Beans and Diabetes

Julianne Curran, PhD

Dr. Curran is the Manager of Market Innovation at Pulse Canada, and is a member of the Bean Institute Editorial Board.  She can be reached at jcurran@pulsecanada.com.

Beans are a good source of slowly digestible carbohydrate, fiber and vegetable protein and a valuable means of lowering the glycemic index (GI) of the diet.

Eighteen published research studies have reported the GI of various pulse types including dry beans (at the 50 g available carbohydrate level) compared to controls including white bread, glucose, or dextrose.  These studies have ranged from 60 – 210 minutes in length and have been done in people both with and without diabetes. All of these studies found that pulses had a significantly lower GI than the controls.1,2

More than 30 published postprandial studies have compared dry beans or other pulse products (dose ranging from 30 to 762 g) to controls (e.g. potatoes, rice, white bread, pasta, grains, glucose, isolated fibers, etc. The majority of these studies (~83%) found significant reductions in postprandial peak glucose or area under the curve (AUC) compared to the control.3

A recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled longer term experimental trials found that when eaten on their own, pulses including dry beans significantly lowered fasting blood glucose and insulin levels.  In studies where treatments were bean-containing high-fibre or low-glycemic diets, glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) was significantly lowered. In fact, the reduction in HbA1c seen in people with Type 2 diabetes (~0.48%) was comparable to that achieved by oral medications.4

Dry bean consumption has also been shown to have beneficial effects on risk factors for diabetes including reducing total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and increasing HDL-cholesterol, and has been associated with decreased body weight.5

The American Diabetes Association suggests that people with diabetes include dry beans (like kidney or pinto beans) and lentils into meals.6 Dry beans are also recommended as a healthy food choice in the USDA’s MyPyramid.  The 2005 Dietary Guidelines, developed by the USDA, recommend eating 3 cups of legumes per week, including beans. That is equal to approximately ½ cup per day.

Beans provide protein that is low in fat and saturated fat as well as increase fiber, vitamins and minerals in the diet.  In fact, analysis of dietary intake data from the 1999-2002 NHANES found that adults consuming approximately 1/2 cup dry beans resulted in higher intakes of fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium with lower intakes of saturated fat and total fat.7

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Bornet, F. R., Fontvieille, A. M., Rizkalla, S., Colonna, P., Blayo, A., Mercier, C., & Slama, G. (1989). Insulin and glycemic responses in healthy humans to native starches processed in different ways: correlation with in vitro alpha-amylase hydrolysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 50, 315-323.

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4 Sievenpiper, J. L., Kendall, C. W., Esfahani, A., Wong, J. M., Carleton, A. J., Jiang, H. Y., Bazinet, R. P., Vidgen, E., & Jenkins, D. J. (2009). Effect of non-oil-seed pulses on glycaemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled experimental trials in people with and without diabetes. Diabetologia, 52, 1479-1495.

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6American Diabetes Association.  Retrieved from www.diabetes.org

7 Mitchell, D. C., Lawrence, F. R., Hartman, T. J., & Curran, J. M. (2009). Consumption of dry beans, peas, and lentils could improve diet quality in the US population. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109, 909-913.