Beans are a diabetes super food, meaning they are good for your health and they have diabetes-specific benefits. They are a low-glycemic ingredient, and are high in protein and fiber.

The American Diabetes Association advises people with diabetes to add dried beans or no-sodium canned beans to several meals each week. They are low on the glycemic index and can help manage blood sugar levels better than many other starchy foods.

Beans also contain protein and fiber, making them a healthy 2-for-1 nutritional component to every meal. With so many types of beans available, there’s bound to be one that suits your palette.

Learn more about understanding the glycemic index here.

When planning your meals, remember that 1/3 cup of cooked beans is considered one starch diabetic exchange. One diabetic exchange of beans provides about 80 calories and about 15 grams of carbohydrates.

If using the beans as a replacement for animal protein, the serving size or diabetic exchange is 1/2 cup. For every half-cup of beans, make sure to account for one very lean protein exchange and one starch exchange.

The nutritional information for beans varies slightly from bean to bean.

Here’s the nutritional information, 1/3 cup each, for some beans you may want to try:

TypeBlack beansLima beansRed kidney beans
Protein (g)535
Carbohydrates (g)131112
Fiber (g)534

Beans are a good alternative to meat because of their high protein content. Unlike meat, beans have no saturated fat and ample fiber, which makes them a healthy exchange.

When looking at exchange lists, beans are usually grouped with starches such as breads and potatoes. But remember that beans tend to be much higher in protein and fiber than other starchy foods.

Beans also provide significant soluble fiber, which feeds healthy gut bacteria and results in improved gut health and reduced insulin resistance in animal studies. More research is needed in humans, but the current findings are promising.

In addition to being nutritious and fat free, beans are also versatile. They can make a great side dish, or you can add them to salads, soups, casseroles, whole grain rice, or any number of other foods.

Tracking serving sizes can be a little tricky when beans are combined with other foods, but estimate as best you can.

As side dishes or components of your main course, beans can show up anywhere.

Black beans can add some fiber and other nutrients to chicken tacos on a whole grain tortilla. Chili with red kidney beans (or black beans, garbanzo beans, or a combination of beans) is a handy dish because you usually wind up with easy-to-reheat leftovers.

Beans can be a little bland, but be careful about adding too much salt or cooking up baked beans with pork fat. Having diabetes raises your risk for heart problems.

Don’t diminish the health benefits of beans by adding excessive salt or salty foods. Too much sodium can raise your blood pressure. Instead, experiment with other spices, such as:

  • cumin
  • garlic
  • sage

Not only are beans a healthy addition to your diet, but they are also easily stored and inexpensive. Canned beans can last a long time, making them a great pantry staple for an easy-to-use, low-glycemic ingredient.

To learn more about how beans and other healthy foods can be a regular part of your diet, consult a dietitian or a certified diabetes educator (CDE).

To become certified, a dietitian must have extensive education in the prevention and management of diabetes through diet. Many dietitians have that certification. Ask your healthcare provider about prescribing the services of a CDE.

Your county extension service may also be able to provide helpful information about diabetic meal planning. If you have diabetes, think about joining a support group or other local organization in which you can get information and learn tips about diet and lifestyle.

The bottom line is that beans should be a staple in your diet, especially if you have diabetes.

A study published in the journal JAMA found that eating more beans, lentils, and other legumes helped people with type 2 diabetes gain better glycemic control and lower their risk of heart disease.