Dr. Andrea Middleton - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Andrea Middleton

Are Refried Beans Bad For You?



Short answer

Refried beans can be nutritious, offering protein, fiber, and essential nutrients, beneficial for digestion and health. However, commercial varieties often have added fats, sodium, and preservatives that may pose health risks if consumed in excess. Choose low-sodium, low-fat, or homemade options for a healthier choice. Moderation and dietary variety are key to incorporating refried beans into a balanced diet.



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Long answer

Nutrition Profile of Refried Beans

Refried beans are a staple food in many cultures, particularly within Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines. To understand the impact of refried beans on your health, it's critical to dissect their nutritional content. Keep in mind that the nutrition profile can vary significantly based on whether the beans are homemade or commercially prepared, and if they contain added ingredients like lard or cheese.

Basic Macronutrient Composition

Refried beans primarily consist of pinto or black beans that have been cooked, mashed, and then fried. Here is a general breakdown of the macronutrients you can expect to find in a 1-cup serving (approximately 252 grams) of canned, traditional-style refried beans:

  • Calories: 237 kcal
  • Protein: 13 g
  • Total Fat: 3 g
    • Saturated Fat: 1 g
    • Polyunsaturated Fat: 1 g
    • Monounsaturated Fat: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 39 g
    • Dietary Fiber: 14 g
    • Sugars: 1 g

Vitamins and Minerals

Refried beans supply a range of essential vitamins and minerals, contributing to their overall nutritional value:

  • Iron: 22% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Calcium: 8% of the DV
  • Potassium: 14% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 21% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 28% of the DV
  • Folate: 33% of the DV

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is a notable component in refried beans. Adequate fiber intake is associated with various health benefits, including improved digestive health, increased satiety, and potential reductions in blood cholesterol levels. The dietary fiber in refried beans consists of both soluble and insoluble types, which can support a balanced gut microbiome.


As a plant-based protein source, refried beans are particularly valuable for vegetarians and vegans. The protein in refried beans, while not complete (lacking in certain essential amino acids), can be complemented with other protein sources like rice to form a complete protein meal, essential for muscle maintenance and repair.

Fat Content

Traditional refried beans can be prepared with ingredients like lard or bacon fat, which adds saturated fats. Some commercial brands may also use hydrogenated vegetable oils, which may contain trans fats. Excessive consumption of these types of fats can increase the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease. However, many recipes and products are now available that are low in fat or use healthier fats, such as those derived from plant oils.

Remember, the nutritional content can vary by brand and recipe—particularly in terms of sodium, fat, and calorie content. Always check the nutrition label to understand the specific profile of the refried beans you are consuming. Additionally, versions labeled 'fat-free' or 'vegetarian' can offer different nutritional benefits and should be considered based on individual dietary needs and preferences.

Considerations for Those with Dietary Restrictions

For individuals with dietary restrictions, such as low-sodium diets or those looking to limit their intake of processed foods, homemade refried beans made from scratch may be a healthier option as they allow for complete control over the ingredients and cooking process.

When assessing if refried beans are appropriate for your diet, consider both the macro- and micronutrient profiles and align them with your dietary goals and restrictions. While refried beans can be a nutritious part of your diet, moderation and variety are key in achieving a balanced and healthful eating pattern.

Saturated Fats and Sodium: Hidden Health Impacts

When assessing whether refried beans are beneficial or detrimental to your health, it's crucial to consider the content of saturated fats and sodium. These two components can have significant hidden health impacts that often go unnoticed. In the spectrum of refried bean varieties, the presence and quantity of saturated fats and sodium can differ vastly, particularly when comparing homemade versions to those that are canned or served in restaurants.

Saturated Fat Content in Refried Beans:

  • Homemade refried beans, especially those made using traditional recipes, often call for lard or bacon grease, which are high in saturated fats. If consumed in excess, saturated fats can increase the risk of heart disease by elevating LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the blood.
  • Canned refried beans may also contain added partially hydrogenated oils, a source of trans fats, which are even more harmful than saturated fats as they can raise LDL cholesterol levels while also reducing HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Choosing refried beans with no added fats or those made with healthier oils like olive or canola oil can lower the intake of saturated fats significantly.

