Are Refried Beans Healthy? Latina Dietitian Explains the Benefits

Wondering if refried beans are healthy? You’re not alone! 

Many of my clients feel confused about refried beans because they know beans are healthy, but the term “refried” makes them think that the cooking technique “cancels out” any nutrition benefits from the beans. 

Questions like this are why I became a dietitian, and why I chose to focus my career on exploring the health benefits of Latin American foods. 

I wanted to help my clients feel confident incorporating foods like refried beans into their healthy diets. So I did a deep dive on the nutrition benefits of refried beans (even comparing them to plain stewed beans).

Let’s get started!

Key takeaway: Refried beans are a nutrient-rich food, providing plenty of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. 

While some people who are at high risk for heart disease may need to watch out for the saturated fat content, most refried beans provide an appropriate amount of fat for the average adult. 

Difference between refried beans and pinto beans

Refried beans can be made from any bean. While you’ll most commonly see pinto beans used to make refried beans, black beans and mayocoba beans (peruano beans) are also common. 

Refried beans refers to the cooking technique. To make refried beans, pan fry and mash already cooked beans. 

Pinto beans are a type of bean. While they’re the most popular bean for refried beans, you can also make frijoles charros, frijoles de la olla, and more with pinto beans. 

Are refried beans healthy?

People hear the word “refried” and it strikes fear into their hearts. They think this makes beans a very high-fat food. 

It’s very common for my clients to tell me they’ve heard refrying “cancels out all the nutrition” from an otherwise healthy food like beans. 

It breaks my heart to hear this because research shows eating legumes of any kind may reduce risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer (1, 2). 

And eating any beans was associated with higher diet quality and nutrient adequacy compared to eating no beans at all (3). 

It’s also important to distinguish between the pan-frying used to make refried beans and deep-frying. 

Pan frying uses oil, yes, but doesn’t completely submerge the food in oil like deep frying does. 

And if you do it yourself at home, you can use more or less fat, depending on your needs. 

Overall, refried beans can be healthier than you think, since they are a good source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

Nutrition facts

To start our look at the nutrition benefits of refried beans, let’s look at the nutrition facts for a typical refried beans recipe. 

½ cup of refried beans provides the following nutrients (4):

Calories115 kcal
Protein5 g
Fat5 g
Carbohydrates12.5 g
Fiber6 g
Calcium42 mg (3.5% daily value)
Iron1.2 mg (7% daily value)
Magnesium32.5 mg (10% daily value)
Potassium297.5 mg (11% daily value)
Sodium278 mg (12% daily value)
Folate21 mcg (5% daily value)

As you can see, a serving of refried beans provides a wide variety of nutrients, including protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, and potassium.

Nutrition comparison between refried beans and stewed beans

Let’s take a look at how the process of refrying beans changes their nutritional value. Here are the nutrition facts for refried pinto beans and plain stewed pinto beans. 

Refried pinto beans (½ cup)Stewed pinto beans (½ cup) (5)
Calories115 kcal122.5 kcal
Protein5 g7.7 g
Fat5 g0.5 g
Carbohydrates12.5 g22 g
Fiber6 g7.7 g
Calcium42 mg (3.5% daily value)39.3 mg (3% daily value)
Iron1.2 mg (7% daily value)1.8 mg (10% daily value)
Magnesium32.5 mg (10% daily value)42.8 mg (13% daily value)
Potassium297.5 mg (11% daily value)373 mg (14% daily value)
Sodium278 mg (12% daily value)203 mg (9% daily value)
Folate21 mcg (5% daily value)147 mcg (37% daily value)

The main nutrition differences here are that refried beans are higher in fat and lower in carbs. This is just because adding the fat for cooking, as well as water or broth to get the desired texture, reduces the concentration of beans in a serving. 

Similarly, the stewed beans tend to be higher in most micronutrients, because they are more concentrated, whereas the refried beans have added water and fat. 

Another significant difference is the folate content. Folate is a B vitamin, all of which are highly impacted by heat from cooking. So cooking beans a second time like in refrying will significantly reduce the folate content. 

However, while the differences are there, they’re not so large that it’s going to be make or break for your health. Refried beans are still a significant source of a lot of vitamins, minerals, and fiber!

And if you’re watching your blood sugar, refried beans might be the choice that makes the most sense for you.

