The American Diabetes Association (ADA) created a list of beneficial foods for diabetes, or diabetic superfoods, that are “rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber” and may help prevent disease. Beans are at the top of this list.
This article discusses the benefits of beans, their nutrition, and the best types of beans to consume.
Benefits of beans
Beans are an excellent, affordable source of protein, fiber, and minerals. Adding beans to a meal can help people keep their blood sugar levels stable and help keep the body healthy.
The following sections discuss the benefits of beans for diabetes.
Beans are a good source of fiber and protein.
Although beans contain carbohydrates, they are low on the glycemic index (GI) scale and do not cause significant spikes in a person’s blood sugar levels.
Beans are a complex carbohydrate. The body digests this form more slowly than other carbohydrates, helping to keep blood sugar levels stable for longer.
Baked beans may contain more carbohydrate. Cans of baked beans can also contain lots of added sugar, so check the label before buying.
The latest ADA guidelines, published in 2019, state that “there is not an ideal percentage of calories from carbohydrate, protein, and fat for all people with diabetes.” Instead, they recommend that people follow a diet based on their individual needs. People can work out their personal diet plan with a dietitian or healthcare provider.
High-fiber foods, including beans, can reduce the impact of high-GI foods on blood sugar levels. This is because fiber slows down the digestive process, which helps keep blood sugar levels stable for longer.
Eating beans will supply a person with a steady supply of glucose instead of the sudden energy rush associated with simple carbohydrates.
Fiber offers additional benefits for heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) state that dietary fiber improves blood cholesterol levels and lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, and obesity, which are all potential complications of diabetes.
Beans are an excellent source of plant-based protein. Protein is essential for body tissue growth and repair.
The body can break down protein into glucose to use for energy. However, this takes longer than breaking down carbohydrates, slowing down the digestive process.
High-protein foods can help people feel fuller for longer, reducing the risk of overeating and obesity.
According to the ADA, a ½ cup of beans can offer the protein equivalent of 1 ounce of meat, but without the saturated fat. They provide a low-calorie, cost-effective way to add protein to the diet.
Vitamins and minerals
Beans are nutrient-rich, containing vitamins and minerals with little or no trans-fat, salt, and cholesterol. This is one of the reasons why beans are so good at lowering a person’s risk of disease.
Beans contain many essential vitamins and minerals, including:
Most people can include beans as part of a healthful diet.
However, if a person does not consume much dietary fiber, they should increase their bean intake slowly. This is because the digestive system can take some time to get used to high-fiber foods, which can cause some bloating and gas.
The body’s natural intestinal enzymes cannot digest fibers and starches found in beans. Instead, a process that scientists refer to as bacterial fermentation breaks these starches and fibers down. It is this fermentation process that causes the extra gas.
While some people may find this uncomfortable, it is not harmful.
Beans from a can are a good shortcut to cooking raw beans. However, canned beans often contain a lot of salt. Rinse the beans thoroughly to reduce the salt before eating them.
Bean dip and refried beans often contain added fats, salt, and other ingredients that can reduce the beneficial effect of beans, so it is important to read nutrition labels carefully.
How to add beans to the diet
Hummus contains garbanzo beans.
Beans are a very versatile addition to the diet. People can add them to salads or chilis, use them as a side or main dish, or make them into bean burgers.
Similar to most vegetables, raw varieties are the most healthful. Buying raw beans means a person has complete control over how they cook them and what they add to them.
Soak raw beans in water for 8-12 hours before using them, and then rinse them thoroughly. This helps reduce side effects, such as bloating and gas.
Canned beans can be a good alternative to raw beans and offer a shortcut on the cooking process. When using canned beans, choose a product with no added salt or rinse the beans well before use to reduce any added salt.
When buying baked beans, look for brands that have a lower total carbohydrate and sugar content. People can also make baked beans at home to fully control the sugar and carbohydrate count.
To include more beans in the diet, try the following ideas:
- cooking bean chili, using only beans or replacing some meat with beans
- eating hummus, which contains garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
- adding garbanzo beans or kidney beans to a healthful salad
- making bean burritos
- adding black or red beans to taco meat
- including navy beans in soups
- crushing black beans as part of a base for a vegetable burger
Search for more recipes online or consult a dietitian for more ideas on how to include beans into the diet.
Beans offer many health benefits for people with diabetes. They are a versatile, high-nutrient superfood that can help control blood sugar levels and fight disease.
Benefits for people living with diabetes include high protein and fiber, low fat, and low GI rating. If working with a dietitian, speak to them about adding more beans into the diet plan.