Featured food: refried beans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Bad News about refried beans:

They aren’t photogenic.  Other than that, they’re great!

Refried beans have come a long way from the traditional take-it-or-leave-it version, made with lard.  There’s plenty of choices now, available in most grocery stores:

  • regular, made with added fat like bacon fat
  • vegetarian, made with added vegetable fat
  • low fat/nonfat
  • black bean or pinto bean
  • added jalapeños and/or lime
  • some combination of all of the above.

Refried beans are legumes that are mashed up.  Pinto beans are the traditional choice, but black beans make really delicious refries too.  The typical recipe goes like this: cook dried beans for hours until they’re really soft, mash them up (leaving a few whole beans), and add seasonings.  They’re not even fried, as such, although traditional recipes call for added fat, such as bacon grease.  Even then, they’re pretty low fat.  According to USDA data, canned traditional style refries are about 11% fat calories.  Nonfat refries are 0% fat, with about 35 fewer calories per cup.

Aside from added fat, refried beans have the same nutritional profile as cooked beans.  Legumes in general are nutritional All Stars:

  1. high fiber: 11-12 grams/cup
  2. high protein: a cup of refries has 12-14 grams
  3. high potassium
  4. significant iron
  5. low sugar
  6. naturally low sodium.  However, unless your canned refried beans say “low sodium”, they likely have added salt.

Refried beans are a very valuable protein source for vegans and vegetarians, but that doesn’t mean meat eaters don’t enjoy them too.  They’re ready to eat right out of the can, although most people heat them up before using.  And there are so many ways to use them:

  • on burritos or other wraps
  • as a main dish for meatless meals, along with rice or tortillas and vegetables.  Top with salsa, grated cheese and a squeeze of lime juice.
  • as a thickener for soups or chili
  • as a dip for tortillas, pita or vegetable sticks

Here’s a calorie saving, “green” eating, fiber-boosting and generally healthier eating tip:

If you typically make burritos by loading up high fat meat with cheese and a little dab of beans, reverse those proportions.  Load the burrito with refries and add just a touch of meat and cheese.  Add flavor with salsa and chopped fresh vegetables.


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