Celiac Support Association

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Beans' Role in the Gluten-free Diet

Prepared by Shelly Asplin, MA, RD, LMNT

Beans are one of nature’s hidden treasures. There was a reason Jack traded his cow for a handful of beans in the folk tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Beans seem to hold a magical power, commonly overlooked as a powerhouse for health. While beans may not bring you the riches of a giant, they are economical, have a long shelf-life and are a good source of protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

This article will explore how beans, a member of the legume family, fit into a gluten-free diet. This article will also review potential nutritional consequences of a gluten-free diet, uncover four nutrients available in beans that off-set common nutrient shortfalls of the gluten-free diet, showcase the benefits of bean nutrition and provide specifics on recommended bean serving amounts. Most importantly, this article will provide bean cooking tips and every day bean dishes with recipes to please a variety of palates.

Bean Classification

The Bean Institute describes beans as a member of the legume family.1 Legumes are plants whose seeds dry in the seed pod. Other members of the legume family include soybeans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. Beans vary in size, but they have a consistent kidney or oval shape, which distinguishes them from other legumes such as peas, which are round, and lentils, which are flat and disk-like.

There are many types of beans. Each bean often has its own story and origin.

One may wish to consider adding Adzuki, baby Lima, black, blackeye, cranberry dark, red kidney, garbanzo, great northern, large lima, red kidney, navy, pink, pinto and yelloweye to one’s menu. Most beans are readily available in variety or grocery markets.

Potential Nutritional Consequences of a Gluten-free Diet

The gluten-free diet may be a fashionable trend for some, but for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity it’s a medical necessity. Potential consequences of the diet include increased fat intake due to decreased intake of gluten-free grains and an increased consumption of foods high in fat that are frequently substituted for grain foods. Low calcium and phosphorous intake may also result due to lactose intolerance. Other nutritional consequences secondary to decreased grain consumption include a decreased intake of fiber, iron, folate, niacin, B-12 (due to the lack of fortification of most gluten-free breakfast cereals), and zinc.2

Common Nutrients Available in Beans and Bean Nutrition Facts 4

Beans contain four nutrients commonly lacking in the gluten-free diet: folate, calcium, iron and fiber.

Vitamin and Mineral Content of Beans: based on 1/2 cup servings of cooked beans.

All beans are excellent sources of folate, and good sources of manganese, iron, magnesium, and potassium.

Based on the above chart, 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans has approximately 116 calories, 8 g protein, 21 g of carbohydrate and 8 grams of fiber.

Recommended Weekly Vegetable Subgroup Consumption

The following chart showcases recommendations for a variety of vegetables, but this article will key into the beans and peas category. Notice how the amounts recommended vary by age; a 19-30 year old male should consume at least 2 cups per week where as a 2-3 year old should consume a 1/2 cup per week.

Vegetable subgroup recommendations are given as amounts to eat WEEKLY. It is not necessary to eat vegetables from each subgroup daily. However, over a week, try to consume the amounts listed from each subgroup as a way to reach your daily intake recommendation.5

Recommended Daily Vegetable Consumption

*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.6

Recommended Protein Consumption

The amount of food from the Protein Foods Group one needs to eat is dependant on age, sex, and level of physical activity. Most Americans eat enough food from this group, but need to make leaner and more varied selections of these foods. Vegetarians will count beans as one of their main sources of protein. Meat eaters will count beans more often in the Vegetable Foods Group.

*These amounts are appropriate for individuals who get less than 30 minutes per day of moderate physical activity, beyond normal daily activities. Those who are more physically active may be able to consume more while staying within calorie needs.7

Beans Count in Both Vegetable and Protein Food Groups

The USDA Food Patterns classify beans as a subgroup of the Vegetable Group or as part of the Protein Foods Group.8

1/4 cup cooked beans = 1 ounce protein equivalent

1 cup whole or mashed beans = 1 cup vegetables

Beans should be categorized as either vegetable or protein based upon the need for balance on a given day. Generally, if one regularly eats meat, poultry and fish then beans would be counted in the vegetable group. Those who seldom eat meat, poultry or fish, such as vegetarians, should count some of the beans they eat in the meat and beans group. To learn more about how to categorize beans according to the USDA Food Patterns visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

Shopping Savvy

Beans are available dried, frozen and canned.

Canned and frozen beans are often used as a convenience to save preparation time. Several manufacturers offer reduced or low sodium varieties. Draining and rinsing canned beans can reduce sodium by 40%.9


There are no magical foods; variety still remains the key to consuming a balanced diet. Beans and foods from all of the food groups can help maximize the nutrition on one’s plate.

  1. The Bean Institute, www.beaninstitute.com. Accessed February 28, 2012.
  2. Celiac Support Association Lifeline: Vol XXXI. No 4, 2011.
  3. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service: Crop Production, January 2009.
  4. The Bean Institute, www.beaninstitute.com. Accessed March 14,, 2012.
  5. USDA Choose MyPlate.Gov: www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables_amount_table.html. Accessed March 4, 2012.
  6. USDA Choose MyPlate.Gov: www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables_amount_table.html. Accessed March 4, 2012.
  7. USDA Choose MyPlate.Gov: www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/proteinfoods_amount_table.html. Accessed March 4, 2012.
  8. USDA Choose MyPlate.Gov: www.choosemyplate.gov. Accessed February 29, 2012. www.eatright.org/search.aspx?search=dry+beans
  9. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: www.eatright.org/search. aspx?search=dry+beans. Accessed March 4, 2012.

Reviewed 2/26/2013

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