Want low-carb results without low-carb suffering? Studies show that ordinary lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans can help make it happen! “I suspected a bean-rich diet might mimic the benefits of a low-carb diet, so I decided to put it to the test,” said Loma Linda University’s Serena Tonstad, M.D., Ph.D. She recruited dozens of folks, asking half to stick strictly with healthy low-carb meals while the other half enjoyed healthy low-carb meals plus an optional serving of whole grains and at least one cup of beans at each sitting.
Basically, the bean eaters heaped their plates — which makes the outcome surprising. “Weight loss was about the same in both groups, even though the bean group had far fewer limitations and ate a significant amount of carbs.” What’s more, “The bean eaters saw greater improvements in key health markers,” said Dr. Tonstad. “Everyone talks about a low-carb diet being great for weight loss. But our bodies thrive on the nutrients in good carbs.” She adds that beans are an especially great choice for those of us who want to slim down, since they boast high concentrations of fat-fighting compounds. “You can get such wonderful weight loss by eating beans with each meal.” No suffering required — doesn't that sound amazing?
Dr. Tonstad wasn’t the first expert to see potential magic in beans. A 2012 University of Toronto study found that when folks begin eating a cup of beans at each meal—simply adding them to their normal foods — they slim down just as much as those who aim to cut 500 calories a day. And when a famous blogger and thousands of his fans conducted informal experiments to find the very best diet, they hit on a bean-based approach similar to the one Tonstad used. It works so well, “You can lose 20 pounds in 30 days,” insists Tim Ferriss, author of the bestseller The 4-Hour Body.
Bean Diet for Weight Loss
Turns out, beans have properties that trigger slimming reactions similar to ones you get on a low-carb plan. “Yet beans do it without causing the cravings and fatigue that are common when you deprive yourself of carbs — which are the brain’s preferred fuel,” says bean advocate Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., author of S.A.S.S.! Yourself Slim.
Eat more beans, and here’s what happens:
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Tummy tip To avoid tummy upset, start with 1/2 cup beans per meal and gradually increase to 1 cup, suggest pros. Many also love Beano enzyme pills that help digest beans gas-free, $14 for 150 capsules, Amazon.com.
Breakfast (choose one daily)
OPTION 1: Southwest Frittata (1- 2 servings)
Sauté onion and jalapeños in oil. Add beef; when lightly brown, add garlic, chili powder, cumin and dash salt. Brown meat. Mix in salsa. Mist 9"x13" glass baking dish with cooking spray. Spread beans on bottom; top with meat mixture and then egg mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 ̊F until eggs set, 45-50 minutes. *Makes 8 servings
OPTION 2: Eggs, any style, or any leftover protein, sliced veggies, cooked beans heated with diced Canadian bacon
Lunch (choose one daily)
OPTION 1: Unlimited cottage cheese Quick Bean Salad: Whisk 2 Tbs. red wine vinegar, 2 tsp. olive oil, pinch oregano; toss with ½ cup each kidney and white beans and 2 Tbs. each chopped tomato, celery and bell pepper
OPTION 2: McDonald’s Southwest salad with grilled chicken and beans (vinaigrette dressing and no tortilla strips)
OPTION 3: Amy’s Black Bean Burger served over 2 cups mixed salad with 2 Tbs. olive oil vinaigrette
Dinner (choose one daily)
OPTION 1: 1 large bowl of your favorite turkey chili Unlimited non-starchy veggies sautéed in olive oil
OPTION 2: Chipotle burrito bowl, with beans, chicken or shrimp, any veggies, guacamole and salsa
OPTION 3: Lean steak or any protein Sautéed mushrooms Quick Summer Beans: Sauté 1 cup sliced zucchini in olive oil; add 1 cup kidney or garbanzo beans and heat through; toss with fresh chopped basil; add salt and pepper to taste
Make your own menus. Six days a week enjoy a mix of unlimited lean protein, non-starchy veggies, good fat and beans at each sitting. Get meal ideas at 4HourBodyRecipes.com. On day seven, eat anything you like.
Another option inspired by Loma Linda University research: Simply eat mostly healthy foods—and include one cup beans per sitting.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.