Are pupusas healthy? Latina Dietitian Explains the Nutrition Benefits

Pupusas are a classic Salvadoran food, but are they healthy?

As a Latina dietitian, I would say pupusas are healthy. But of course, we’ll want to think about portion sizes, fillings, and more. 

A lot of my clients have been scared away from eating their favorite foods like pupusas, because they heard they were too high in carbs, fat, or other nutrients. 

As a dietitian, I want to flip this thinking. Instead, I want to encourage you to think of pupusas as a complete meal. Of course they’re going to have carbs, calories, and fat if they’re meant to be a full meal!

But this can be a tough mindset to break away from. So to help you see how pupusas can be healthy, I’ll break down the full nutrition facts for different types of pupusas in this blog post. We’ll also cover how to add more vegetables, and some nutrition drawbacks to be aware of. 

Let’s get started!

Key Takeaway: Pupusas can be a healthy, complete meal. The dough can be considered a whole grain, and common fillings like beans and loroco are very nutritious. For a healthy meal, curtido, and be cautious with fillings like cheese and chicharrones. 

plate of pupusas with curtido and tomato salsa. text reads "are pupusas healthy?"

Pupusas nutrition facts

As you know if you’ve visited a Salvadoran restaurant, there are a LOT of different pupusas out there!

While all pupusas start with a thick corn masa cake, there can be an endless variety of fillings to choose from. 

Some of the most popular fillings for pupusas include:

  • Cheese
  • Beans
  • Beans and cheese (my personal favorite)
  • Loroco
  • Chicharrón
  • Bean, cheese, and chicharrón (called “revuelta”)

As you can imagine, which filling you choose can make a big difference in terms of nutrition. 

That’s why I pulled the nutrition facts for three different types of pupusa, so we can compare!

Bean Pupusa Nutrition Facts

1 bean pupusa (126 g) provides the following nutrients (1):

Calories289 kcal
Protein7 g protein
Carbohydrates40 g
Fiber7 g
Fat11 g 
Saturated Fat2.8 g
Calcium64.3 mg (6% daily needs)
Iron1.8 mg (10% daily needs)
Potassium384 mg (15% daily needs)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)1 mg (7% daily needs)

Cheese Pupusa Nutrition Facts

1 cheese pupusa (117 g) provides the following nutrients (2):

Calories300 kcal
Protein14 g protein
Carbohydrates26 g
Fiber3 g
Fat15 g 
Saturated Fat7.6 g
Calcium380 mg (38% daily needs)
Iron0.7 mg (4% daily needs)
Potassium140 mg (5% daily needs)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)0.6 mg (4% daily needs)

Pork Pupusa Nutrition Facts

1 pork pupusa (122 g) provides the following nutrients (3):

Calories283 kcal
Protein14 g protein
Carbohydrates28 g
Fiber3 g
Fat13 g 
Saturated Fat3.9 g
Calcium60 mg (6% daily needs)
Iron1.2 mg (7% daily needs)
Potassium311 mg (12% daily needs)
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)2.9 mg (21% daily needs)

Which type of pupusa is healthiest?

As you can see from the nutrition facts above, there are pros and cons to each type of pupusa. And we haven’t even covered some of the other popular fillings like loroco, chicken, or chicharrón!

Bean pupusas are highest in fiber, iron, and potassium, and lowest in fat. They also offer a good amount of iron. But they’re also highest in carbs and lowest in protein. 

Cheese pupusas are highest in calcium, and offer a good amount of protein. But they’re also lower in fiber, and highest in saturated fat. 

Pork pupusas have the highest vitamin B3 content. They also offer a good amount of protein and iron. But they’re low in fiber and calcium. 

To get the most nutritionally balanced pupusa, I would recommend a bean and cheese filling for the best of both worlds (it also happens to be my favorite). 

Loroco and cheese could also offer similar nutrition benefits. 

Health benefits of pupusas

So what health benefits do all (or most) pupusas have in common? Here are the main health benefits of pupusas. 

  • Whole grain food: The masa harina used to make pupusas can be considered a whole grain. The corn used to make masa for pupusas is nixtamalized, which increases calcium, vitamin B3, and resistant starch. (Read more: What is Nixtamal?)
  • Calcium: While there are pupusas without cheese, cheese is such a common filling that it’s safe to say most pupusas are high in calcium. Plus the masa and other common fillings like beans also contain calcium. 
  • Complete meal: Before you get too worried about the carb content in pupusas, remember that 1-2 pupusas can be a complete meal. 1-2 pupusas provide an appropriate amount of carbs, protein, and calories for one meal. 
infographic explaining the health benefits of pupusas.

Nutrition Drawbacks

While pupusas can easily be a nutritious meal, here are some potential nutrition drawbacks to consider. 

Before I mention any nutrition drawbacks I want to bust one myth really quickly. Most pupusas are not fried. Like tortillas, most pupusas are made on a dry comal or griddle. Any fat in the pupusas usually comes from the filling. 

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to pupusas and nutrition:

  • Potentially high saturated fat: Depending on the filling you choose, pupusas can be high in saturated fat. Consistently high saturated fat intake may increase your risk for heart disease (4). 
  • Potentially higher carbohydrate: Most of my clients do well eating between 30 and 50 g of carbs per meal. This is doable if you have 1 pupusa, or choose a lower carb filling like cheese or meat. 
  • May need more vegetables: While fillings like loroco or zucchini provide vegetables, not every type of pupusa has vegetables. You may need to add vegetables on the side. 

How to eat more vegetables with pupusas

If you find your pupusa meal doesn’t have enough vegetables, there are a few things you can do. 

First, you can choose a higher vegetable filling. Here are some vegetables you can choose as a filling for pupusas:

And more!

Second, you can serve pupusas with popular sides like curtido and salsa. These are easy and very traditional ways to add vegetables to your pupusas!

In general, I recommend ½ cup to 1 cup of vegetables per meal. You can accomplish this by choosing a vegetable filling for your pupusas, and serving with a side of ¼ cup curtido, and 2 tbsp salsa. Easy, right?

Final Thoughts

Pupusas can easily make a healthy meal, when you choose the right filling, and serve with vegetables like curtido and salsa. 

Instead of shying away from pupusas because they have calories, carbs, and fat, I want you to flip this around and think of them as a complete meal. When you think of it this way, you’ll see that pupusas are very nutritionally complete. 

As a Latina dietitian, I’ve made it my life’s work to help my fellow Latinas feel confident enjoying their favorite cultural foods without guilt or shame!

Want to get started including your favorite Latin American foods in your healthy meal plan? Get started with my free 1-week Mexican meal plan! Get your copy when you sign up below.


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