Can you live off beans and rice?

In this article, we will answer the question “Can you live off beans and rice?”, and what are beans?

Can you live off beans and rice?

No, you cannot live off beans and rice. Beans and rice is a very popular food combination but it alone cannot be relied upon for sustenance. Beans are a bit expensive but they are packed with fiber, potassium, folate, iron, manganese, and magnesium. 

Moreover, beans are a low-glycemic index food with no cholesterol or fat. Beans are listed as one of the superfoods owing to their excellent nutrition profile. Beans are known functional foods that are low in fat and high vegetable protein, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. They also contain phytate and phenolic compounds that may function in similar ways to α-glucosidase or α-amylase inhibitor type 2 diabetes medications like the oral hypoglycemic agent acarbose (1). 

On the other hand, polished white rice, deprived of germ and bran, has a high glycemic index. The removal of bran and germ from brown rice also strips it of healthy oils, iron, magnesium, and vitamins B1 and B3. so brown rice is naturally nutritionally superior to white rice. Regular white rice consumption has also been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (1).

However, a study found that white rice combined with beans meals produce an attenuated glucose response in comparison to rice alone in equal available carbohydrate treatments, showing intermediate responses with mixed meals of high and low glycemic index foods (1).

But it is still not enough for you to live long. This is because beans and rice lack certain essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. Typically, proteins derived from animal sources, including beef, chicken, pork, eggs, or milk/dairy, contain adequate amounts of indispensable amino acids for human development and growth while also being highly digestible. Plant-based proteins, however, may lack one or more indispensable amino acids in relation to requirements. Furthermore, there are factors that limit protein digestibility and amino acid availability, including the encapsulating effects of nonstarch polysaccharides (2). 

To avoid running into any nutritional deficiencies, it is recommended to eat 2 servings of seafood per week and 2-3 cups of veggies (both leafy greens and starchy veggies) per day along with beans and rice. 

What nutrients would you need to supplement a Beans and Rice diet?

Vitamin C

You will need to fulfill your Vitamin C intake by eating citrus foods and veggies such as broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and baked potatoes. Vitamin C plays a role in controlling infections and healing wounds, and is a powerful antioxidant that can neutralize harmful free radicals. It is needed to make collagen, a fibrous protein in connective tissue that is weaved throughout various systems in the body: nervous, immune, bone, cartilage, blood, and others. The vitamin helps make several hormones and chemical messengers used in the brain and nerves (3).


Since the rice and beans are low in fat, you will need to fulfill your fat requirement by eating foods rich in omega-3 fats such as seaweed, flaxseeds, walnuts, and seafood such as salmon, trout, and shrimp, etc. Dietary fat is not only a concentrated source of energy, it carries fat-soluble vitamins and other nutritive substances, provides essential fatty acids and serves physiological functions in the body. Certain essential polyunsaturated fatty acids cannot be synthesized by humans or converted from precursors in sufficient amounts to meet nutritional needs and, therefore, must be consumed in the diet. Fatty acids are an integral part of the cell membrane, where they are involved in signal transduction and in the immune and vascular systems (4).


The anti-nutritional factors present in rice and beans, known as phytates, interfere with zinc availability. To fulfill your zinc requirement, you will need to round up your meal by including foods rich in zinc such as red meat, shellfish, nuts, and dairy products. Zinc is a trace mineral, meaning that the body only needs small amounts, and yet it is necessary for almost 100 enzymes to carry out vital chemical reactions. It is a major player in the creation of DNA, growth of cells, building proteins, healing damaged tissue, and supporting a healthy immune system. Because it helps cells to grow and multiply, adequate zinc is required during times of rapid growth, such as childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. Zinc is also involved with the senses of taste and smell (3).

The ratio of beans and rice 

Ideally, the ratio of beans in each rice and beans serving should be greater than rice, especially if you are using white polished rice. 

This is because beans are packed with proteins that are needed for cell, repair, and regrowth. Not only this, beans are rich in fiber and they curb your hunger bursts. 

Because the rice is more economical, people tend to use a higher portion of rice to the beans. This makes the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies more imminent. Studies found that higher reporting of bean consumption in comparison to white rice was associated with reduced cardiovascular disease risk based on food frequency data from Costa Rica (1).

What are beans?

Beans are legumes that are a subclass of veggies. Beans are a type of pulses. Pulses constitute the dried seeds of non oilseed legume crops, including dried peas, chickpeas, beans, and lentils. Legumes are a good meat alternative because they have a lower fat and cholesterol content combined with a good amount of protein. Their crude protein content is typically about 21–26% by weight (2).

The most common types of beans are black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, soybeans, mung beans, adzuki beans, and lima beans. 

Legumes also include lentils and split peas but most of the high-protein legumes are beans. Most canned and frozen beans contain filthy rich amounts of sodium. Similarly, the amount of saturated fat and salt is unreasonably high in store-bought refried beans, chili beans, and other pre-seasoned beans. 

So, if you want to follow a low-sodium or salt-free diet such as the DASH diet, you must eliminate processed beans from your diet and cook your meals at home.

Beans are protein sources 

The protein content of beans is comparable to the protein content of animal protein such as eggs, poultry, game meat, deli meat, and seafood. The top 10 beans that have the highest levels of protein are given below.

Type of beans Serving size half cup
Large white beans 9 grams of protein per ½ cup
Cranberry (Roman) beans8 grams of protein per ½ cup
Pinto beans 8 grams of protein per ½ cup
Kidney beans 8 grams of protein per ½ cup
Black beans 8 grams of protein per ½ cup
Navy beans 8 grams of protein per ½ cup
Red beans 6 grams of protein per ½ cup

Which beans are best to store?

Any type of beans in their dry or uncooked form can be stored for an indefinite period. As long as you store your beans in an airtight, food-grade container placed in a temperature-controlled environment (below 75°F or 23.8°C), your beans won’t go bad. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the recommended storage time is up to one year.

Always opt for dry beans instead of canned ones if you want to keep your beans for years. However, canned beans come in handy when you are pressed for time as they do not require any preparation such as soaking or cooking. 


In this article, we answered the question “Can you live off beans and rice?”, and what are beans?


  1. Thompson, Sharon V., Donna M. Winham, and Andrea M. Hutchins. Bean and rice meals reduce postprandial glycemic response in adults with type 2 diabetes: a cross-over study. Nutr J, 2012, 11, 1-7. 
  2.  Nosworthy, Matthew G., and James D. House. Factors influencing the quality of dietary proteins: Implications for pulses. Cereal Chem, 2017, 94, 49-57.
  3. Vitamins and Minerals. The Nutrition Source, 2022. University of Harvard.
  4. Nettleton, Joyce A., et al. Health significance of fat quality in the diet. Ann Nutr Metabol, 2013, 63, 96-102.