Are Refried Beans Healthy? All You Need to Know8 min read
Nothing says comfort like the rich, flavorful taste of refried beans.
This popular dish, which is native to Northern Mexico, is a staple in Tex-Mex cuisine. It’s usually served as a side dish or rolled into a tortilla. You’ve likely come across canned refried beans at the supermarket, though you can also cook them on your own.
To many people, the word “refried” implies that the beans are deep-fried. Although this isn’t the case, you may still wonder whether this dish is healthy.
This article explains all you need to know about refried beans.
Contrary to popular belief, refried beans aren’t deep-fried. Rather, they’re cooked pinto beans that are pan-fried in lard and salt.
When cooked, the beans soften and eventually form a paste. Seasonings like onion, garlic, and peppers may be added for flavor.
Refried beans may be healthy depending on how they’re prepared. Nowadays, you can find variations made with red kidney beans or black beans, plus different seasonings.
Beans of all kinds are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which benefit heart and digestive health. They contain ample magnesium, which may help reduce your blood pressure levels, and iron, which supports blood production and immune health (
However, lard — a primary ingredient in most refried beans — is high in fat and calories, with 1 tablespoon (12.8 grams) packing 5 grams of saturated fat. Thus, this dish may not be a great choice if you’re looking to cut your intake of calories or saturated fat (
Some refried beans are instead made with plant-based oils like olive oil, which is significantly lower in saturated fat.
Refried beans are pinto beans that are pan-fried with lard and salt, though other fats may be used in place of lard.
Refried beans are rich in nutrients, including fiber and an array of important minerals.
Just 1 cup (260 grams) provides (
- Calories: 234
- Protein: 13 grams
- Fat: 5 grams
- Carbs: 35 grams
- Fiber: 10 grams
- Iron: 20% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Magnesium: 22% of the DV
- Sodium: 64% of the DV
- Zinc: 14% of the DV
That said, the nutrient content of refried beans may vary based on the cooking method.
For example, if you use lots of oil or lard, the fat and calorie count will be higher. The sodium level may also change depending on the seasonings used.
Refried beans are a good source of nutrients like fiber, iron, magnesium, and zinc. They’re also relatively high in sodium.
Refried beans may support your heart, digestion, and blood sugar levels.
May improve heart health
Beans are high in fiber, magnesium, and potassium — a powerful combination that may promote heart health.
A review of 31 studies found a 7–24% lower risk of heart disease and stroke among people who ate more fiber (
Furthermore, a recent review noted lower rates of heart disease and high blood pressure in those who ate the most beans and legumes (
Beans are also a good source of magnesium and potassium, which may help lower blood pressure by regulating muscle contractions and relaxing blood vessels.
A review of 34 studies determined that supplementing with 370 mg of magnesium daily for 3 months significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure — the top and bottom numbers of a reading — by 2 and 1.78 mmHg, respectively (3).
Bear in mind that this study focused on supplements — not whole foods.
Still, a review of 22 studies found that those who ate more potassium-rich foods or took potassium supplements experienced an average systolic blood pressure drop of 7.16 mmHg when their intake of this mineral rose to 90–120 mmol/L per day (
It’s important to note that these studies used beans in general — not refried beans, which typically have added salt. Excess salt intake may harm heart health (
May stabilize blood sugars
Beans may help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes.
Beans are low on the glycemic index (GI), which measures how quickly a food raises your blood sugar levels. Low GI diets may help reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, while high GI diets have been linked to an increased risk of this condition (
In a 3-month study among 56 adults with type 2 diabetes, a low GI diet that included legumes led to an average 0.5% drop in HbA1c, a marker of blood sugar management (
Additionally, beans are a rich source of magnesium. Deficiency in this nutrient is associated with insulin resistance, a key factor in the onset of type 2 diabetes (14).
May improve gut health
Beans are high in fiber, which promotes digestion and bowel regularity.
In fact, a recent review found a 3.4% reduction in constipation per 1-gram increase in daily fiber intake (15).
According to the Institute of Medicine, the daily targets for fiber are 25 and 38 grams for adult women and men, respectively. Notably, just 1 cup (260 grams) of refried beans boasts 10 grams of fiber (
Furthermore, fiber acts as a prebiotic — a nondigestible substance that stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. These good gut bacteria may fight harmful bacteria, increase mineral absorption, and support immune health (
May help fight disease
Beans contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants that may protect your body from free radical damage and help prevent age-related disease and death (
One study measured the urinary polyphenol markers of 807 older adults. After 12 years, the adults with the highest levels experienced higher survival rates for heart disease, cancer, and other causes of death (
Kidney beans have the highest polyphenol content at 14.1 mg per gram, followed by black beans at 12.6 mg per gram, then pinto beans at 12.52 mg per gram (
As such, all types of refried beans provide plenty of polyphenols.
