Are Beans the Ultimate Skinny Food?

Don't miss out on all the nutrition and benefits that legumes have to offer.


By Lani Muelrath


Have you ever noticed how a hearty bowl of bean chili or a lunch of lentil soup seems to hold your energy and appetite steady - for hours?

It's not your imagination.

Legumes — a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils - have a unique nutritional profile that delivers sustainable energy, controls appetite, and has been proven to assist weight control. Beans make this magic happen via two pathways. First, they have an exceptionally low glycemic index. And second, they deliver what is known as the second meal effect.

Low Glycemic Index

We've known for some time that beans have an exceptionally low glycemic index. The glycemic index is a numerical system that ranks foods based on their rate of conversion to glucose within your body, known as the glycemic response.

The low glycemic index of beans means digestion is slowed down, delivering to you an even energy stream and lasting hunger satisfaction - of clear benefit to those aspiring for weight loss.

This is due to the unique nutritional profile of legumes. Rich in a number of nutrients including protein, complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and beneficial fats, with a significant level of vitamins and minerals, they are also high in other nutrients such as folate, potassium, iron and magnesium.

According to results from the National Health Nutrition Examination Survey 1999 to 2002, people who consumed beans regularly had a lower body weight, lower waist circumference, and reduced blood pressure.

As it turns out, the protein, slowly digestible carbohydrates, and high fiber content of legumes result in high degrees of hunger satiation and satiety that follow a legume-laced meal. And the research tells us that that can mean reduced overall calorie consumption for you.

To clarify, satiation is satisfaction of appetite that results in the end of eating a meal - when you get that satisfied, "I've had enough" feeling. In contrast, satiety is the feeling of fullness that persists after eating, which suppresses further consumption. Beans provide both. Levels of satiation and satiety sustained from meals have been implicated in of aiding in weight management - and even in control of diabetes.

The Second Meal Effect - The Gut Bacteria Connection

The lasting satiety that beans and legumes provide - the kind that affects your appetite at your next meal - is also due to what has become known as the second meal effect of these foods. Basically, eating these high-fiber, plant-protein rich foods not only affects the glycemic response from our current meal. It also causes our glycemic response to our next meal to be less.

In other words, beans at one meal moderate your appetite for the next meal.

Here's the science behind the second meal effect. During digestion of beans and legumes, our gut bacteria produce specific compounds which slow down gastric emptying. Though not pretty sounding, this is known as colonic fermentation. Essentially, that bean enchilada you had for dinner? By the next morning your gut bacteria are going to work on that same enchilada, and the by-products they create have an affect on how your next day breakfast is digested.

Add this to the even, steady release of energy to the bean-fed body due to the nutritional profile of legumes, this further puts the brake on the rate at which food leaves our stomach, moderating the effect of a meal and contributing to a slow rise in blood sugar. This further amplifies the second-meal effect of legumes.

Beans, legumes, pulses.…whatever you call them, cultivating the habit of beans in your daily diet is a must for easier weight management.

For easy steps to cooking beans, and some of my favorite easy preps for beans, see Got beans? They’re Your Fat Loss Friend.

Lani Muelrath, M.A., is an award-winning teacher, author, and top plant-based lifestyle coach. Certified Specialist in Behavior Change and Plant-Based Nutrition, Lani has been featured on CBS TV, ABC TV, Prevention, USA Today, and The Saturday Evening Post. Presenter for Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, Complete Health Improvement Program, and guest lecturer at San Francisco State University, Lani is Associate Faculty at Butte College where her book has been adopted as required text. She is the author of The Plant-Based Journey: A Step-by-Step Guide to Transition to a Healthy Lifestyle and Achieving Your Ideal Weight, recognized by VegNews as Top Media Pick for 2015, and Fit Quickies: 5 Minute Workouts. More from Lani at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Main Photo Credit: Zerbor/; Second Photo Credit: mama_mia/; Third Photo Credit: Luiz Rocha/

Oct 2, 2015

I love beans