Beans and Other Nutritious Legumes for Low-Carb Diets

Compare nutrition info and learn how to cook them

beans and peas
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Small servings of beans and other legumes like peas and lentils are encouraged on the South Beach Diet and other low-carb diets. Eating legumes are recommended for good nutrition in general because they're a good source of fiber, resistant starch, and many nutrients and phytonutrients. Other than non-starchy vegetables, they are one of the least glycemic (blood sugar-raising) sources of carbohydrates because their starch is either slowly absorbed or resistant to being absorbed in the small intestine.

The recommended serving size is 1/3 to 1/2 cup.

Legumes for All Phases of the South Beach Diet

Here are some legumes that are great for any phase of the South Beach Diet, or any other low-carb diet. Compare the calories, carbs, protein, and fiber counts to find the best combination for your needs.

Nutrition Info for Mature, Cooked, Unsalted Legumes (1/2 cup)


Calories (g)Carbs (g)Protein (g)Fiber (g)
Adzuki beans14728.58.658.4
Black beans11420.47.67.5
Black-eyed peas9917.86.65.6
Broad beans (fava beans)9416.76.54.6
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)13422.57.36.2
French beans11421.36.28.3
Great Northern beans10418.77.46.2
Green peas6712.54.34.4
Kidney beans11220.27.75.7
Lima beans10819.67.36.6
Mung beans10619.37.17.7
Navy beans12723.77.59.6
Pinto beans12222.47.77.7
Split peas11620.78.28.1
White beans12422.58.75.6

Legumes to Avoid While on Low-Carb Diets

Stay away from beans that are canned with sugars or lard.

Green peas are considered a starchy vegetable and aren't allowed in phase one of the South Beach Diet, but they count as a starch serving in phases two and three.

Peanuts are a special case of legumes and on the South Beach Diet and almost everywhere else they are considered a nut. The serving size on the South Beach Diet is between 2/3 oz.

and 1 oz. and peanuts are allowed in all phases of the diet. Two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (no sugars or oils added) is considered to be a serving.

Canned Versus Cooked Legumes

Note that in general canned beans tend to raise blood sugar more than beans that you soak and cook yourself. However, this does not apply to soybeans, which have a low carb count and a very low glycemic index, to begin with. Black soybeans are a good choice for a low-carb bean that doesn't have the strong taste that regular yellow soybeans do. 

It's better from a blood sugar standpoint to cook beans yourself rather than to use canned beans. The pressure used to produce canned beans breaks down the starch and makes it more accessible in our digestive systems. Also, we lose the benefits of the resistant starch that's naturally in beans making it all the way to our colons and feeding the beneficial bacteria there.

How to Cook Beans

Don't know how to cook beans? It's actually quite easy.

1. Consider soaking them. It's best to soak your beans before cooking them because it helps your body digest them more easily and it helps the beans cook faster too. Adding salt to the soak will help them cook even faster and more evenly, but salt is optional.

Traditional soaking. The traditional way to soak beans is for four to 12 hours in water that's two inches above the height of the beans. If you want to add salt, use 1 tablespoon per pound of beans of fine salt or 2 tablespoons of coarse salt. Drain and rinse the beans before you use them. 

Quick soaking. If you're in a hurry, put beans in water that's two inches above, add salt if desired, then bring them to a boil. Once they come to a boil, turn the heat off and let them sit for an hour. Drain and rinse before cooking.

If you choose not to soak your beans, add another hour or two to your cooking time.

Make sure they are always covered with liquid while cooking. 

2. Choose your seasonings. Salt is just fine, but consider experimenting with other seasonings to mix it up.

3. Cook them. You can use a slow-cooker, a pressure-cooker, or simply cook them on the stove. For stovetop and slow-cookers, cover the beans with two inches of water and cook them on low. On the stove, depending on the bean, it will take between 15 minutes and a few hours. In the slow-cooker, it'll take between three and six hours. The beans are done when they're tender but not mushy.

4. Save the liquid. You can use the bean liquid the same way you would chicken or vegetable stock and it freezes for up to six months.

Remember that one cup of dried beans yields around three cups of cooked beans.


Clark, M. How to Cook Beans. New York Times Cooking.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28, 2016.