While growing up, and maybe even just recently, there is the distinct possibly that beans conjured up good memories and a full belly for you. Upon starting the keto diet, you might have noticed that things changed significantly.

No longer are beans your savory comfort food you could just rely on whenever you wanted to, but they have probably become off-limits as well. If you’re like many other people, there’s good(ish) news on the horizon; all beans are NOT created equal.

To Bean Or Not To Bean?

Without a doubt beans are an excellent source of nutrition, especially when it comes to their protein content. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, it is likely one of your primary go-to high protein food sources.

While this is fairly consistent across all bean varieties, they are different in the aspect you are most interested in; their overall carbohydrate content. And this is where you need to pay keen attention since most of them are pretty high carb.

But there’s more. Beans are cheeky little guys that also have another pesky characteristic at play- compounds contained naturally that can collectively be referred to as anti-nutrients. If you were wondering, these compounds are those that make it difficult for the body to completely assimilate all the nutrients these beans have to offer.

Anti-nutrients are found in many plant based foods, and were believed to have developed as a way for plants to make themselves unattractive to animals that would consume them. Long story short, these can have an undesirable impact on our overall wellbeing. These compounds include:

Phytic Acid

Known as a phytate, this compound is the form in which plants usually store phosphorous. It is known to impair the absorption of critical minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc.

Enzyme Blockers

Enzymes are necessary to help break down food in order to make digestion and absorption easier. Beans possess protease inhibitors, which block the action of the enzymes that breaks down proteins. Though not believed to have a very large impact, every bit counts.

Natural Insecticides

Plants evolved by surviving the only way they really could defend themselves; by making it difficult for insects and other animals to consume them. One of these employed was via the presence of natural insecticides and pesticides that would either repel or incapacitate the consumers. One named lectin is commonly found in beans, which not directly lethal to humans, has the downward effect of causing digestive disturbances (as is common in leaky gut syndrome).

Are All Beans The Same?

Are All Beans The Same?

The short answer to this is no. there are some bean varieties that are considerably high carb, and thus, unacceptable for the majority of keto dieters, then there are those that are much more forgiving. In case you’re wondering, here’s a quick comparison table of the most common varieties (per cup serving)

Variety Calories Protein Carbs Fat
Green Beans ~44 2.4g 5.7g 0.2g
Black Eyed Peas 198 13.5g 23g 0.8g
Lima Beans 220 15g 26g 0.8g
Kidney Beans 225 15g 29g 1g
Black Beans 227 15g 26g 0.9g
Black Soybeans 240 22g 2g 6g
Pinto Beans 245 15.5g 30g 1g
Navy Beans 255 15g 28g 1g
Chickpeas 270 14.5g 32.5g 4.5g

Which Should You Choose?

Sorry to burst your little bean bubble, but as you can see from the comparison table above, the majority of bean varieties fail the keto litmus test miserably. They will absolutely kick you out of ketosis.

You can, however, enjoy black soybeans and green beans, which are very good in terms of the low carbohydrate content. Simply combine with foods that are higher in healthier fats, such as tuna, and you have an excellent power packed keto friendly meal at your disposal.

Beans To Avoid At All Costs

There were two types of beans that you may frequently encounter that we omitted from that list, simply because they have undergone some degree of processing that introduces additional macronutrients in the form of sugar for taste.

These are the notorious baked beans, and also refried beans. These each contain well over 20g (and much over 30g in the case of baked beans), which really have no place on keto. Mung beans are also extremely high in carbs, coming in at about 37g per cup.

Operation Bean Hack: Initiate

Operation Bean Hack: Initiate

Hopefully, if you are taking the time to follow keto, you are also working out and lifting weights a couple of times per week. If you are, there is a chance you may be able to enjoy your favorite beans. How? With cyclic or targeted keto.

CKD- cyclic keto dieting, is an approach that allows you to “refeed” carb stores once or twice per week by eating more normally on those two days. It is believed that strict keto dieting can have a deleterious effect on muscle glycogen, which in turn has a negative effect on physical performance and even lean muscle accrual.

You can have your favorite bean dish on these refeed days without the guilt. This is often all you need, since chances are you don’t want to eat beans daily anyhow.

The other approach, targeted keto dieting (TKD), revolves around consuming high carb foods at the post-workout interval. Carbs consumed at this time preferentially go towards refueling muscle glycogen and eliciting an insulin spike to shuttle other nutrients to weary muscles.

These two approaches still follow keto principles for the most part, but with exceptions to support athletic performance.

In Summary

Beans are generally not the best foods for you keto diet, unless you are an athlete or trying to maintain high performance. Black soybeans and green beans are ok for frequent consumption, although you may get bored.

One final note; many pea varieties fall into the same trap as with beans, since collectively they are legumes. You may need to avoid beans, but the payoff will be well worth it.