Pinto beans are highly nutritious and have an earthy, nutty flavor.
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Like other bean varieties, pinto beans are a plant-based protein that adds flavor, texture and color to an array of dishes. What might surprise you is that pinto beans are the most popular type of beans eaten by Americans, claiming the top spot among all the bean varieties. What makes this versatile bean so well-loved? Are pinto beans healthy? Read on to find out the nutrition profile of pinto beans, their health benefits and potential drawbacks and ways to enjoy them.

What Are Pinto Beans?

Pinto beans are tan-colored, oval-shaped beans with specks of reddish-brown. Metaphorically, each pinto bean resembles a painting, and in Spanish "pinto" means painted. Pinto beans are a staple in Mexican and Southwestern American cuisine. The beans are soft, creamy, nutty and earthy, making them perfect for burritos, fajitas, tacos and quesadillas.

You can find pinto beans in grocery stores as dried beans or canned beans. They are affordable, easy to prepare and nutritious. This cholesterol- and gluten-free plant-based protein is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, making it a commonly used ingredient in many savory and sweet dishes.

Are Pinto Beans Healthy?

Pinto Bean Nutrition

According to the USDA, every 1/2-cup serving of cooked pinto beans without salt provides:

  • Calories: 123
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • Total fat: 0.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 23 grams
  • Sugars: 0 grams
  • Dietary fiber: 8 grams (29% DV)
  • Sodium: 1 milligram
  • Iron: 2 milligrams
  • Folate: 147 micrograms (37% DV)

Pinto beans are highly nutritious and research shows that eating them may help provide protection against many chronic illnesses. For example, a 2021 review in the journal Nutrients suggests that including legumes as part of a plant-based dietary strategy may help with controlling blood sugar, improving body weight, keeping blood vessels healthy, reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, improving the gut microbiome and strengthening the immune system.

Pinto beans are gluten- and cholesterol-free and are rich in protein, fiber and folate. Pinto beans also have essential nutrients such as iron, magnesium, thiamin, calcium and zinc. They are low in fat and sodium when they are prepared without any salt and additives.

Health Benefits of Pinto Beans

Excellent Plant-Based Protein Source

Every 1/2-cup serving of cooked pinto beans provides 8 grams of protein, which makes them an excellent protein option for meals. Adding them to a recipe can boost the amount of protein in the dish. Their protein and iron content makes pinto beans an ideal food choice for vegetarians and vegans.

However, pinto beans are not a complete protein, meaning they do not contain all the essential amino acids the body needs and can only get from food. Vegetarians and vegans will need to eat a variety of plant-based foods—such as whole grains, nuts and seeds—to ensure they obtain all the essential amino acids.

High in Fiber

Every 1/2-cup serving of pinto beans also provides 8 grams of dietary fiber, which is one-fifth to one-third of your daily recommended dietary fiber consumption, depending on your age and sex. Fiber gives you the feeling of fullness, which can make you less likely to overeat. More importantly, regularly eating pinto beans and other foods with fiber provides many health benefits, such as improved heart health, digestive health, cholesterol, weight maintenance and more.

Low-Glycemic Food

While pinto beans contain carbohydrates, they do not raise blood sugar quickly because they are slowly digested and absorbed. This is largely thanks to their high fiber and protein content. For this reason, beans are considered a low-glycemic food and a healthy choice for people with diabetes.

Rich in Folate

Pinto beans are an excellent source of folate, with every 1/2-cup serving providing more than one-third of your daily recommended intake. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), folate is essential for making cells, tissues and red blood cells in the body. It is also a vital nutrient for preventing fetal neural tube defects in the early stages of pregnancy.

Loaded with Antioxidants

Beans have bioactive compounds, such as flavonoids, which are believed to act as antioxidants. Pinto beans are particularly rich in kaempferol, one of the many antioxidants present in plant-based foods. According to a 2021 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, kaempferol has properties that may effectively reduce inflammation and protect cells against free radicals, which may reduce the risk of cancer and neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.

Dried Pinto beans
Credit: Getty Images / multik7

Potential Drawbacks of Pinto Beans

Lack of Vitamin B12

If you're following a vegan or vegetarian diet, it's important to note that pinto beans do not contain any vitamin B12, an essential nutrient for the brain and nerves and for making red blood cells and supporting DNA production. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in animal sources, including meat and poultry, as well as clams and fatty fish such as salmon and trout. You can also find vitamin B12 in eggs, cheese and yogurt. Vitamin B12 is also added to fortified cereals and some plant-based beverages. Make sure to read the Nutrition Facts label and the ingredients list to ensure that vitamin B12 is added.

If you are not eating enough vitamin B12-rich foods or have issues with absorbing vitamin B12, you may need a B12 supplement. Speak with your primary health care provider or a registered dietitian to find out if supplementation is right for you.

Gas and Bloating

Eating beans may bring discomfort to some people, causing unpleasant symptoms such as gas and bloating. These symptoms are due to raffinose, a type of carbohydrate that does not get digested. When it reaches your colon, the bacteria present there will break it down, creating the byproduct of gas. But raffinose has health benefits, too. According to a 2022 review in Frontiers in Plant Science, raffinose acts as a prebiotic, feeding your beneficial gut bacteria, which helps them flourish.

If you are sensitive to gas and bloating, consider soaking dry beans overnight, changing the water every few hours, and using fresh water to cook them in. If using canned beans, rinse them well before adding them to your recipe. While research is inconclusive, doing these tricks may help reduce the amount of raffinose and other gas-producing properties that are present in legumes. Soaking dry beans before cooking also helps them cook more evenly and more quickly.

Reducing the portion size of pinto beans and other legumes you eat in one sitting can also help reduce these unpleasant symptoms. And drinking plenty of water with your fiber-rich meals throughout the day can bulk up your stools and make them move along your digestive tract faster and more smoothly (goodbye, constipation!).

How to Enjoy Pinto Beans

One of the top reasons for pinto beans' popularity among Americans is their versatility. You can enjoy them in many ways: as a side dish like these Sweet Potato Fritters with Smoky Pinto Beans or as a protein for a meatless meal, like our Vegetarian Pinto Bean Sloppy Joes. You can also use them in soups or add them to salads, stews, rice dishes and more. Because of their soft texture, pinto beans are also perfect for dips, spreads and fillings.

Using canned pinto beans rather than dried beans for our Chipotle Chicken and Quinoa Burrito Bowl and other dishes is super-efficient for busy mealtimes. You can keep the salt content minimal by draining the brine and rinsing the canned beans before consumption. If you prefer to use dried beans, remember that soaking them overnight helps to speed up the cooking time.

The Bottom Line

Pinto beans are highly nutritious. Packed with protein, fiber and many other essential nutrients, pinto beans may help promote bowel regularity, control your blood sugars and reduce your risk for cancer and other chronic diseases. Their affordability and versatility also make them a great staple in your pantry.