Beans means ... high sugar and salt
Beans are vegan friendly and a cost-effective good source of protein and fibre, with negligible fat content.
But the levels of salt and sugar in baked beans can be very high, which somewhat negates their healthy potential.
High salt consumption is linked to a range of health problems including strokes and heart disease, whilst high sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
To help you avoid the beans with the highest salt and sugar content, we have compared the amount of sugar and salt used by the brands in this guide.
Are there any low sugar baked beans?
What is considered a low level of sugar?
- Five grams or less of sugar per 100 g is considered to be low. (5 g is about a sugar cube’s worth)
- 5 g to 22.5 g per 100 g is medium level
- more than 22.5 g per 100 g is high
Clearspring and Essential do best on sugar levels, better than all the reduced sugar varieties.
Disappointingly, Suma organic and Heinz organic beans are still two of the worst for sugar. They were two of the worst when we reviewed beans previously, in our 2012 and 2017 guides.
An adult portion (250g, which is more than half a can of around 400g) of Heinz or Suma organic beans contains 13.5 g of sugar, more than a two finger Kit Kat!
The sugar content of a tin of Biona organic beans has gone up by 40% in the last six years and is now the brand with the most sugar in. An adult serving of Biona tinned beans equates to 14.75 g of sugar – nearly three sugar cubes!
Should you buy reduced-sugar baked beans?
There are four reduced-sugar brands in this guide – Heinz, Branston, Suma and Mr Organic – and all four also have lower levels of salt.
The jury’s out on whether sugar alternatives are better or worse for you than sugar itself. It’s swings and roundabouts.
To reduce the sugar content of baked beans, generally two alternative sweeteners are used: steviol and agave syrup. Heinz and Branston use stevia, Suma and Mr Organic use organic agave syrup.
Agave syrup comes from the sap of a cactus that is native to Mexico and is most commonly used to make tequila. It contains less glucose than sugar, so has a lower glycaemic index, but it contains more fructose which is considered to be one of the most damaging forms of sugar. It is much sweeter than sugar so less per 100 g can be used, but it is higher in calories. The advice is to use in moderation and buy organic, raw agave rather than highly processed versions which have less nutritional value.
Stevia also comes from a plant native to Central and South America. It is sweeter than sugar but contains no calories or sugars. However, highly refined extracts may perpetuate the desire for sweet-tasting foods and drinks, and therefore overconsumption is not recommended.
Also, there is criticism that the Guarani people in Paraguay and Brazil, who discovered the sweetening properties of stevia, have not received their share of the benefits from the economic exploitation of their ancestral knowledge.