Will Beans, Legumes & Grains Keep You Full?

Beans, legumes, and grains often puzzle nutrition enthusiasts when it comes to satiety.  

Despite their high carbohydrate content and moderate protein levels, these foods play a significant role in many traditional diets without leading to weight gain.  

So, what makes these foods harder to overeat?  

Let’s examine the various factors in our satiety algorithm to understand which ones can help you feel full and satisfied (and why).

Satiety Scores: Grains, Beans & Legumes

As you can see from the list of satiety scores of popular grains, beans and legumes, there is a wide range of satiety scores. 

  1. lentils – 53%
  2. lupin – 51%
  3. kidney beans – 49%
  4. edamame – 45%
  5. tempeh – 43%
  6. broad beans – 38%
  7. tofu – 38%
  8. pasta (whole wheat) – 36%
  9. baked beans – 35%
  10. natto – 35%
  11. white bread – 27%
  12. peanuts – 21%

What is Satiety?

Satiety is simply the absence of hunger. 

A food or meal with a higher satiety score makes you feel full in the short term and gives you the nutrients you need to crush your long-term cravings with less energy over the long term.

The satiety score does not make a food ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s just a tool that you can use to help you make more informed choices, eat more or less without exerting unsustainable willpower, and fight hunger. 

How We Calculate Satiety

The amount we eat of any food depends on our cravings for energy from fats and carbohydrates and nutrients like minerals, vitamins, and amino acids.

  • When our bodies need more of a particular nutrient, our cravings for foods containing that nutrient increase.  Once we’ve consumed enough, our appetite for those flavours diminishes, leading to a feeling of satiety.
  • When our food contains more than the minimum amount of a particular nutrient, we experience sensory-specific satiety.  Thus, foods with more of that nutrient become less appealing. 
  • The point where cravings switch to satiety is called the bliss point, or the nutrient concentration that aligns with maximum energy intake.  Foods that hit multiple bliss points are hard to resist. 

The Science Behind the Bliss Point

Since the 1970s, processed food companies have engineered their products to hit our bliss points—particularly for sugar, salt, and fat—to make them tastier so we’ll buy more of them so they can keep up with the competition and stay in business.  

But beyond the big three, our satiety analysis reveals that we have a bliss point for all the essential nutrients.  By considering the satiety impact of all the essential nutrients, we can accurately predict how much of a particular food we will eat based only on its nutritional properties. 

You’d probably never binge on nutrient-poor foods like pure oil, sugar or flour.  Instead, the foods we can’t stop eating contain the perfect blend of nutrients and energy to seduce us but never fully satisfy our cravings. 

Hyperpalatable foods we feel addicted to are not nutrient-poor or nutrient-dense.  They are somewhere in between.  Meanwhile, nutrient-dense foods like liver and spinach have a much stronger taste, which signals to our bodies that we don’t need much of them to get the nutrients they provide.

With this more profound understanding of the relationship between nutrients and satiety, we can reverse engineer our food choices for greater satiety.  By packing more of each essential nutrient per calorie, we can trigger sensory-specific satiety, crush our cravings, and nourish our bodies more efficiently. 

Let’s look at the bliss point charts for grains, beans, and legumes to understand what makes some more satisfying. 

Protein Content in Beans, Legumes, and Grains

Most beans, legumes, and grains tend to have a lower protein percentage than meat, seafood, and dairy.

Toward the far left, we see that rice, with only 7% protein, is predicted to be hard to overeat.  People who live mainly on rice (without added oil) don’t tend to be fat. 

Dr Walter Kempner’s Rice Diet (consisting of white, rice sugar, fruit, and fruit juice) was known to achieve “remarkable results” in terms of weight loss and reversing hypertension.  However, when starved of protein and other nutrients, their cravings became severe. 

Fascinatingly, Kempner became infamous for whipping his patients to motivate them to eat it.  Although we may eat less and lose weight, our cravings become severe when deprived of the required protein and nutrients. 

Towards the right of the chart, we see that edamame, lentils, tofu and kidney beans have a higher protein %, which helps make them more satiating than other options.  

Finally, notice how the white bread precisely hits the 12.5% protein bliss point.  It’s as if it’s designed to be tasty and easily overeaten. 

Carbohydrates: The Good and the Bad

When consumed plain, grains, beans, and legumes tend to avoid the carbohydrate bliss point—they’re either low-carb or very high-carb, which keeps them out of the carb-plus-fat danger zone.

