Beans: Carb or Protein?

Find out exactly where beans fit into our diet.


By Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN


Certain foods can be confusing when it comes to figuring out where to fit them in the diet. For example, potatoes are technically a vegetable, but because they provide about 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving, they actually are considered a carbohydrate.

Beans are a similar story. While beans, peas, and lentils are vegetables, they’re considered “starchy vegetables” because of their carbohydrate content and health experts recommend treating them as a carbohydrate exchange. On a plant-based diet, beans can contribute significantly towards your daily protein needs. However, you still want to be mindful to keep them within the context of a meal that provides some healthy fat and does not contain excessive amounts of carbs from a lot of additional grains or starchy vegetables.

Hummus is also considered a carbohydrate source because it’s made from beans and provides some protein, but you would need to eat a lot of it to meet your needs. A 2-tablespoon serving provides around 75 calories and offers about 2 grams of each fiber and protein.

That said, beans are a great carb choice. In addition, because of their high protein and fiber content, they break down slowly so you stay full for longer and experience more stable blood sugar and energy than you would if you ate a similar amount of simple carbs, like white bread or a pastry.

Beans are also packed with micronutrients like iron, potassium, and magnesium and have been associated with a number of health benefits, including improved heart health and decreased diabetes risk. A ½-cup serving of cooked beans, peas, or lentils will only set you back about 100 -150 calories and provide upwards of 6 grams protein and 8 grams fiber, depending on the variety you choose.

Here are a few delicious, well-balanced ways to incorporate beans into your diet:

Instead of rice and beans, how about trying beans with cauliflower rice? Add non-starchy veggies like greens,grilled pepper and onions. Top your bowl with a third of a sliced avocado or two tablespoons of guacamole.

Cook up a hearty chickpea and tomato stew and serve over steamed greens. Top with a poached egg and a sprinkle of goat cheese.

For a satisfying vegan entree, toss together roasted veggies with lentils and drizzle with tahini (sesame seed paste) and garnish with hemp hearts.

Make your own falafel by pulsing chickpeas, parsley, spices like cumin and garlic, and olive oil in a food processor, and forming into little patties or balls. Bake until crispy and serve over salad with tomatoes, cucumber, olives, and feta cheese, if desired.

Make a hearty white bean dip by blending together white beans, basil, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice. Serve with sliced vegetables for dipping.

Beans are a delicious and satisfying source of carbohydrate to include as part of your regular diet.

Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, health coach, and writer with a passion for helping others experience a happier, calmer life and a balanced relationship with food. For those in need of some healthy-eating inspiration, Jess created five day's worth of delicious make-ahead lunches to make it even easier to eat well on a busy day. For more information on Jess, check out her website and follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebook and Pinterest.

Main Photo Credit: leonori/; Second Photo Credit: Anna_Pustynnikova/; Third Photo Credit: Slawomir Fajer/

Jun 16, 2017

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