I consider myself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to food and nutrition. However, recently I found myself surprised while reading nutrition labels on two different cans of refried beans in my cupboard. In general, I know when an ingredient considered bad is removed or reduced in a particular food to make it “healthier,” something else is usually added in its place that may not actually make the food healthier. Examples: adding sugar to low fat foods to make them taste better or replacing the saturated fat from natural butter with unnatural, partially hydrogenated oils.
I was pleasantly surprised when reading my nutrition labels, which I have started doing more lately, while planning dinner. One was a can of traditional refried beans and the other was the fat free version. I thought for sure the fat free refried beans would contain something in the ingredient list that I wouldn’t want to consume to replace the missing fat. Instead, it was the traditional refried beans that contained “partially hydrogenated lard with BHA and BHT to protect flavor” as its source of fat that I wouldn’t want to eat. The fat free refried beans did not include this ingredient or any other scientific-sounding, unnatural ingredients. The fat free refried beans simply contained cooked beans, water, salt and various spices. That’s all.
Fat free variety is a must!
A half cup serving of fat free refried beans contains 100 calories, 6g fiber and 6g protein along with some calcium and iron. They contain no fat, no cholesterol and no added sugar (1 gram sugar comes naturally from the beans used). The thing to watch with this fat-free variety is the 470mg sodium they contribute to your diet. When eaten within a lower sodium diet, fat free refried beans can be a great addition to your meal. Plus, when these beans are added to tacos, which is how we normally eat them in my house, there is no noticeable difference between the fat free or traditional versions.
When eating out, I would still avoid ordering refried beans as they tend to be served in much larger portions and contain extra calories from fat. This would significantly increase the calories and sodium consumed. In addition, the fat added may be in the form of unnatural, partially hydrogenated fats (as I discovered above), which should be avoided where possible.