Sodium Levels in Refried Beans:

  • The sodium content in refried beans, particularly canned versions, is a major health consideration. High sodium intake has been linked to increased blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
  • According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the recommended daily limit for sodium is less than 2,300 milligrams a day for healthy adults. Yet, a single serving of canned refried beans can contain anywhere from 400 to 1,000 milligrams of sodium, which is a significant portion of the daily recommended limit.
  • Reduced-sodium or no-salt-added options are available and can play a beneficial role in managing dietary sodium intake. Additionally, rinsing canned beans before consumption can decrease their sodium content by up to 41%, as stated in a study published by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Considerations for Specific Populations:

It's also vital to acknowledge that some population groups, such as individuals with hypertension or those at risk for heart disease, may need to exercise even more caution when it comes to saturated fats and sodium. Health experts often recommend these individuals choose low-sodium options and limit the consumption of foods high in saturated fats to minimize health risks.

Conclusively, while refried beans can be a source of nutrition, it is the type and preparation method that determines their saturated fat and sodium content. Opting for homemade refried beans with healthy oils or purchasing reduced-sodium canned options can help in making this staple food a healthier choice.

Consumers should scrutinize product labels for fat and sodium content and look for certifications or health claims that may indicate a healthier product. Moreover, consulting with healthcare providers or registered dietitians can provide personalized recommendations for those with specific health considerations.

Preservatives in Canned Refried Beans

When discussing the health implications of canned refried beans, it's important to consider the presence of preservatives. Preservatives are substances added to foods to prevent spoilage from factors such as microbial growth, oxidation, and enzymatic degradation. While these compounds play a critical role in extending the shelf life of canned goods, including refried beans, their impact on health is a subject of ongoing debate and research.

Common preservatives found in canned refried beans include calcium chloride, citric acid, and sodium benzoate:

  • Calcium Chloride: Used to maintain firmness, its presence in small amounts is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. However, excessive intake can contribute to a higher sodium load, potentially affecting blood pressure and heart health.
  • Citric Acid: A natural preservative that also adds a slightly sour flavor. While not inherently harmful, it's worth noting for individuals with citrus allergies or sensitivities.
  • Sodium Benzoate: Often used in acidic foods like refried beans to inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Some studies have raised concerns about its potential to form benzene, a known carcinogen, when combined with vitamin C. The FDA monitors levels of benzene in foods, but awareness and moderation are still advised.

Research indicates that while these compounds are safe in regulated amounts, individual sensitivities and long-term effects are less understood. A study published in the Journal of Food Science emphasized the need for ongoing assessment of food preservatives to ensure safety and address potential health concerns that could emerge from regular consumption (source).

A number of health-conscious consumers seek to limit their intake of preservatives due to concerns about artificial ingredients and potential links to health issues. For those wanting to avoid preservatives while still enjoying refried beans, options include:

  • Opting for beans that have 'no preservatives added' on the labeling (though still read the ingredient list to confirm).
  • Preparing homemade refried beans, which allows control over the ingredients and avoids additives.
  • Choosing organic canned refried beans, as organic standards limit the use of synthetic preservatives.

It is also pertinent to mention that individual tolerances can vary. Some may notice digestive discomfort or other mild reactions when consuming preservatives, which underscores the importance of personal dietary awareness and moderation. Consulting with a healthcare provider or a dietician can help individuals understand possible sensitivities and develop eating habits that best support their health.

In conclusion, while the preservatives in canned refried beans assist in maintaining their shelf life and safety, they may be a concern for those wary of artificial additives or those with specific health issues. Knowledge of these ingredients and an understanding of one's own health needs are essential for making informed dietary choices. Monitoring one's own physical response to these preservatives can also guide personal dietary decisions.

Glycemic Index and Blood Sugar Control

When considering the impact of refried beans on health, it is essential to address their glycemic index (GI) and their role in blood sugar control. The glycemic index is a ranking system for carbohydrates based on their immediate effect on blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion have the highest GIs and lead to more pronounced spikes in blood sugar levels. Conversely, foods with a low GI are digested and absorbed at a slower rate, contributing to gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels.

Whole beans typically have a low glycemic index owing to their high fiber content, which slows down carbohydrate absorption. In the case of refried beans, this can vary depending on how they are prepared. Traditional refried beans made from pinto beans or black beans, for instance, often retain a relatively low GI, making them a suitable option for individuals looking to manage blood sugar levels. However, the preparation method can influence their glycemic load.

