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Arepas vs. Pupusas — Health Impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan by Victoria Mazmanyan | Last updated on June 19, 2023
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan Article author photo Astghik Baghinyan
Arepa
vs
Pupusas

Summary

In short, arepas are cornbreads popular in Venezuela and Colombia. Pupusas are also corn pancakes but originate from El Salvador and Honduras.

Pupusas are usually flatter, larger, and stuffed and sealed before cooking, unlike arepas.

Arepas are considerably higher in carbohydrates due to net carbs. Stuffed pupusas with pork, beans, or cheese are richer in protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Introduction

Pupusas and arepas are often compared with each other as they share a lot of similarities and can be found in many cuisines around the world. Both of these Latin American foods can generally be described as corn pancakes or flatbreads cooked on a griddle; however, they originate in different cultures and can vary in taste, use, and nutrition.

Origin and Preparation

Arepas are savory cakes made from cornmeal, usually eaten in northern parts of South America, predominantly in Colombia and Venezuela. Pupusas originate in Central America, particularly in El Salvador and Honduras, and can be made not only from cornmeal but also from rice flour. Hence, both are popular traditional dishes across Latin America. 

Arepas are made using a specific precooked corn flour called Masarepa. On the other hand, pupusas are made from more digestible instant corn masa flour (Masa Harina). Besides the flour, the other two main ingredients for these flatbreads are just salt and water.

Appearance

Pupusas are usually flatter and larger in diameter compared to arepas. Arepas can slightly resemble burgers when sliced and stuffed with fillings, while pupusas are usually sealed.

Taste and Use

Pupusas are stuffed with various savory fillings before cooking, while arepas are sliced and stuffed after cooking the dough. Popular recipes include fillings such as cheese, pork, beef, beans, vegetables, and more.

At the same time, Colombian arepas can be eaten without fillings or stuffed before cooking, like pupusas.

Pupusas are most commonly served with curtido – a fermented cabbage slaw. However, depending on the recipes and preferences, they both can be consumed as a snack, a dessert, or a main. Arepas and pupusas are also commonly served with sauces or salsa.  

Nutrition

Naturally, the nutrition of these flatbreads will differ depending on what they’re made from and what they’re consumed with.

The nutritional information below is presented for plain arepa (unleavened cornmeal bread) and pupusas with pork. As pupusas are stuffed before cooking, it is difficult to look at the nutrition of the pupusa dough alone. However, we will also look at the nutritional content of pupusas filled with cheese and beans and take into consideration what the stuffings add in terms of nutrition (1, 2).

Macronutrients and Calories

One piece of arepa is roughly 98g, while stuffed pupusa weighs a little more – 122g per piece of pupusa with pork, 126g per piece of pupusa with beans, and 117g per piece of pupusa with cheese.

Below we will compare equal 100g servings of each food.

Calories

Arepas and pupusas are both high-calorie foods; however, pupusas generally contain more calories.

A 100g serving of arepa provides 219 calories. The same servings of pupusas with pork, beans, and cheese contain 232, 229, and 256 calories, respectively. Thus, pupusa with cheese is considerably higher in calories, while pupusa with beans is similar in calories to plain arepa.

Protein and Fats

Arepas consist of approximately 5% fats and 5% protein. Pupusa with pork provides double the amount of both protein and fats due to the contained meat.

Pupusa with beans consists of around 6% protein and 9% fat, while pupusa with cheese provides 12% protein and 13% fat.

Naturally, plain arepas and pupusa with beans contain no cholesterol. Pupusas with pork or cheese provide around 30mg of cholesterol per 100g serving.

Carbohydrates

Arepa is considerably higher in carbohydrates compared to pupusa, mostly due to net carbs. Arepa and pupusa contain the same amount of dietary fiber.

While pork and cheese do not add a notable number of carbohydrates to pupusas, beans do. However, plain arepas are still higher in carbohydrates than pupusa with beans.

Pupusa with beans provides almost double the amount of fiber compared to arepa or pupusa with pork or cheese.

