Powering Your Body With Pinto Beans

Pinto beans are a variety of common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). They share their species with green snap beans, heirloom beansGreat Northern beanskidney beansblack turtle beans, navy beans, cranberry and borlotti beans, flageolet beans,  pea beans, pink beans, and yellow beans. These beans, along with corn (maize), and squash were the “three sisters” of Native American cuisine.

Common beans share the genus Phaseolus with tepary beans, runner beans, slimjim beans, lima beans, and spotted beans. All of these beans belong to the the family Fabaceae, along with edible-pod and mature peas, soybeans, fava beans, black-eyed peas, jicama, adzuki beanslentilspeanutschickpeas, carob, and licorice. The family also includes broom, gorse, and kudzu.

Pinto beans and all 200 varieties of P. vulgaris originated in the tropical southern part of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and part of Costa Rica, where they were cultivated as early as 8,000 years ago.  They spread from this center of origin to North and South America.

European explorers, including Christopher Columbus, found the climbing beans typically planted alongside corn. In Columbus’s diary from November 4, 1492, he describes lands in Cuba planted with faxones and fabas “different than ours.” Later he encountered fexoes and habas that were different than the ones he knew from Spain. Faxones and fexoes were probably cow peas and fabas and habas were fava beans. The beans Columbus found were common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris. When Christopher Columbus returned from his second voyage to the New World in the year 1493, he brought the common beans back with him to Europe.

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485–1528) was a Florentine explorer in the service of the King Francis I of France. On July 8, 1524, he wrote to King Francis, reporting on the people of what is now Rhode Island, “They live on the same food as the other people—beans (which they produce with more systematic cultivation than the other tribes, and when sowing they observe the influence of the moon, the rising of the Pleiades, and many other customs derived from the ancients)…” Native Americans boiled the bean pods at the mature stage and pulled the beans between their teeth, discarding the pods.

Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján (1510 – 22 September 1554) and his fellow explorers are believed to have been the first Europeans to eat beans grown by Native Americans in what is now New Mexico, between 1540 and 1542.

Anglo-Americans colonized Mexican Texas between 1821 and 1835. By that time, pinto beans (better known in the Southwest as frijoles or Pecos Strawberries) had become overwhelmingly popular. Pinto beans were boiled in an olla (clay pot) and eaten as frijoles enteros, frijoles de la olla, or frijoles graniados. They may have been reheated a time or two and served in the same form. As they were reheated, they tended to become soupy, and in this phase were referred to as frijoles familiares. The whole, cooked beans were fried as frijoles fritos. Finally, they were mashed and refried with green chiles and onions or garlic, becoming the well-known burrito filling and side dish, frijoles refritos or machacados. Beans were also served in such dishes as frijoles a la charra (beans cooked with tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and chiles) and frijoles con quelites (beans with pigweed, also known as goosefoot or lamb’s quarters, an edible plant growing in the wild).

The “zebra” bean is a pinto bean recognized by Georg von Martens  (1869) as a distinctive bean type notable for the dark zebra stripes running lengthwise down the sides of the beans. Some zebra beans familiar to Americans include Oregon Giant and its Swiss counterpart Weinländerin (Maid of the Wine Country), Scotia, and Tennessee Wonder. The origin of this group of beans, which includes a wide range of shapes and colors, is probably Mexico or the American Southwest; however, the beans were dispersed at such an early date that is now difficult to sort out their history. One of the most colorful is the zebra bean called Rio Zape, a violet pole bean with maroon markings. It is recorded by von Martens as the Amathyst-farbige Zebrabohne (Amethyst Bean). In Spain this variety is known as judias de Largato. Less well documented is the Light Brown Zebra Bean. The bean is widely known among American seed savers by a variety of incorrect names. But von Martens knew it, calling it Phaseolus zebra spadiceus S., and it is one of the best bush beans of its kind. Italian botanist Gaetano Savi, who gave this bean its Latin name in 1822, described its color as nocciola (hazel). The dry bean can be used like any other pinto bean. It also makes a delicious bean paste. And because a strain of this bean was discovered in Ethiopia in the early 1840s, it can also be used in East African recipes.

Pinto beans are very popular across the Southern United States and are the most common bean eaten in the US with a consumption rate of almost 45% of all the beans eaten, or 3.5 pounds per person per year.

