Are beans very starchy?

Are beans very starchy is question often heard; what are the facts?

This page was last updated by Bernard Preston on 8th January, 2021.

Starchy lima and broad beans

Here is 100g of a mixture of lima and broad beans, after podding, that I reaped from the garden this morning; that is half a cup. Just what will they do to your blood glucose?

Will they make you fat?

As a rule of thumb, half a cup of beans contains about 15g of carbohydrate; most of it is in the form of fibre that is not digested in the small intestine.

In comparison much of a slice of commercial bread, which also contains about 15 grams of starch would be absorbed in the small bowel causing a blood sugar surge, but instead most of the carbs in your fresh green beans passes through to the colon. I cannot vouch for those that have been dried or are from a can.

Humans incidentally have a very long small intestine compared to other primates; we are extremely efficiently able to absorbe glycemic carbohydrate, turn it into glucose and store it as fat.

But the carbohydrate in legumes is what is known as resistant starch; instead it is fermented in the colon, provided you have an adequate normal flora, known as the microbiota in biochemical jargon. Those are the friendly bacteria and yeasts that break down that which escapes digestion in the small intestine.

In comparison, half a cup of cooked or raw broccoli, spinach, kale or pumpkin contains about 5g; one third of the starch.

An apple, 1/2 cup of cooked carrots, butternut and corn also contain about 15g of carbohydrate; the same as the so-called very starchy beans.

One cup of milk or unsweetened yoghurt contains about 12g of starch.

One can of beer contains about 15g of starch and a cola 40g. Avoid artificial sweeteners, by the way; they are even worse than sugar when it comes to insulin resistance.

One slice of bread also contains about 15g.

In comparison, one slice of cheesecake contains 33g of starch and 22g of sugar; 55g altogether, about the same as in two whole cups of beans, but unlike legumes they would not be resistant starch either. 

Whilst most folk can easily stop at half a cup of beans, a popular website says, 'hardly anyone can stop at one slice of cheesecake!' (2) There is the double rub; or should that be squared? Sugar is highly addictive.

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

- Hanlon’s Razor

Are beans very starchy?

Beans and onions fried in butter.

Are beans very starchy and should we be avoiding them if we want to lose weight or are diabetic?

So, yes, all legumes do have some carbohydrate, but you are never likely to pig out on beans like you might on cheese cake, and it is nutritious resistant starch that will hardly affect your blood glucose.

If you are frankly diabetic then test yourself. We all react differently to various starches.

It seems that we are set on cereals for breakfast; but they certainly are starchy, far more so than beans, and significantly raise blood glucose and the risk of diabetes, especially if refined and have sugar added.

Many breakfast cereals are just cracked biscuits.

For some years we have rather been enjoying eggs Florentine for breakfast; poached on a bed of spinach, and often on a slice of buttered toast. It has almost no effect on blood sugar, is delicious and quick to make and enjoy.

Having said that, the toast is made from 'real' bread made from 100% wholemeal flour that we grind ourselves.

The allicin benefits in the onions certainly also counteract any possible negative effects for diabetics.

A wonderful upgrade has been the addition of limas and favas as they are often known, since beans are marginally starchy but have little effect on blood glucose.

First lightly fry an onion in butter, add a hot pepper or two, the green beans and a little garlic; after a couple minutes pop the sliced spinach into the pot, pour on a few tablespoons of water and then, when lightly steamed, drop in the eggs.


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One of the great joys of fava beans is their dopamine; it hits the hunger centre of the brain and you will not feel famished for the rest of the day.

Are beans very starchy? No, only mildly so and in comparison with cheesecake they are very low in carbohydrate.

I will admit that beans out of a can, or days old at the greengrocer are another story. I am making a case for those grown in your own garden, or freshly-picked from a farmers' market.

Eggs Hilton is our daily breakfast. I give it much of the credit that we take virtually no medication and, at seventy both of us are vigorous and strong. It contains all four of the very important vitamins that prevent frailty syndrome. 

Vegetable high in protein

Much of the focus in the media surrounds the question are beans very starchy, and are they fattening? No, they are not. What is the glycemic response to legumes is another question you may be asking?

But just as important is that many of the fad diets are encouraging you rather to get your protein from red meat or a shake.

It is a rather invidious decision that you have to make; are you going to avoid legumes because you are concerned about whether beans are very starchy, and might make you fat, and are you going to embrace vegetable high in protein, and lower the risk of getting metastatic tumours, or are you going to eat more meat?

Type 'vegetable high in protein' here for more information.

For me it is a no-brainer. Enjoy legumes daily and keep cheesecake for high and holy days; and one slice only.

Having said all of that, if you are morbidly obese, then you have to get all of your carbohydrate under 50g per day, and the starchy beans must also come under the spotlight.

Recent research published in Lancet declares that low carb diets favouring animal-derived protein and fat were associated with a higher mortality, but if you get them from legumes, avocados and olives, and whole grain breads, for example, it was associated with a lower mortality. (3)

In short, if you are going to follow a low carb diet, which I recommend incidentally, make sure the fats and protein include a significant percentage that are plant based; like beans.

Are beans very starchy? Yes, they are and that is why they are so important in your diet.

What is low carb you may be asking? If your body mass index is less than say about 27, then keep your starch well below 150g per day. If it is above 30 then you should be looking at well under 100g, and perhaps than 50 if you are diabetic.

Cutting your carbs to less than 20g per day, half a cup of beans, for a week will enable you to shed pounds very quickly. Legumes supply satiety, as will increased fat, so that you will not feel famished.

Anti-nutrients

There are credible questions being asked about anti-nutrients like phytates. I confess my mind is not made up on the subject, but they are found in much larger amounts in dried beans. I far prefer them green, straight from the plant in any case so it is not for me an issue.

Useful links

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. What are legumes
  3. Are beans very starchy

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