Black Beans vs. Pinto Beans: Which is Healthier?

Beans and other legumes are healthy staples in plant-based diets and–most importantly to us here at Nutrition con Sabor–Latin American heritage diets! As more people gain interest in plant-based proteins and legumes, it’s natural to wonder, is there one healthiest bean?

For Latinos, that question may come down to black beans vs. pinto beans, two of the most common legumes in Latin American food. 

You may want to know which bean is healthiest because you’re trying to maximize your nutrition on a plant-based diet, or maybe you just want to know which to choose when you go out to eat.

If you’re wondering which is healthier, the truth is black beans and pinto beans are very similar in their nutrient content. But you may also want to think about how they are commonly cooked and served when making your decision. 

Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits of beans in general, a nutrition breakdown of black and pinto beans, and then find out which you should include most often in your healthy diet!

hands picking up dried pinto beans out of bowl

Health Benefits of Beans

Beans and legumes are one of the top healthy protein sources, and come recommended by Harvard School of Public Health and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

But exactly how can beans help support your health?

Health Outcomes

Eating beans has been associated with lower LDL cholesterol and lower risk of cardiovascular disease (1). 

Beans may also help people with type 2 diabetes better manage their blood sugar (2). 

These health benefits are largely thanks to the nutrition content of beans. 


Perhaps their main advantage is that beans are a great source of fiber. Most legumes have somewhere between 6 and 11 grams of fiber per 100g serving (3). 

For reference, the USDA recommends adult men eat 38 g of fiber every day, and adult women have 25 g of fiber every day (4). This means a serving of beans can provide approximately ⅓ of a woman’s daily fiber needs!

This is important because high fiber intake has been associated with lower risk of breast cancer (5), and lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer (6). Plus, fiber helps improve digestion and creates a smooth (sorry I had to) bathroom experience (7). 


Beans are staple foods for anyone eating a plant-based diet because they’re a good source of vegetarian protein. 

With approximately 7 grams of protein per ½ cup serving, beans are one of the easier ways to get protein without eating meat (8). 

In addition to being important for tissue growth and repair, eating enough protein also helps you feel full (9).


People typically associate iron with red meat, but there are also some good vegetarian sources of iron, like beans!

A ½ cup serving of beans has about 18% of an adult woman’s daily iron needs, although the exact amount varies by bean and cooking method (10).

But quick tip for plant-based eaters: plant iron is not absorbed as efficiently. Try pairing plant-based irons like beans with vitamin-C rich foods like tomato (salsa, anyone?) (11). 

So as you can see, beans are a great addition to a healthy diet. But is there a difference between black beans and pinto beans, nutritionally?

Black Beans Nutrition

Black beans are a staple in Cuba, certain regions of Mexico, and the American southwest. Especially in the United States, black beans get a healthy reputation because they are often used in salads or as an alternative to red meat. 

So let’s take a scond to go over some black bean nutrition facts!


A ½ cup serving of cooked black beans has about 20 g of carbohydrates (12). This is an appropriate amount of carbs for one meal, there’s even space for a few more carbs! Plus, the carbs in black beans tend to be healthy complex carbs.


One half cup of black beans has about 7.5 grams of protein per serving (12). This is equivalent to one ounce of meat. 


There are 7.5 g of fiber in ½ cup of black beans (12). This provides about 20-30% of an adult’s daily fiber needs in just one serving. 

Vitamins and Minerals

Black beans are a rich source of a few different vitamins and minerals! In a ½ cup serving you’ll find*:

  • 0.2 mg Vitamin B1 (~19% daily needs)

  • 128.1 micrograms Folate (~32% daily needs)

  • 1.8 mg Iron (~10% daily needs)

  • 60.2 mg Magnesium (~19% daily needs)

  • 305  mg Potassium (~12% daily needs)

  • 1 mg Zinc (~12% daily needs) (12)

*daily values calculated based on an average adult woman’s needs

Black beans are also high in anthocyanins–an antioxidant associated with lower risk of heart disease and cancer– thanks to their dark color (13,14).