Pinto beans can:

  1. Eliminate toxinsMolybdenum in pinto beans helps in eliminating toxic substances, including purines, sulfites, and drug residues.
  2. Give you energy while stabilizing your blood sugarMolybdenum in pinto beans helps in metabolizing fats and carbohydrates and in mobilizing iron from your liver, which can prevent anemia. Pinto beans provide steady, slow-burning energy, and their high fiber content prevents blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal. Phosphorus in pinto beans helps you efficiently use carbohydrates and fatsThiamine in pinto beans maintains your energy supplies and coordinates the activity of nerves and muscles. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. The iron in pinto beans is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from your lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. The vitamin B6 in pinto beans supports a wide range of activities in your nervous system and promotes proper breakdown of sugars and starches. Hemoglobin synthesis also relies on the copper in pinto beans; without it, your red blood cells cannot properly use iron. Saponins in pinto beans lower blood glucose responses. Kaempferol in pinto beans has antidiabetic activities.
  3. Build strong, flexible bodiesMolybdenum in pinto beans helps in preventing tooth decay. A cup of pinto beans provides nearly 1/3 of the Daily Value for proteinPhosphorus in pinto beans helps in the formation of bones and teeth, synthesis of protein, and muscle contraction. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function and keeps bones strong. Copper is also necessary for the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in cross-linking collagen and elastin, both of which provide strength and flexibility in blood vessels, bones, and joints. Saponins in pinto beans stimulate your immune system by increasing the production of antibodies, fight bacterial and fungal infections, reduce inflammation, prevent dental cavities, protect against bone loss, and increase the effectiveness of certain vaccines. Kaempferol in pinto beans has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, neuroprotective, anti-osteoporotic, antiestrogenic, anxiolytic, analgesic, and antiallergic activities.
  4. Promote cardiovascular health. The folate and vitamin B6 in pinto beans help lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an intermediate product in an important metabolic cycle. Elevated blood levels of homocysteine are a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease. The soluble fiber in pinto beans lowers your cholesterol levels by binding with bile, which contains cholesterol, and carrying it out of your body. Phosphorus in pinto beans helps maintain a steady heartbeat. Thiamine in pinto beans also supports proper heart function. The magnesium in pinto beans acts as a calcium channel blocker, which relaxes veins and arteries, reducing blood pressure and improving the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. The potassium in pinto beans is essential for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function. Saponins in pinto beans lower blood cholesterol and decrease risk of cardiovascular disease. Kaempferol in pinto beans seems to prevent arteriosclerosis by inhibiting the oxidation of low density lipoprotein and the formation of platelets in the blood.
  5. Promote digestive health. The insoluble fiber in pinto beans not only helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, but also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.
  6. Fight free radicals. Pinto beans are a very good source of manganese and a good source of copper, two trace minerals that are essential cofactors of a key antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within your mitochondria (the energy production factories within your cells). Saponins in pinto beans prevent cancer cells from growing and mutating, neutralize free radicals to prevent disease. Kaempferol in pinto beans is a strong antioxidant that helps to prevent oxidative damage of your cells, lipids, and DNA, and acts as a chemopreventive agent, which means that it inhibits the formation of cancer cells.
  7. Maintain your brain function. The thiamine in pinto beans is critical for brain cell and cognitive function. This is because thiamine is needed for the synthesis of acetyl choline, the important neurotransmitter essential for memory and whose lack has been found to be a significant contributing factor in age-related impairment in mental function (senility) and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nutrients in 1 Cup Pinto Beans, cooked



Daily Value


128.3 mg



294 µg



15.4 g



0.8 mg



15.4 g



251 mg



0.3 mg



746 mg



85.5 mg



3.5 mg


vitamin B6

0.4 mg



0.4 mg



44.8 g






1.7 mg



78.6 mg


vitamin K

6 µg



0.1 mg


pantothenic acid

0.4 mg



0.5 mg


vitamin C

1.4 mg



1.1 g



1.7 mg



0 mg


Dried pinto beans are generally available in packages as well as bulk bins. Make sure there’s no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that beans are whole and not cracked. If buying in bulk, make sure that the bins are covered and the store has a good product turnover rate to ensure maximum freshness.

There is little difference in the nutritional value of canned pinto beans and those you cook yourself. Look for canned beans that do not contain extra salt or additives, and whose cans do not include a liner made from bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic and resin ingredient associated with endocrine disruption. (Eden and Trader Joe’s are two brands that don’t use BPA in their cans.)