High-carb foods often taste bland on their own, which is why many people add fats like butter to bread or oil to fried rice and beans, making them more palatable and easier to overeat.

Fat: The Satiety Lever

The chart below shows where popular foods sit on the fat-satiety response curve.  As mentioned, very high-carb, low-fat foods are typically challenging to overeat.  They quickly fill the limited glucose stores in our liver, muscles, and blood, raising insulin levels and sending a full signal to the brain.

Meanwhile, most people find peanuts and peanut butter, which have a higher fat %, much easier to overconsume, especially when roasted in oil with the perfect amount of salt.  Foods with a high fat % are energy-dense, which makes it easy to get a lot of energy quickly, well before we exceed the capacity of our adipose tissue to store energy from fat. 

Calcium

Our following chart shows that these foods have a wide range of calcium concentrations, with only kidney beans hitting the bliss point. 

Edamame and tofu contain a solid amount of calcium, which puts us above the Optimal Nutrient Intake and triggers sensory-specific satiety for calcium.  While the bioavailability of calcium may be lower from plant-based foods due to oxalates and phytates, a substantial amount will still be absorbed.

Iron

White rice is an inferior source of iron, so if we’re iron deficient, we’ll be more interested in other foods that contain more iron.  

Meanwhile, bread is fortified with iron to compensate for the lack of iron in refined grains.  Wheat bran, or the kernel from the grains, is actually quite nutritious and satiating, but it’s usually removed and fed to livestock. 

However, we can see that tofu, lentils, edamame, and kidney beans have a high concentration of iron.  Despite the bioavailability issues, a significant amount of iron will still be absorbed, especially if consumed with vitamin C (e.g. from fruit)

Potassium

Edamame, lentils, and kidney beans have a strong, robust taste, partially because they contain a solid amount of potassium, a significant factor in the satiety equation.  Meanwhile, peanuts, tofu and white bread have minimal potassium. 

Are Beans, Legumes and Grains Good for You? 

As you can see, it’s a mixed bag.  If you follow a plant-based diet for ethical or religious reasons, there are nutritious options containing nutrients that will keep you satiated.  However, you’ll need to pay special attention to ensure you get what you need both in terms of nutrient density and satiety.  

Bioavailability also becomes a key factor for those following a purely plant-based diet. 

Satiety vs Nutrient Density

The chart below shows a wide range of satiety and nutrient density scores for grains, beans and legumes. 

  • Brioche bread has a satiety score of 0%, while black beans have a much more respectable satiety score of 59%. 
  • White rice has a satiety score of 22%, partially because your body won’t let you overeat it because it knows it doesn’t contain the full spectrum of nutrients you need.  Meanwhile, at the top of the chart, lentil sprouts and edamame will provide you with more nutrients per calorie.   

To explore the landscape of meat and other high-satiety nutritious foods, check out our interactive food search tool to learn more.  For greater satiety, choose foods towards the right.  To nourish your body, choose foods towards the top of the chart. 

If you’d prefer, you can download printable high-satiety food lists in our Optimising Nutrition Community here

Your Personalised Satiety Formula

While our satiety formula is calibrated using 619,301 days of data from people eating a range of diets all over the world, unfortunately, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all satiety algorithm.

The nutrients you need to prioritise to crush your cravings are unique to you.  To understand your priority nutrients and the foods and meals that will complete your unique nutritional fingerprint, check out our free Nutrient Clarity Challenge

Optimise Your Diet for Higher Satiety

If you need help optimising your diet for greater satiety, you can join our Macros Masterclass.  Over four weeks, we guide our Optimisers to find the right balance of protein, fat and carbs, along with the shortlist of nutrients that provide greater satiety for most people. 

Level Up Your Nutrition Game

Once you’re ready to take your nutrition to the next level and move from the bliss points towards the optimal nutrient intakes for all the essential nutrients, you’ll love our Micros Masterclass.

Summary

  • Understanding which beans, legumes, and nuts can satisfy you is a valuable tool for optimising your diet.  
  • The key is to find the right balance of nutrients that work for you and align with your goals, context and preferences.
  • You can better manage hunger and cravings by incorporating more nutrient-dense, high-satiety foods into your meals.   

Ready to Take Control of Your Hunger?

Join our community of Optimisers transforming their lives with high-satiety foods.  Start your journey to effortless weight loss today!

Join the Optimising Nutrition Community!

What’s Your Experience? 

We’d love to hear from you! Which beans, legumes, or grains have you found the most filling and satisfying (or not)?  Share your experiences and tips in the comments below and join the conversation with our community!  

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