Common Preparation

Black beans have some impressive nutrition stats, but that’s only one piece of the puzzle! We also want to think about how they’re commonly cooked and served. 

One of the most famous black bean dishes is Cuban black beans, typically served with white rice. 

Cuban black beans are typically flavored with a sauteed vegetable base called sofrito. Sofrito has anti-inflammatory benefits from the effect of cooking vegetables like onion and garlic in olive oil (15). 

Gallo pinto out of Costa Rica is another rice and black beans dish with plenty of vegetables.  Feijoada is a Brazilian black bean stew with meat and vegetables.

In the United States, black beans are commonly served plain with salads or soups. 

As you can see, black beans are very nutritious themselves, plus they’re typically cooked in healthy dishes with plenty of vegetables.

Pinto Beans Nutrition

Pinto beans are most commonly found in Mexican food and southwestern American food, like Tex-Mex. Compared to black beans, the average person doesn’t automatically associate pinto beans with healthy food. But in my opinion, they should!

Let’s see just how much nutrition pinto beans have to offer. 


A half-cup of pinto beans contains about 22 grams of carbohydrates, many of which are slow-digesting carbohydrates (16). 


There are 7.5 grams of protein in 1/2 cup of pinto beans (16). 


One ½ cup of pinto beans has 7.5 grams of fiber (16). 

Vitamins and Minerals

Pinto beans provide many important vitamins and minerals, including:

  • 0.17 mg Vitamin B1 (~15% daily needs)

  • 147.1 micrograms Folate (~37% daily needs)

  • 1.8 mg Iron (~10% daily needs)

  • 42.7 mg Magnesium (~13% daily needs)

  • 372  mg Potassium (~14% daily needs)

  • 0.8 mg Zinc (~10% daily needs) (16)

*daily values calculated based on an average adult woman’s needs

Of all common beans, pinto beans (and kidney beans) have some of the highest antioxidant activity (17)!

Common Preparations

Pinto beans are mostly associated with Mexican food. They can be served as refried beans, whole stewed beans, or in a soup.

Stewed pinto beans like frijoles charros or frijoles borrachos may have some vegetables, and are often cooked with bacon.

Refried beans are stewed pinto beans that are then pan-fried and mashed. The fat used in refried beans is traditionally lard, but it’s not uncommon for people to use olive or vegetable oil, instead.

While using lard to cook refried beans doesn’t automatically make the whole dish or meal unhealthy, some people may have concerns about the saturated fat found in lard and wish to use heart-healthy olive oil, instead. 

It’s also common in Tex-Mex cuisine for pinto beans to be served with cheese. Just like with lard, some people may want to watch the saturated fat, but it doesn’t automatically make the dish unhealthy. 

Are Black or Pinto Beans Healthier?

When it comes to the major nutrients like carbs and protein, pinto beans and black beans are almost identical. 

Pinto beans are a little higher in folate, while black beans offer more magnesium and potassium. While pinto beans have more antioxidants overall, black beans are higher in a specific type of antioxidant called anthocyanins. 

Ultimately, though, these differences are so small they’re unlikely to make a meaningful difference in anyone’s health. 

The Big Picture

The healthiest bean is the bean that you eat regularly. 

While there are some minor differences in nutrient content and antioxidant activity, they are so small that they won’t make a significant difference in your health. 

Where there may be a bigger difference is in how you serve the different types of beans. Pinto beans are a little more likely to have extra saturated fat added in the form of lard, bacon, or cheese. 

While this doesn’t take away from all the health benefits of pinto beans like the fiber, protein, and antioxidants, you may want to take it into consideration if you’re at higher risk for heart disease.

For the average person, though, simply choosing the bean they like the most should be enough and can offer some great health benefits.

What matters the most for your health is creating balanced meals that have a good mix of protein, fiber, fat and carbohydrates. 

For help building balanced meals out of your favorite staples like beans, check out my free 5-day Latino meal planner. Sign up below to get your copy!


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