In most dietary thought circles, beans of all variety are regarded as a healthy choice. I mean, it’s not hard to see why. Beans are high in fiber, protein, magnesium, and potassium. They’re fat-free, complex carbs that leave you feeling full. Even the USDA recommends 3 cups of legumes a day and considers beans both a vegetable and an ideal meat replacement. What if you’re on the keto diet though? Then isn’t fat-free a bad thing? Are beans keto approved?
Quick Answer: Beans are too low in fat and high in net carbs to be regularly consumed on the Keto diet. The occasional small serving (quarter cup) of dark kidney or black beans may be acceptable if it fits within your macros being 5 to 6 net carbs.
If you’d like to check the net carbs in a specific type of beans or a certain brand, you’ll find a search bar in the sidebar to your right (on desktop) or below the content (on mobile) linked to the USDA food composition database.
This is a general look at the pros and cons of beans in regards to keto as well as possible bean substitutes.
What’s in a Bean?
Beans: Keto Positive Points
-High in fiber:
Beans are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber.
High fiber foods take longer to digest. This means that the body absorbs more nutrients from food in a high fiber meal, the post-meal blood sugar rise tends to be more gradual, and a feeling of fullness is maintained longer. All of the above are superb for those on the Keto diet.
Fiber can also ease the negative digestive effects some experience with Keto. In the case of diarrhea, fiber absorbs water content while adding bulk. In the case of constipation, fiber adds bulk while softening stools and promoting a healthy bacteria biome. Unfortunately, beans do have one less desirable effect on your digestive track—flatulence.
-Great source of antioxidants:
Antioxidants essentially help reduce or even stop damage to cells, and it turns out beans are packed full of them—more so even than frequently touted antioxidant super foods such as blueberries. A half cup of red beans has an antioxidant capacity of 13,727, nearly double the wild blueberry at about 6,713 per half cup. Red kidney beans and pinto beans also rank highly on the list with 13,259 and 11,864 respectfully. However, not all beans are created equally, black beans drop down to 4,181, suggesting that if antioxidants are your aim, red-colored beans should be your focus.
-High in Folate.
A half cup of your average bean has around a third of your daily recommended dose of folate. Folate, also known as folic acid, is essential to red blood cell formation and healthy cell production/growth. Many baked goods, cereals, and pasta products in developed countries are supplemented with folate, but those following a ketogenic lifestyle may have reduced intake being those foods are avoided.
-High in electrolytes.
Ketosis encourages the loss of water weight often causing an electrolyte flush in the process, possibly leading to low potassium, magnesium, and sodium. For some this can be the cause of “keto flu” including not-so-fun side effects such as muscle cramps, headaches, and fatigue. Beans are naturally high in magnesium and potassium, while also being frequently prepared in high sodium recipes.
Beans: Keto Negative Points
-High in carbs:
Really the only reason beans are not a great keto choice is that 65 to 70 percent carb content. Even one of the lowest carb beans around (the dark kidney bean) packs about 11 net carbs per half cup. As most keto dieters are looking at around 20 net carbs a day, killing half your allowance in a single serving would make the rest of the day a challenge.
However, the occasional quarter cup or so serving of red or black beans is doable at 5 to 6 net carbs. This may be enough to get your bean fix as a salad topping, chili mix-in, or in Mexican dishes.
Why are beans recommended for those with diabetes, but not those on the keto diet?
Beans are high in carbs, but those carbs are complex for the most part, which means they create a less severe glycemic response. This in conjunction with their high fiber, nutrient, and protein content make them a healthy carb for diabetics looking to keep stable blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, as they are still very rich in carbs, and do cause a glycemic response, complex or not they can prevent ketosis.
Are there any keto-approved options or replacements for beans?
The most commonly recommended substitutes for beans on the keto diet include:
Black soy beans: While technically still a bean, black soy beans are not what most think of when they’re wondering, “are beans keto ok?” They do, however, only have roughly 1 net carb per half cup making them acceptable keto beans. Keep in mind though that soy products come with their own list potential of health concerns.
Boiled peanuts: Another not-so-commonly known actual bean (not a nut guys, promise), boiled peanuts are frequently used in chilis. Their carb content is a matter of debate. Many canned brands claim 0 net carbs, while peanuts in general are far from carb-free. One suggestion on how this is possible is that canned boiled peanuts are made from green peanuts and well, boiled, which would make 1 cup of green boiled peanuts far less actual peanuts than one cup dry (green peanuts have a higher water content and boiling them creates a larger volume). The serving size on most cans is also quite small, at a quarter cup, so it’s possible there are some carbs in boiled peanuts (but less than 1 net carb per quarter cup) and preparation/bean type matters.
Nopales: Finally, the only not-actually-a-bean keto bean substitute, Nopales are made from cactus leaves. They have roughly 1 to 2 carbs per cup, and a subtle flavor that when cooked and seasoned like a bean is often claimed to be an acceptable taste/texture replacement.
If you’ve tried any other substitutes for beans on the keto diet, please drop us a comment! We’d love to add them to this page.