Health Benefits

As we saw above, there are a lot of nutrients in refried beans. Here are some of the main health benefits you can get from a serving of refried beans.


All beans are a great source of folate. Folate is especially important for women because it helps prevent birth defects.

While refried beans do have less folate compared to plain stewed beans (the heat from cooking damages folate), they still provide about 5% of your daily value, which can certainly help in the context of an overall healthy diet. 


One serving of refried beans provides 6 grams of fiber. That’s a quarter of your daily needs if you’re a woman!

What exactly can the fiber in refried beans do for you?

  • Feeds healthy gut bacteria: fiber is a prebiotic, meaning it feeds beneficial gut bacteria (6). This can help keep your digestion healthy and regular!
  • Keep you full: Because fiber is bulky and breaks down more slowly than simple carbs, eating fiber can help you stay full between meals and keep your energy up (7)! 
  • Balance blood sugar: Fiber is digested more slowly than refined carbohydrates. This helps improve your blood sugar control (8). 
  • Prevent heart disease: High fiber intake can lower cholesterol and help prevent heart disease in the long run (9). 

Plant protein

Beans are a great source of plant protein. Protein is important for repairing tissue, building muscle, and keeping you full.

The Harvard School of Public Health recommends increasing intake of plant protein to get the benefits of protein, without some of the potential nutrition and environmental drawbacks of red meat. 

Nutrition drawbacks

Of course, there may be a valid reason why refried beans may not be right for you.

The main two nutrition concerns with refried beans are the saturated fat and the sodium. 

Saturated fat

Traditionally, refried beans are made with lard. While lard has some unsaturated fats, it also contains saturated fats, which are associated with higher risk of heart disease (10). 

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 5% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. This is anywhere from 8-13 g saturated fat per day, for the average adult.

A ½ cup serving of refried beans made with lard provides around 1-2 g of saturated fat, depending on the recipe. 

What this means is that if you’re at high risk for heart disease, you may want to consider looking for vegetarian refried beans. But for the average person, there’s space for refried beans in their overall healthy diet. 


Some people may also be concerned about the sodium content in refried beans, because of the association between high sodium intake and high blood pressure.

As we saw in the nutrition facts section above, one serving provides about 12% of your daily sodium intake. 

This in and of itself is not bad, but you may want to be cautious about the rest of your plate, when you consider that refried are usually served with other foods. 

Overall, this is not a sodium level that I’m overly concerned about except for people with the highest risk for heart disease. 

In these cases, I recommend making your own refried beans at home so you can control the salt content. 

Building a healthy plate with refried beans

Refried beans provide protein, carbs, fat, and fiber. But they may not be enough for a full meal. 

Here’s what you should add to get a complete meal:

  • More protein: While beans are a good source of plant-based protein, you may not get enough for a meal in just one serving of beans. Consider adding another protein to your meal like eggs, cheese, nuts, or seeds.
  • Vegetables: Add extra veggies like avocado, salsa, or bell peppers to your meal for an extra boost of vitamins and minerals. Need ideas for what vegetables to add? Check out my guide to 28 Mexican Vegetables. 

As a dietitian, here are a few ideas of how  I would build a healthy meal using refried beans. 

  • 2 chicken enchiladas topped with salsa and shredded lettuce. Served with a side of refried beans and avocado slices.
  • Spicy chipotle shrimp with a side of refried beans and arroz verde


Are canned refried beans healthy?

There’s not a big nutrition difference between canned vs homemade beans (11). Choose whichever one makes the most sense for you!

Are refried beans proteins or carbohydrates?

Both! Beans are a good source of both protein and carbohydrates. A ½ cup serving of refried beans provides 5 g of protein and 15 g of carbohydrates.

Final Thoughts

Refried beans are a nutrient rich food! They provide plenty of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. 

People who are at higher risk for heart disease may want to watch for the saturated fat content, but the average person can fit them into an overall healthy diet with minimal problem. 

As a Latina dietitian, I’m here to help fellow Latinas eat their favorite foods with confidence and know they’re taking care of their health when they eat Latin American foods. 
Are you ready to start eating nourishing meals with plenty of sabor? Get a kickstart with my free one-week Mexican meal plan! Get your copy when you sign up for my newsletter below.


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