Vitamins

The added stuffings of pork, cheese, or beans make pupusa richer in most vitamins compared to arepa.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
Arepa
2
:
11
Pupusas
Contains more Vitamin A +153.6%
Contains more Vitamin K +218.2%
Contains more Vitamin E +20.7%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +18.6%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +107.1%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +167.2%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +216.8%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +115%
Contains more Vitamin B12 +∞%
Contains more Choline +772.7%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Choline Vitamin K 13% 6% 0% 0% 18% 10% 17% 13% 25% 0% 0% 3% 9%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Choline Vitamin K 6% 7% 21% 1% 21% 21% 45% 39% 54% 3% 35% 21% 3%
Contains more Vitamin A +153.6%
Contains more Vitamin K +218.2%
Contains more Vitamin E +20.7%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +18.6%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +107.1%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +167.2%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +216.8%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +115%
Contains more Vitamin B12 +∞%
Contains more Choline +772.7%

Minerals

Similar to vitamins, stuffed pupusas are richer in most minerals than arepa. However, a plain arepa is usually higher in calcium and lower in sodium. Arepa is also an excellent source of phosphorus and iron.

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" charts below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food.
Arepa
3
:
Contains more Calcium +81.6%
Contains less Sodium -36.6%
Contains more Magnesium +40.7%
Contains more Phosphorus +38.5%
Contains more Potassium +189.8%
Contains more Zinc +102.5%
Contains more Copper +116.7%
Contains more Manganese +37.1%
Contains more Selenium +191.8%
Equal in Iron - 1.01
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 27% 39% 20% 51% 8% 36% 22% 10% 16% 34%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium 15% 38% 28% 70% 23% 56% 45% 22% 21% 98%
Contains more Calcium +81.6%
Contains less Sodium -36.6%
Contains more Magnesium +40.7%
Contains more Phosphorus +38.5%
Contains more Potassium +189.8%
Contains more Zinc +102.5%
Contains more Copper +116.7%
Contains more Manganese +37.1%
Contains more Selenium +191.8%
Equal in Iron - 1.01

Glycemic Index

Arepas have been researched to have a low to medium glycemic index value, depending on the type of flour used, falling in the range of 55 to 72 (3).

An exact number has not yet been researched for the glycemic index of pupusas; however, it can be assumed to be lower than arepa’s value due to a low net carbs content.

Acidity

One way to understand the acidity of foods is through their potential renal acid load (PRAL) value, which shows how much acid or base the given food produces inside the organism. 

PRAL values for arepas and pork pupusas are 3.3 and 4.7, respectively, which means both dishes are acidic

Weight Loss & Diets

As discussed above, both arepas and pupusas are high-calorie foods with over 200 calories per serving. Although they are quite nutritious, watching the portion sizes during weight loss diets is recommended, as calories can add up quickly. 

Since arepas and pupusas are made from corn, they are naturally gluten-free and safe for gluten-free diets. However, check before consumption as many gluten-free products often have wheat flour added, making them unsafe for the diet. 

Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: June 19, 2023
Medically reviewed by Astghik Baghinyan

Infographic

Arepa vs Pupusas infographic
Infographic link

Macronutrient Comparison

Macronutrient breakdown side-by-side comparison
Arepa
1
:
Contains more Carbs +61.3%
Contains more Protein +110%
Contains more Fats +93.9%
Contains more Other +60%
Equal in Water - 53.12
5% 5% 37% 51%
Protein: 5.48 g
Fats: 5.38 g
Carbs: 37.14 g
Water: 50.8 g
Other: 1.2 g
12% 10% 23% 53% 2%
Protein: 11.51 g
Fats: 10.43 g
Carbs: 23.02 g
Water: 53.12 g
Other: 1.92 g
Contains more Carbs +61.3%
Contains more Protein +110%
Contains more Fats +93.9%
Contains more Other +60%
Equal in Water - 53.12

