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Are beans carbs?

Joanna Chodorowska

I did a nutrition talk for the Get Fit Central Bucks program (in partnership with the local YMCA and Doylestown Food Co-Op) on carbohydrates.  I am one of 4 nutrition experts talking about various macro-nutrients in foods, balanced meals, restaurant eating and putting it all together.  My scheduled talk was last night and the question came up as to 'Are beans carbs?  or are they proteins"?

This is where it gets interesting as the week before, the nutrition expert talked about the beans being a great source of protein!  Well, they do indeed have protein.  If you look at the label, then you can decide for yourself as to which they are.  Are beans a carb? pinto beans nutrition facts

Based on the nutrition label for pinto beans:
Total Carbs is 19 g
Protein is 5 g

So in my opinion, beans are more of a carbohydrate than they are proteins.  They are both, but I refer to them as primarily carbohydrates with the benefit of some protein.

So why is this a big deal?  Based on my last blog post about All Carbs
Are Not Created Equal, I showed how you can determine how many carbohydrates to eat per day.  It is a general formula, but if your goal is to get 2 grams of carbohydrates per body weight (and you weight 140 pounds), this is only 127-255 g per day.
Divide by 5 meals = 25-51 grams per meal (you can be at the higher amount if you exercise more).

When I work with clients, I suggest the goal of most meals be:
1/2 cup or 20-25 grams of protein (typically animal proteins as they are concentrated protein sources)
1/2 cup or 20-25 grams of carbohydrates (typically root vegetables, grains, fruits, sugars, or beans)
1 cup of more (15-20 grams) of green vegetables (these usually include broccoli, kale, salad greens, etc)
1-2 tablespoons (7-10 grams) of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, healthy oils, avocado, etc)

Based on this goal of what the meal should have in it, even using 1/2 cup of beans doesn't leave much room for any other carb else like rice, grains, potatoes or fruit!  Yes, you get some added protein and the 5 grams of fiber both slow down the absorption of the sugars.  But beans are not contributing that much in terms of protein, and much more in terms of carbohydrates or natural sugars.  I am not saying that beans are not a good food to eat.  But I do think that beans are more of a source of carbohydrates rather than proteins.  When looking at meal makeup, and balancing the carbohydrates to proteins to fat to vegetables, you may want to consider beans not as a protein source, but a carbohydrate.   Then you can throw them onto a bed of greens, add some animal protein and call it a complete meal.  Just like I did today with the leftover bean salad from class!

If you want the recipe to the 2 Bean Salad, click here so you can make it. bean salad
We used pinto, black and garbanzo beans in ours, but used canned diced tomatoes since fresh ones are not in season and usually flavorless in May.

So are beans carbs?  Or are the proteins??  They really are both technically.  I would categorize them as a primary source of carbohydrates rather than a primary source of proteins.
But that is me :)


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