Commercially prepared refried beans, in contrast, may include additional sugars or heavily processed ingredients which can modify their glycemic impact. As a consumer, it's essential to read the nutritional labels carefully. High-fat content, often from added oils in the refrying process, can also slow digestion and potentially lower the GI of the beans further. While this might seem beneficial for blood sugar control, an excessive intake of unhealthy fats could have other negative health implications.

Here are some specific factors regarding refried beans and blood sugar control:

  • Fiber Content: Refried beans made from scratch tend to retain much of their original fiber, which is favorable for blood sugar management. Fiber moderates how your body processes sugars, reducing the risk of blood sugar spikes.
  • Added Ingredients: Sugar, honey, or corn syrup added to refried beans can raise their glycemic index and contribute to a less favorable blood sugar response. Checking the ingredients list for added sugars is a crucial step in assessing their healthfulness.
  • Serving Size: Consuming refried beans in moderation is critical, as the portion size significantly influences the overall glycemic load—a crucial aspect of blood sugar control.

Research demonstrates that legumes, such as beans, are associated with improved glycemic control in diabetic and non-diabetic populations. For example, a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that consuming beans or other legumes in a diet can improve glycemic control and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in patients with type 2 diabetes. These findings support the inclusion of legumes like refried beans as part of a balanced diet to aid in blood sugar regulation.

However, it is essential for individuals with specific dietary requirements, such as those with diabetes, to speak with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian when making dietary changes. Understanding the complete nutritional profile of refried beans, including their glycemic index and impact on blood sugar levels, can help manage consumption as part of a balanced and healthful diet.

Beneficial Fiber Content and Digestive Health

Refried beans are a staple food in many diets, renowned for their rich flavor and versatility. But beyond their culinary appeal, they offer substantial health benefits owing to their high dietary fiber content. Understanding the relationship between the fiber in refried beans and digestive health is vital for discerning their value in a balanced diet.

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that plays a crucial role in maintaining digestive health. There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both are present in refried beans, making them an excellent food for promoting a healthy digestive system. Let's delve into the specifics:

  • Soluble Fiber: This type of fiber dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance that can help to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is also instrumental in promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, which is essential for a healthy microbiome.
  • Insoluble Fiber: This fiber does not dissolve in water and adds bulk to stool, which can help prevent constipation and maintain regular bowel movements.

The average serving of refried beans encompasses about 5 to 8 grams of dietary fiber, which contributes significantly to the recommended daily intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men as suggested by the Institute of Medicine. The specific fiber content can vary depending on the preparation and whether the skins of the beans are included or removed before mashing.

Here's a quick glance at the fiber content found in refried beans:

Serving Size Total Fiber (g) Soluble Fiber (g) Insoluble Fiber (g)
1 cup (252g) approx. 12.5 varies varies

In terms of digestive health, the fiber in refried beans may have several beneficial effects:

  • Alleviating Constipation: The bulk-forming properties of insoluble fiber can help to ease constipation and promote regularity.
  • Prebiotic Effect: Certain soluble fibers act as prebiotics, feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut and contributing to a well-balanced intestinal flora.
  • Weight Management: High-fiber foods like refried beans can increase feelings of fullness and may reduce appetite, potentially aiding in weight management.
  • Glucose Regulation: The slow absorption of nutrients due to the presence of fiber can help stabilize blood sugar levels, which is particularly beneficial for individuals with diabetes or at risk of developing the condition.

It is important to note that the health benefits of fiber are best realized when consumed as part of a diversified diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. When integrating refried beans into meals, it's also vital to be mindful of the additional ingredients that can accompany them, such as excessive amounts of salt, fat, or additives, which could offset the positive aspects of their fiber content. In this context, home-prepared or commercially available refried beans with no added fats or minimal salt are the best options for maximizing health benefits.

Furthermore, individuals with certain digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), may need to moderate their intake of high-fiber foods like refried beans. In such cases, a doctor or dietitian should be consulted to tailor dietary fiber intake to individual needs and tolerance levels.

In summary, the fiber in refried beans contributes positively to digestive health when consumed in moderation and as part of an overall balanced diet. Their profound prebiotic potential, coupled with their ability to promote bowel regularity and assist in blood sugar regulation, underscores the digestive benefits they offer, affirming their place in a health-conscious dietary pattern.

