Beans are commonly thought of as a healthy food with many great benefits. If you’re just beginning a keto diet you might be wondering if beans are allowed on keto. They’re cheap, healthy and very versatile; however, they’re not allowed on keto. Read on to find out why beans don’t work with keto and what you can replace beans with in your diet.
An overview of the keto diet
The keto diet is, at its simplest, a very low carb diet. Keto changes how our body processes the food we eat and where it sources our energy from. In your typical modern diet carbohydrates are eaten more than any other macronutrient. Our bodies have adapted to using these carbohydrates as a fast easy source of energy by turning carbs into glucose, or blood sugar. Glucose is quickly created and quickly used up in order to fuel our bodies causing us to feel hungry a few hours after eating a carb-rich meal. Any carbohydrates that aren’t used right away are stored in the body as fat for a time when carbs aren’t readily available.
The problem is, carbs are always available so our body continues to store excess carbs as fat and never uses it for fuel. Keto changes that. On an extremely low carbohydrate diet where you consume 20 net carbs or less, your body is forced to change the way it sources fuel. Without being able to run off of glucose it switches to an energy source called ketones, which is an energy that’s been created from fat. When your body makes this switch to creating ketones you’re in a state known as ketosis.
Ketosis allows your body to use up that stored fat in a way that keeps your energy high all day long while keeping your hunger levels low. Because fat is available 24/7 you don’t have to constantly feed your body in order to get energy. The energy is always available. This prevents you from feeling the sugar highs and lows of a carbohydrate-based diet and it also helps you lose weight.
A note on net carbs
You’re allowed 20-25g of net carbs on the keto diet depending on your gender. However, what are net carbs and how are they different from carbs? Net carbs are any carbohydrates that your body consumes that are actually absorbed into the body. There are some parts of a carbohydrate that our body doesn’t absorb such as fiber and some of the sugar alcohols.
In order to calculate your net carbs off of the nutrition breakdown, locate the total carb count and subtract the fiber and any sugar alcohols if listed. For example, if the total number of carbs in your food was 20g, and the dietary fiber listed below was 2g then you’d subtract the dietary fiber and you’d be left with a net carb count of 18g.
Beans and the keto diet
Carbohydrates aren’t just found in bread, pasta and wheat. The majority of the foods that you eat contain some net carbs. This is why the keto diet doesn’t eliminate them altogether. It just wouldn’t be practical. The downside to this is a lot of foods that you think of as healthy actually have a higher carb content. For example, fruit is often high in carbohydrates. An apple is a fantastic fruit with plenty of health benefits; however it has 14 net carbs which makes it difficult to fit into the keto diet; although, not impossible. The same is true of beans.
What counts as a bean
Beans are part of a food family known as legumes. Peanuts, chickpeas, lentils and peas are all part of the legume family as well. They’re a great source of nutrition because they’re full of fiber, which is very important on a low carb diet. They’re also high in protein. A lot of diets consider them a staple food due to their low-fat ratio and their abundance of vitamins. Beans contain iron and magnesium which can be difficult to find in other food sources.
Are beans keto?
Despite being high in protein, fiber, magnesium and iron, beans are not well suited for the keto diet. They’re low in fat; which is a staple macronutrient of keto. They’re also high in carbs which puts them on the list of foods not allowed on the keto diet. Here are the carb counts of a few beans to give you an idea of why beans are difficult to eat on keto. Remember, your goal on keto is to eat fewer than 20 net carbs a day if you’re male or 25 net carbs if you’re female.
- 1 cup of Kidney beans has 23.5g of net carbs
- 1 cup of Black beans has 26g net carbs
- 1 cup Pinto beans has 30g of net carbs
- 1 cup Lima beans has 26g of net carbs
As you can see, one cup of any of these beans has too many net carbs in order to keep your body in a state of ketosis. If you were to cut each serving down to 1/2 cup daily you’d be looking at 12-15g of net carbs depending on the bean. This means that it’s possible to eat beans on the keto diet; however, you’d have to eat only a little bit which might not make it worthwhile for you.
It depends on what you’re looking for in your nutrition. If you’re struggling to get enough fiber on the keto diet, by all means, add a quarter cup to a half cup of beans to your diet a day. Just remember that this is going to limit the amounts of other healthy foods that you might be able to eat that day such as non-starchy vegetables or low sugar fruits.
Are beans ever allowed on the keto diet?
There is a way to eat beans while on the keto diet. There is a type of keto called Cyclical Keto. Basically, on this version of keto you eat a strict keto diet of no more than 20g net carbs daily for 2 days in a row. Then you have a day where you eat a more traditional amount of carbs before switching back to two days of low-carbs. This diet isn’t for everyone; however, it can be a way of getting beans into your diet alongside a few other higher-carb foods such as fruits.
The benefit of this type of keto is that you cycle between glucose and ketos as a source of food which might make your body better adaptable at making that switch between fuel sources. You also get a chance to eat foods that are high in some essential nutrients that you might have a hard time getting on a traditional keto diet such as fiber, magnesium and calcium.
What can I eat on keto
So if beans aren’t really an option on keto what can you eat? You need something that’s going to supplement the fiber, magnesium and iron that the beans would have added to your diet. The good news is, there’s plenty of foods that you can sub in for beans that will give you similar benefits while remaining low-carb and keto-friendly.
Alternatives to beans on keto
There are some foods that can give you the same benefits of beans that are low-carb and keto-friendly. If you’re looking to boost your fiber content try flax seeds, chia seeds or avocado. If you’re looking to get more magnesium in your diet try eating seeds, fish or dark leafy green vegetables. If you’re looking to mimic the texture of beans then you could try Enoki mushrooms which are highly nutritious or beanless refried beans which can be easily made at home.
Keto-friendly bean options
There are a few beans that can be added to your keto diet if you can’t bear the thought of giving them up altogether.
- Edamame: 1 cup of this bean provides you with 189 calories, 8g fat, 17g protein, 8 g of fiber and 16g of carbs. The good news is that when you subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrates you’re left with only 8g of net carbs per cup! That’s very low for a bean. Edamame are a variety of soybean and make a great snack when baked in the oven with a sprinkle of pepper and other spices. You can also add them to a salad for a satisfying crunch that’s full of fiber.
- Eden Black Beans: 1 cup of this bean provides you with 240 calories, 12g fat, 22 whopping grams of protein, 14g of fiber and 16g of carbohydrates. If you’re following along you’ll notice that when you subtract the fiber from the total carbs you’re left with only 2g of net carbs in a full cup of these beans! This allows you to make a low carb chilli or a keto-friendly Mexican burrito without having to fret over the carb count of your beans. You’re also getting a high amount of fiber which is important on the keto diet alongside a healthy dose of protein. These beans are great!
Despite being a highly nutritious food, beans are not suited to the keto diet. They’re high in carbs and low in fat which isn’t a good combination on keto. However, there are some ways to make beans work with keto and there are plenty of keto-friendly options that you can use to replace beans while still getting the nutrition you need.