Beans are a cornerstone of different cuisines across the world. And many cultures talk about the health benefits of beans.
From mung beans in Eastern dishes to Mediterranean salads adorned with garbanzo beans — these small protein-packed legumes are everywhere.
You’ve likely heard that they’re high-fiber and rich in nutrients, but can beans be a part of your low-carb diet?
In this article, you’ll learn about the carb counts and net carb counts of different beans, and whether or not beans will truly spike your blood sugar.
Beans are said to be one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Some sources even 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.
Beans are also rich in dietary fiber and provide an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals. For example:
Black Bean Nutrition
One cup of black beans provides[*]:
|Iron||3.6 mg||20% RDI|
Beans are looking pretty good, right?
Here’s the problem — while they’re rich in vitamins and minerals, beans are also rich in something else — 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, one cup of black beans could easily take you to the limit of your carb intake for the day if you’re on a keto diet. That fiber content is just no match for the total carbohydrates.
Since the cornerstone of the ketogenic diet is to keep your carbs low, adding beans to your diet may be more trouble than it’s worth.
And 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 hiding in your beans:
Lectins are proteins that can be found 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[*].
Okay, so you’ve heard the downside, but you’re still fiending for some beans, here are your options.
Watch Your Portion Size
While beans do tend to be carb-heavy, if you watch your portion size, you may be able to sneak a serving in here and there. Here are a couple of bean options that — when eaten in moderation — may work for your keto diet.
White Kidney Beans
White kidney beans are bit higher in carbs, but still possible to consume on a ketogenic diet.
One serving (about a half of a cup) of these 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.
However, you likely won’t want to go over a half-cup serving size.
One serving of lima beans (about a half of a cup) contains 108 calories with 7 grams of protein. There’s a total carb count of 20 grams, with 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.
Important note: If you do decide to consume beans on a keto diet, make sure that you soak your beans first.
Soaking your beans for 8-24 hours before you cook them will help break down phytic acid and lectins, rendering more vitamins and minerals available to you. Plus, they’ll be easier to digest.
Also, some canned beans are pre-soaked (Eden organics brand does a great job of this).
Modified Keto Diets
Paying close attention to your carbohydrate intake is a crucial aspect of the standard ketogenic diet (SKD). As a beginner, you’ll want to stick closely to the low-carb, high fat, and high protein guidelines that the SKD provides.
However, once your body has adjusted to using fat for fuel, you may realize that you actually need some high-carb foods here and there. This is especially true if you’re active.
For this reason, there are a couple of different variations of the ketogenic diet. These variations allow for a bit more leniency with carb intake, loosening the reins on 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’re lacking some serious energy during your workouts, the TKD could be right for you.
The TKD allows for up to 20 to 50 grams of additional carbs up to both an hour before and after your workout window.
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 to 48 hours of high carb, low-fat intake in order to replenish your glycogen levels.
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 diet, while your body is first transitioning into fat-burning mode, it’s essential that you keep your carbohydrates very low. It’s strongly advised to avoid beans during these first few weeks to ensure that you get into ketosis as fast as possible.
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 only one-fourth of a cup.
If you’re fat-adapted and you want to try to incorporate a small portion beans into your keto diet, do so slowly. Check your ketones after a meal with beans and see how your body responds.
And 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.
Long story short, if you’re on a low-carb or ketogenic diet, you should be cautious with bean consumption.
You can, however, find some great 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 ketogenic diet, however, should be kept well under 50 grams of carbohydrates — and often much less.
You can figure out your daily carb limit here, this is the number you don’t want to go above, beans or not.