Balancing Moderation and Diet Diversity

Refried beans, as a staple in many diets, particularly within Mexican cuisine, pose an interesting dilemma when considering their health implications. To provide a well-rounded perspective, it's essential to weigh their nutritional content against the need for moderation and dietary diversity.

At their core, refried beans are made from pinto beans or black beans, which are rich in protein, fiber, folate, and essential minerals like iron and magnesium. These nutrients are fundamental to maintaining various bodily functions such as muscle building, digestion, and blood cell formation.

  • Protein content: Refried beans provide a considerable amount of plant-based protein, crucial for vegetarians and vegans looking to fulfill their daily protein requirements.
  • Fiber: The high fiber content aids in digestion and can help regulate blood sugar levels, making it beneficial for individuals with diabetes or those looking to manage their weight.
  • Folate: Vital for pregnant women, folate helps prevent neural tube defects during pregnancy, showcasing refried beans' role in maternal nutrition.
  • Minerals: Key minerals found in refried beans, like iron and magnesium, support oxygen transportation in the blood and enzyme function, respectively.

Despite these benefits, moderation is key. Many commercial refried beans can be high in added fats, sodium, and preservatives, which might detract from their nutritional value. For those with dietary restrictions, particularly sodium-sensitive conditions, it is advisable to opt for low-sodium or homemade versions to maintain control over the ingredients used.

Diversifying one's diet is equally important to ensure a broad range of nutrients. While refried beans are beneficial, relying on them exclusively can lead to an imbalance in nutrient intake. Incorporating a variety of protein and fiber sources, such as lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, and a spectrum of fruits and vegetables ensures comprehensive nutrition.

Including refried beans as part of a balanced diet can provide essential nutrients while catering to individual taste preferences. However, it's important to be mindful of portion sizes and the frequency of consumption, especially when considering calorie-dense dishes commonly associated with refried beans like burritos and enchiladas.

When assessing the role of refried beans in your diet, take into account the following considerations:

  • Choose versions with minimal added fats and sodium.
  • Prepare refried beans at home to customize ingredients and suit dietary needs.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes to avoid excess calorie intake.
  • Combine refried beans with a broad array of vegetables and grains for a balanced meal.
  • If canned, rinse beans before use to reduce sodium content.
  • Consult with a healthcare provider or dietitian if you have specific health concerns or dietary restrictions.

Embracing the concept of moderation and the importance of diet diversity can enhance the nutritional benefits drawn from refried beans while minimizing potential risks. This balance enables individuals to enjoy refried beans as part of a healthy, varied diet.

Frequently asked questions

Absolutely! Vegetarian and vegan refried beans are available, both in stores and as recipes you can prepare at home. Look for products labeled 'vegetarian' or 'vegan', which typically means that no animal fats like lard are used. For homemade recipes, substitute lard with plant-based oils such as olive or avocado oil.

Refried beans can be part of a heart-healthy diet if you choose versions low in saturated fat and sodium. Opt for homemade recipes using healthy oils and skip the lard, or select canned 'low-sodium' or 'fat-free' versions. Always check nutritional labels for content specifics. Additionally, the fiber in refried beans can help manage cholesterol levels, beneficial for heart health.

To reduce the sodium content in canned refried beans, select 'low-sodium' or 'no-salt-added' varieties when shopping. Additionally, draining and rinsing the beans before use can remove a significant portion of the added sodium. Check nutrition labels for sodium content and opt for products with lower sodium levels.

Refried beans can be consumed by individuals with diabetes due to their low glycemic index and high fiber content, which helps in managing blood sugar levels. It's advisable to choose versions without added sugars and to be wary of portion sizes. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.

Ask a question about Refried Beans and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • gas
  • increased blood pressure
  • elevated blood sugar levels

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • increased risk of heart disease
  • elevated ldl cholesterol
  • risk of high blood pressure
  • risk of stroke
  • potential benzene exposure

Ingredients to be aware of


  • high in fiber
  • source of protein
  • rich in iron and magnesium
  • supports digestive health
  • low glycemic index
  • may help in blood sugar control
  • aids in weight management
  • beneficial for pregnant women due to folate content

Healthier alternatives

  • homemade refried beans
  • beans with no added fats
  • low sodium or no salt added options
  • rinsing canned beans to reduce sodium
  • organic canned refried beans

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Eden Organic Refried Beans

  • Lightly salted
  • Vegetarian-friendly
  • Non-GMO
  • USA grown
  • Gluten-free
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-15-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-15-2024

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