Refried and other canned beans — healthy or not?

Originally Published: May 1, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 16, 2015
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Dear Alice,

Two questions: 1. How does one know when they need a nutritionist? 2. If refried beans are so fatty and bad, does this mean that regular out of a can beans are too?

Confused by food

Dear Confused by food,

Although confusion about food is a very good reason to see a nutritionist, you don't have to wait until you have a question or for something to be wrong in order to see someone. A nutritionist can help with questions as basic as the one you posed about refried beans, or any other food fallacies or facts that make you curious. Nutritionists are trained to assess your everyday diet and eating patterns, work with you to make simple changes that would lead to healthier choices and lifestyle, and provide you with additional resources to help you make more informed decisions about eating.  Check with your primary care provider for a referral.

Now, let's re-hash the situation about refried beans. Even with the word fried in their name, refried beans can actually be incorporated into a healthy diet. These beans get a bad reputation because they are usually cooked with a lot of fat.  Most of the saturated fats in the American diet come from animal fats, since 40 percent to 60 percent of these fats are made up of saturated fatty acids.  Recent evidence suggests that saturated fatty acids that contain 12 to 16 carbons are the ones that raise serum cholesterol levels. These specific saturated fatty acids make up about 25 to 50 percent of animal fats. To find out if your side dish is "safe" when dining out, you can ask if the beans are made with lard or other hydrogenated vegetable oil (which also can contain significant amounts of the problem saturated fatty acids). Due to the increasing health consciousness of customers, many restaurants are now using regular vegetable oil to prepare refried beans. 

As for other canned beans, it depends whether you're talking about refried beans in a can, or plain beans. It is always a good idea to read the label to find out what type of oil or fat was used. Plain beans are usually cooked in water or chicken broth with a bit of spices and are generally fine in terms of saturated fat and cholesterol. In order to decrease the sodium content, it also helps to rinse the beans before cooking or serving. Beans prepared in a healthy way are a good vegetarian source of protein, fiber, antioxidants and vitamins, making them an overall incredibly nutritious food. 

Hopefully this has cleared up the beans and nutrition situation and will lead you to many enjoyable meals.


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