Ever wondered if the bean diet could be good for you? Want to see the results of a low-carb diet without suffering from bread withdrawal? 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, MD, PhD. Dr. Tonstad 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. So basically, the bean eaters heaped their plates, which made for a surprising outcome.
“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,” Dr. Tonstad said. What’s more, “The bean eaters saw greater improvements in key health markers. 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?
Tonstad wasn’t the first expert to see potential magic in low-carb 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: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman ($15.81, Amazon).
Best Beans for Bean Diet and Weight Loss
Turns out, beans have properties that trigger slimming reactions similar to ones you get on a low-carb longevity diet 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,” said bean advocate Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches ($13.10, Amazon).
What can you expect from eating an all-bean diet? Beans are packed with protein, fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and potassium. No matter the bean, whether it's black, kidney, white, or red, you're more than guaranteed to snatch up a few health benefits in the process. Here's a quick rundown of the best beans for weight loss.
The green bean (also known as a snap bean or string bean) is undoubtedly one of the most adaptable veggies out there. Green beans can be enjoyed whether they're cooked in a casserole or raw. Plus, they're low in fat and high in dietary fiber.
Black beans are filled with fiber and protein, which means they'll keep you feeling fuller longer. Many vegetarians substitute black beans for meat. Unlike animal products, black beans are cholesterol-free and low on saturated fat.
Pinto beans are also high in fiber and protein. But did you know that pinto beans can lower your risk for heart disease? Eating beans at least four times per week helps decrease a patient's risk for developing heart disease, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Mung beans (which are a part of the bean and lentil family) are loaded with nutrients including potassium, magnesium, zinc, and several B vitamins. Plus, mung beans are a "gas-free bean," so you don't have to worry about filling your plate at dinner.
Both canned and dried kidney beans (which get their name from their shape) are available year-round. Aside from being a good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, kidney beans also prevent blood sugar levels from rising too quickly after a large meal, making these beans the perfect choice for someone who has diabetes.
There are four types of white beans: navy beans, great northern beans, cannellini beans, and baby Lima beans. The good news? Each type offers extraordinary health benefits. For example, cannellini beans have been shown to regulate blood sugar levels. Bonus feature: They can be used interchangeably in recipes.
7-Day Bean Diet
You can enjoy a mix of unlimited lean protein, non-starchy veggies, good fat, and beans six days a week. On day seven, eat anything you'd like. Get meal ideas at 4HourBodyRecipes.com, or check out our bean diet recipe suggestions below.
Breakfast (choose one daily)
1. Southwest Frittata
- 1/4 cup onion, diced
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and diced (optional)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup salsa
- 3 cups cooked lentils or black beans
- 4 eggs beaten with 2 (16-ounce) cartons of egg whites
Sauté onion and jalapeños in oil. Add beef; when lightly brown, add garlic, chili powder, cumin, and a dash of salt. Brown meat. Mix in salsa. Mist 9-inch x 13-inch 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 degrees Fahrenheit until eggs set, 45 to 50 minutes.
2. Eggs, any style, or any leftover protein, sliced veggies, cooked beans heated with diced Canadian bacon
Lunch (choose one daily)
1. Unlimited cottage cheese, Quick Bean Salad
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup kidney beans
- 1/2 cup white beans
- Tomato, chopped
- Celery, chopped
- Bell pepper, chopped
Whisk two tablespoons red wine vinegar, two teaspoons olive oil, and a pinch of oregano. Toss with 1/2 cup each kidney and white beans, and two tablespoons each chopped tomato, celery, and bell pepper.
2. McDonald’s Southwest salad with grilled chicken and beans (vinaigrette dressing and no tortilla strips)
3. Amy’s Black Bean Burger served over two cups mixed salad with two tablespoons olive oil vinaigrette
Dinner (choose one daily)
1. One large bowl of your favorite turkey chili and an unlimited amount of non-starchy veggies sautéed in olive oil
2. Chipotle burrito bowl with beans, chicken or shrimp, any veggies, guacamole, and salsa
3. Lean steak or any protein, sautéed mushrooms, quick summer beans
- 1 cup sliced zucchini
- 1 cup kidney beans (garbanzo beans will work, too)
- Chopped basil
- Salt and pepper
Sauté one cup sliced zucchini in olive oil. Add one cup kidney or garbanzo beans and heat through. Toss with fresh chopped basil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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