Eat Beans for Better Blood Sugar With Diabetes

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White kidney beans in a brown pot macro and bread

Beans sometimes get a bum rap. Truth be told, beans boast an amazing number of health benefits.

If you have diabetes, beans, and other legumes can help you maintain better control of your blood sugar.

What's a legume, you ask?

A legume is a plant whose seeds or fruit are found in a long case, called a pod. Beans, chickpeas and lentils are common legumes. Legumes are a low glycemic index food that won't cause sudden spikes in your blood sugar. The glycemic index looks at how fast a carbohydrate-containing food, like beans, raises your blood sugar (glucose) level compared to a baseline product like white bread. Foods low on the index breakdown slowly in the body, so you don't get a sudden rush of sugar into your bloodstream. High glycemic foods (like white rice), on the other hand, get digested more quickly, which can send your blood sugar soaring.

Diabetes Superfood

Many diabetes nutrition guidelines recommend beans and legumes as part of a healthy diet. In fact, the American Diabetes Association includes them in their list of Diabetes Superfoods. Here's why beans and legumes are so good for you:

  • They provide slowly digested starch (carbohydrate), which reduces blood sugar spikes.

  • They are full of healthy fiber, so they keep you feeling full longer.  

  • They're packed with protein, which your body needs to work properly.

  • They are low in fat.

Studies show that adding 1 cup (190 grams) of legumes to your daily diet helps lower hemoglobin A1C levels. (That's your average blood sugar level for the last 2-3 months.) Some research hints that eating legumes at breakfast prevents spikes after that meal and subsequent ones that day.
And legumes are also good for your heart. A daily dose of beans and legumes can lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and coronary artery disease.

Adding Beans to Your Diet

There are many types of beans and legumes to choose from. You can choose canned or dried ones. Check the can for nutrition content, especially sodium and fat. (You’ll want to choose beans low in fat and sodium. They include:

  • Black beans

  • Dried peas (black-eyed and split peas)

  • Garbanzo beans

  • Kidney beans

  • Lentils

  • Lima beans

  • Pinto beans

  • White beans

Here are some easy ways to add them to your diet:

  • Make a bean salad or chili

  • Add them to soups or casseroles

  • Swap meat for beans in recipes

  • Snack on fresh veggies and a bean dip, like hummus

  • Add fat-free refried beans to your lunch or dinner

  • Choose vegetarian baked beans for a side dish

The American Diabetes Association offers many recipes using beans and legumes.
Remember, a healthy, balanced diet is very important if you have diabetes. Proper nutrition helps you control sudden changes in your blood sugar. Beans and legumes are only one part of this nutrition plan. Ask your doctor or nutritionist about the diet best suited for your overall health.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 27

  1. Jenkins D, Kendall C, Augustin L, et al. Effect of Legumes as Part of a Low Glycemic Index Diet on Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2012;172(21):1653–1660. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1384247

  2. Glycemic Index and Diabetes. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/glycemic-in...

  3. Protein Foods. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/meat-and-plant-based-protein.html?loc=cyp

  4. Higgins JA. Whole Grains, Legumes, and the Subsequent Meal Effect: Implications for Blood Glucose Control and the Role of Fermentation. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:829238. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3205742/

  5. Diet and Diabetes: Recipes for Success. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. http://www.pcrm.org/health/health-topics/diet-and-diabetes-recipes-for-success

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