Want to Feel Full With Fewer Calories? Add Beans to Your Meal

Beans are an inexpensive and nutritious swap for meat. Learn about their benefits and the reasons to eat more beans now.

black beans

Medically reviewed in April 2021

Updated on February 17, 2022

If you plan your next picnic around bean salads instead of brats, you may enjoy a smaller waist—even if you eat the same number of calories as the brat lovers.

In a large study of more than 370,000 people published in 2010 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the biggest meat eaters tended to gain pounds over time, almost an extra pound a year. But eating a diet with the same number of calories—but with less meat—wouldn't cause the same weight gain, according to the researchers.

It's not clear from the research why eating less meat might help keep off excess pounds with all other things being equal, but the data suggest that it's not simply about calories. It may be that the waist-widening effects have something to do with the type of fat found in meats, mainly saturated fat. More investigation is needed to solve the puzzle.

What is known is that if you do swap your animal protein for plant-based options, beans make an excellent substitute.

Bean lovers, rejoice
In a October 2016 study published in the journal Food & Nutrition Research, participants who ate meals based on plant-based protein sources, namely beans and peas, reported less hunger and more fullness compared to those who ate meals based on veal and pork. Researchers also found that a vegetable-based meal with low protein was as satiating as an animal-based meal with high protein.

Beans make an excellent meat swap because they're very low in fat, relatively low in calories, yet high in satisfying protein. And beans are a great source of health-promoting phytochemicals, powerhouse plant compounds that may decrease the risk of certain cancers. 

Beans also contain other key nutrients, such as fiber. Nutrition experts recommend that adults eat 25 to 38 grams of dietary fiber per day. Beans, which provide 7 or more grams of fiber per half-cup serving, get you well on your way toward that goal.

Why beans are even better
Beans are a key part of vegetarian and vegan diets, and a review of 87 studies published in 2006 in Nutrition Reviews found that a vegan or vegetarian diet is highly effective for weight loss. People who followed a vegetarian diet also had lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian or vegan, increasing your bean intake can offer some of these benefits.

And the really great news for folks who may be trying to trim calories? If you're using beans in place of meat, you probably won't eat as many calories as people diving into the equivalent meat-based dish. That's because you'd have to eat a lot more beans to get the same number of calories.

For example, a 1/2 cup serving of cooked lentils contains about 115 calories, while a smaller 3-ounce serving of 85 percent lean ground beef contains close to 220 calories. So making beans the focus of soups, salads, and veggie tacos is an easy way to take in fewer calories without missing out on big flavor. 

Article sources open article sources

Anne-Claire Vergnaud, Teresa Norat, Dora Romaguera, et al. Meat consumption and prospective weight change in participants of the EPIC-PANACEA study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 92, Issue 2, August 2010, Pages 398–407.
Kristensen MD, Bendsen NT, Christensen SM, Astrup A, Raben A. Meals based on vegetable protein sources (beans and peas) are more satiating than meals based on animal protein sources (veal and pork) - a randomized cross-over meal test study. Food Nutr Res. 2016 Oct.
North Dakota State University. All About Beans. Nutrition, Health Benefits, Preparation and Use in Menus. Last Revised: Feb. 2019.
Stanford Health Care. Phytochemicals (Phytonutrients) as Part of Your Cancer Diet. Accessed Feb. 11, 2022.
Berkow SE, Barnard N. Vegetarian diets and weight status. Nutr Rev. 2006 Apr;64(4):175-88.

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