Eating more beans, including refried beans, may help reduce your risk of constipation, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Early research suggests that beans may likewise safeguard against age-related illnesses.
Refried beans have several drawbacks to consider.
Depending on the cooking method, this dish may hinder weight loss, increase cholesterol levels, and raise blood pressure.
May hamper weight loss
On their own, beans are beneficial for weight loss. A study including 246 women found that those who ate more beans had improved body composition (
Yet, refried beans are cooked with lard, which supplies calories and fat. Fat has 9 calories per gram, making it the most calorie-dense macronutrient. In comparison, carbs and protein have just 4 calories per gram (22).
If you’re adding refried beans to your regular diet, you may gain weight because you’ll be consuming more calories.
For reference, 1 cup (260 grams) of regular pinto beans contains 220 calories and no fat, whereas the same amount of refried beans packs 234 calories and 5 grams of fat (
However, refried beans are less likely to cause weight gain if you eat them instead of other high calorie foods. Studies show that when your overall calorie intake remains similar, high fat diets have weight loss results similar to those of low fat diets (
May raise cholesterol
Refried beans made with lard contain saturated fat. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing your saturated fat intake to less than 10% of your daily calorie intake to reduce your risk of heart disease (
Furthermore, a review of 15 randomized controlled trials found that lowering dietary saturated fat intake reduced the risk of heart attacks and other health issues by 21% (
However, a growing body of research suggests the opposite. A recent review of 26 studies determined that every 10-gram daily increase of saturated fat reduced stroke risk by 6% (28).
Despite mixed results, most health experts and public health agencies recommend limiting saturated fat.
To cut down on saturated fat in refried beans, look for low fat or fat-free versions. Vegetarian versions also tend to replace lard with plant oils, thus naturally reducing the saturated fat content.
May increase blood pressure
Refried beans may be high in sodium, with 1 cup (260 grams) typically providing 962 mg (
The American Heart Association recommends getting 1,500 mg of sodium per day, with an upper limit of 2,300 mg — about 1 teaspoon of salt. Yet, the average American currently consumes 3,400 mg per day, exceeding the upper limit by a significant amount (29,
Excess sodium intake may cause high blood pressure, which may damage your heart and other organs, increasing the risk of heart attack and heart failure (
Conversely, lower sodium intake may reduce blood pressure.
A recent review of 133 human studies found that systolic and diastolic blood pressure decreased by 4.26 and 2.07 mmHg, respectively, per 130 mmol/L reduction in urinary sodium. The more sodium was reduced, the lower the blood pressure (
Refried beans may be high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium, which may obstruct weight loss goals, increase heart disease risk, and raise blood pressure.
Here are some ways to add refried beans to your diet:
- Cook your own refried beans to increase their nutritional value. Instead of lard, use olive or canola oils, and season the dish with fresh or dried herbs instead of a lot of salt.
- If buying canned refried beans, check the nutrition table. Look for a sodium level of 15% of the DV or less, and be mindful of saturated fats. You may want to choose low fat or fat-free products.
- Check the ingredient list and look for products that don’t contain lard or simply choose vegetarian versions.
- Pay attention to portion sizes. If refried beans are your main source of protein, aim to eat 1 cup (260 grams) — about the size of your fist. If you’re eating them as a side dish, start with 2–3 tablespoons (30–50 grams) — roughly the size of 2 thumbs.
If you’re eating this dish as part of a meal, choose other foods wisely. Pair refried beans with nutrient-dense foods like salsa, whole wheat tortillas, and chopped vegetables.
If you’re interested in homemade refried beans, cook them with olive oil and herbs. If buying canned versions, choose low fat, fat-free, or low salt products. Complement refried beans with nutrient-dense foods like veggies and whole grains.
Refried beans are pinto beans that are pan-fried in lard and salt. Common variations use kidney beans or black beans, plus plant oil instead of lard.
Beans are high in minerals and fiber that may boost your digestive health and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
Yet, since refried beans often contain added fat and salt, they may be higher in calories, saturated fat, and sodium than other beans. These factors may impair your weight loss goals, raise your risk of heart disease, and increase your blood pressure levels.
As such, the cooking method matters. It’s best to make your own refried beans at home with olive oil, using salt sparingly, to control for specific nutrients.