether or not beans will derail your keto diet efforts.
What Are Beans? Are They Healthy?
Beans are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Some sources trace the dietary use of beans back 20,000 years to ancient Eastern cultures[*].
As part of the legume family, beans are one of the best sources of plant-based protein available. They’re inexpensive to grow and can be found in cuisines worldwide. They’re especially practical in countries where meat is expensive, providing affordable sustenance for the masses.
Some health benefits associated with beans include a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, blood sugar control, blood pressure, reduction in LDL cholesterol (which can help prevent heart disease), and weight loss[*][*][*].
Beans are also rich in dietary fiber and provide a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Here’s a closer look at a couple of examples.
Nutrition and Carbs in Black Beans
At first glance, the nutrition facts for black beans look good with many phytonutrients like folate, magnesium, and thiamin to contribute to your healthy diet.
One cup of black beans provides[*]:
|Iron||3.6 mg||20% RDI|
A delicious bowl of black bean soup is sounding pretty good, right?
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Here’s the problem — while they’re rich in phytonutrients, beans are also rich in carbohydrates.
Take a look at the macronutrient breakdown of that same cup of black beans[*]:
With 41 grams of carbs and 26 grams of net carbohydrates, the carbs in black beans could easily take you to the limit if you’re on a keto diet. That fiber content is just no match for the total carbohydrates, and the total fat is quite low. Remember, a major component of the keto diet is an abundance of healthy fats.
Since the cornerstone of the ketogenic diet is to keep your carbs low, adding black beans to your diet may be more trouble than it’s worth.
Nutrition and Carbs in Pinto Beans
Pinto beans boast a number of phytonutrients as well. One cup of pinto beans includes 160 milligrams of calcium and 10.8 milligrams of iron. But the carb count in pinto beans is even higher than black beans.
One cup yields 88 grams of total carbohydrates and 56 grams of fiber[*]. That equals 32 grams of net carbs — not ideal for the keto diet.
You likely already knew that the flour or corn tortillas in traditional Mexican tacos and burritos weren’t going to work on the keto diet. But now you know that pinto beans (even the refried beans that contain added animal fat like lard) won’t work either.
Anti-Nutrients in Beans
The problem with beans doesn’t end with their high carb count; they also contain compounds called “anti-nutrients.”
These compounds are hard on your digestion and may make it difficult for you to absorb all of the vitamins and minerals that beans contain.
Here’s a breakdown of the anti-nutrients in beans and lentils.
Lectins are proteins in a variety of plants that bind with carbohydrate molecules. Some types of lectins have been found to be inflammatory, toxic, and possibly damaging to the mucosal walls of your intestines[*].
Phytates, also known as phytic acid, is the storage form of phosphorus in plant food. Although there are many health benefits associated with phytic acid, there is a steep downside as well.
Namely, phytates can bind minerals and inhibit their absorption. This is especially true for the essential minerals zinc, iron, and calcium[*].
The good news is that soaking beans overnight (between 8-24 hours) can help release some of these anti-nutrients and make them easier to digest. Just make sure you rinse the beans thoroughly before cooking.
Also, some canned beans are pre-soaked — Eden Organics brand does a great job of this.
Are Beans Keto-Friendly?
Now that you’ve learned about the carbs in black beans and pinto beans, you might be thinking that all beans are off-limits. But that’s not necessarily true. Here’s how you can potentially fit these legumes into your low-carb lifestyle.
Watch Your Portion Size
While beans tend to be carb-heavy, if you watch your portion size, you may be able to sneak a partial serving here and there.
You might also consider spreading out your small serving into a larger dish (like a soup or salad) with ingredients that contain more fiber and low- to no-net carbs in order to help you stay in balance on this meal plan.
Here are a couple of lower-carb bean options that — when eaten in moderation — may work for your keto diet.
White Kidney Beans
The carbs in white kidney beans are lower than the carbs in black beans, so if you stick to smaller quantities they might work on a ketogenic diet.
One serving (about a half cup) of white kidney beans contains a total of 110 calories, half a gram of fat, 13 grams of net carbs, and 8 grams of protein[*].
Depending on your personal needs and activity levels, you may be able to stay in ketosis with 13 grams of net carbs.
Just make sure you don’t go over a half-cup serving size.
One serving of lima beans (about half a cup) contains 108 calories with 7 grams of protein. There’s a total carb count of 20 grams and 7 grams of fiber, leaving you with net carbs around 13 grams[*].
Once again, you’ll likely want to stick to the half-cup serving size here.
Reminder: If you decide to consume beans on a keto diet, make sure that you soak your beans first to release anti-nutrients.
Modified Keto Diets
Paying close attention to your carb intake is a crucial aspect of the standard ketogenic diet (SKD). As a keto beginner, you’ll want to stick closely to the low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein guidelines for your daily diet.
However, once your body has adjusted to using fat for fuel, you may realize that you need some high-carb foods on occasion. This is especially true if you’re active.
For this reason, there are a couple of keto diet variations. These modified eating plans allow for a bit more leniency with carb intake per serving of food, loosening the reins on moderate- to high-carb foods like beans.
Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD)
The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) is most beneficial if you lead an active lifestyle or exercise regularly. If you’ve been following the SKD for a couple of months and still feel like you lack some serious energy during your workouts, the TKD could be right for you.
The TKD allows for up to 20-50 grams of additional carbs up to both an hour before and after your workout window. This window might be the perfect time to add beans to your diet.
Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD)
If you perform at extremely high intensities, the number of carbs allowed on TKD could still be too low to fuel your required energy levels. In this case, the cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) would be the preferred diet.
The CKD follows a typical SKD for most of the week (about five days) with two days of carb backloading. Carb backloading includes 24-48 hours of high carb, low-fat intake in order to replenish your glycogen levels.
When to Avoid Beans on Keto
In general, you should avoid beans as much as possible on a low-carb or ketogenic diet. This is especially true if you’re following the traditional form of the SKD or if you’re not fat-adapted.
At the beginning stages of the keto diet, while your body is first transitioning into fat-burning mode, it’s essential to keep your carbs very low. It’s strongly advised to avoid beans during these first few weeks to ensure that you get into ketosis.
Everyone’s body is different, which means you may process carbs differently than your neighbor. You also might be able to handle a small portion of beans without getting kicked out of ketosis once you’re fat-adapted.
Some people may be able to play with having a half cup here and there. However, some people will get kicked out of ketosis with less than that. You’ll have to find out for yourself where you fall on the spectrum.
If you’re fat-adapted and you want to try to incorporate a small portion of beans into your keto diet, do so slowly. Check your ketones after a meal with beans and see how your body responds.
If you’re doing a CKD or TKD, you may have more wiggle room. Many athletes find they can tolerate more carbs than sedentary folks.
If you’re going low-carb or keto, be cautious with bean consumption. Instead, opt for low-carb bean substitutes.
There are some circumstances in which the ketogenic diet would allow you to boost your carb consumption. For example, before and after training time on the TKD, or on your high-carb days if you’re following the CKD.
Your other days on the keto diet, however, should be kept well under 50 grams of carbohydrates — and often much fewer.
Beans or not, you can figure out your daily carb limit with the Perfect Keto macro calculator.