One pound of dry legumes equals about four 15-ounce cans. You can buy a pound of organic legumes in bulk for around $2.00, which is about the same price as one can. So you’re saving about 75% by going with the dry. Yes, there are energy costs in cooking, but they are small (an estimated 15 cents to run an electric burner for 2 hours; 10 cents to run a slow cooker for 8 hours). And if you purchase your bulk beans in reusable cotton bags or reused coffee cans, you are saving a lot of energy that would have gone into the production and transport of the can or plastic bag.

Store dried pinto beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place where they will keep for up to 12 months. If you purchase pinto beans at different times, store them separately; they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times. Cooked pinto beans will keep fresh in a covered container in the refrigerator for about three days.

Before washing dried pinto beans, spread them on a light-colored plate or cooking surface to check for small stones, debris, or damaged beans. Then, place the beans in a strainer, and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water.

Note that most of the phosphorus in pinto beans is in a storage form of phosphate called phytic acid or phytate. Seeds are how most plants reproduce. When they are eaten by animals, it is beneficial to the survival of their species if they can pass through the animal’s digestive system intact to be deposited, encased in fertilizer, elsewhere. In order for the plant to reproduce, it’s necessary that the seed pass through the digestive tract whole (undigested). Many plant seeds have developed defense mechanisms to make them more difficult to digest, including enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion and other natural substances that block nutrient absorption. Phytic acid prevents premature germination and stores nutrients for plant growth. Unfortunately, it also reduces the absorption of the important minerals calciummagnesiumiron, and zinc, and reduces the digestibility of protein. This applies not only to the minerals and protein in the food containing the phytic acid, but also the food that you eat with it. Over time, these phytates can lead to mineral deficiencies, allergies, and irritation of the intestinal tract. Only about 50% of the phosphorus from phytate is available to humans because we lack phytase, the enzyme that liberates phosphorus from phytate.

Traditionally, humans soaked, sprouted,  or fermented beans before eating them, processes that neutralizes phytates and enzyme inhibitors so that all the nutrients are more available.

When a plant seed undergoes germination, changes occur that provide the growing plant with needed nutrients. These changes include the breakdown of phytic acid, the inactivation of protease inhibitors, and the increased availability of vitamins and minerals, all of which increase the nutritional value of the seed and improve its digestibility. In nature, germination typically occurs when a plant seed encounters conditions that are favorable for growth, and that typically involves water. You can easily initiate the germination of pinto beans by soaking them in 2-3 cups of water per cup of beans. Soaking reduces phytic acid in about 12 hours. Soaking can also increase the content of some vitamins and help break down complex carbohydrates such as raffinose-type oligosaccharides (sugars associated with causing flatulence). Cooking also deactivates natural plant toxins that may still exist after soaking.

To prevent pinto beans from absorbing chemicals from the water or container that they’re soaking in, consider using a glass or ceramic container and filtered water. It may also be beneficial to use lukewarm water and increase its acidity with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice or vinegar. Soak pinto beans for 12 to 24 hours in water with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Rinse well and cook as usual in 2-3 cups of fresh water per cup of dried beans.

Soaking seeds is easy; it just takes takes a little discipline. In the evening, put your pinto beans in a bowl and cover them with filtered water. By the next day, the beans are ready to cook.

You can cook pinto beans either on the stove top or in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. For the stove top method, add three cups of fresh water for each cup of dried beans. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, partially covering the pot. If any foam develops, simply skim it off during the simmering process. Pinto beans generally take about one to one and one-half hours to become tender using this method.

Pinto can also be cooked in a pressure cooker, where they take about one-half hour to prepare, or in a slow cooker, where they take about six to nine hours on high.

Regardless of cooking method, do not add any salt or acid (like tomatoes) until after beans have been cooked; adding them earlier will make the beans tough and greatly increase the cooking time. To aid in digestion, you can add to your cooking beans a four-inch strip of the sea vegetable kombu, available dried in the Asian specialty section of grocery stores. Also try adding a teaspoon of epazote per pound of beans. Epazote is a traditional herb of central America that is believed to help with digestion.

Some serving ideas:

  • Use pinto beans in chili
  • Blend together cooked pinto beans with sage, oregano, garlic, and black pepper for a spread that can be used as a crudité dip or sandwich filling
  • Layer cooked pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, and shredded vegan cheese on a tortilla, broil in the oven until hot and cheese melts, and top with chopped avocado and cilantro
  • Add pinto beans to vegetable soups
  • Heat pinto beans together with cooked black rice or brown rice, add cooked chopped vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, and tomatoes, and season to taste
  • Try seasoning pinto beans with chile pepperscilantro, cumin, epazote, garlicoreganoparsley, savory, or thyme

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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