Fat Type Comparison

Fat type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Arepa
1
:
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +161.8%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +123%
Equal in Saturated Fat - 3.166
54% 28% 18%
Saturated Fat: 2.902 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 1.514 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 0.989 g
34% 42% 24%
Saturated Fat: 3.166 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 3.964 g
Polyunsaturated fat: 2.205 g
Contains more Monounsaturated Fat +161.8%
Contains more Polyunsaturated fat +123%
Equal in Saturated Fat - 3.166

Carbohydrate type comparison

Carbohydrate type breakdown side-by-side comparison
Arepa
1
:
Contains more Starch +∞%
Contains more Sucrose +15.2%
Contains more Glucose +∞%
Contains more Fructose +∞%
Equal in Maltose - 0.39
45% 55%
Starch: 0 g
Sucrose: 0.33 g
Glucose: 0 g
Fructose: 0 g
Lactose: 0 g
Maltose: 0.41 g
Galactose: 0 g
93% 2% 2%
Starch: 18.98 g
Sucrose: 0.38 g
Glucose: 0.34 g
Fructose: 0.33 g
Lactose: 0 g
Maltose: 0.39 g
Galactose: 0 g
Contains more Starch +∞%
Contains more Sucrose +15.2%
Contains more Glucose +∞%
Contains more Fructose +∞%
Equal in Maltose - 0.39

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the rightmost column. It displays the amounts side by side, giving a clearer understanding of the difference.
Arepa Pupusas
Rich in minerals ok
Lower in Glycemic Index ok
Rich in vitamins ok
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Sodium ok
Lower in Cholesterol ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in price Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Arepa Pupusas Opinion
Net carbs 34.54g 20.42g Arepa
Protein 5.48g 11.51g Pupusas
Fats 5.38g 10.43g Pupusas
Carbs 37.14g 23.02g Arepa
Calories 219kcal 232kcal Pupusas
Starch 18.98g Pupusas
Fructose 0g 0.33g Pupusas
Sugar 0.87g 1.45g Arepa
Fiber 2.6g 2.6g
Calcium 89mg 49mg Arepa
Iron 1.04mg 1.01mg Arepa
Magnesium 27mg 38mg Pupusas
Phosphorus 117mg 162mg Pupusas
Potassium 88mg 255mg Pupusas
Sodium 270mg 426mg Arepa
Zinc 0.8mg 1.62mg Pupusas
Copper 0.03mg 0.065mg Pupusas
Manganese 0.116mg 0.159mg Pupusas
Selenium 6.1µg 17.8µg Pupusas
Vitamin A 213IU 84IU Arepa
Vitamin A RAE 61µg 10µg Arepa
Vitamin E 0.29mg 0.35mg Pupusas
Vitamin D 28IU Pupusas
Vitamin D 0.7µg Pupusas
Vitamin C 0.1mg Pupusas
Vitamin B1 0.07mg 0.083mg Pupusas
Vitamin B2 0.042mg 0.087mg Pupusas
Vitamin B3 0.888mg 2.373mg Pupusas
Vitamin B5 0.202mg 0.64mg Pupusas
Vitamin B6 0.107mg 0.23mg Pupusas
Folate 4µg Pupusas
Vitamin B12 0µg 0.28µg Pupusas
Choline 4.4mg 38.4mg Pupusas
Vitamin K 3.5µg 1.1µg Arepa
Tryptophan 0.048mg 0.121mg Pupusas
Threonine 0.193mg 0.46mg Pupusas
Isoleucine 0.207mg 0.456mg Pupusas
Leucine 0.671mg 0.976mg Pupusas
Lysine 0.228mg 0.784mg Pupusas
Methionine 0.131mg 0.268mg Pupusas
Phenylalanine 0.276mg 0.463mg Pupusas
Valine 0.276mg 0.531mg Pupusas
Histidine 0.166mg 0.354mg Pupusas
Cholesterol 5mg 29mg Arepa
Trans Fat 0.157g 0.083g Pupusas
Saturated Fat 2.902g 3.166g Arepa
Omega-3 - DHA 0g 0.003g Pupusas
Omega-3 - EPA 0.003g 0.004g Pupusas
Omega-3 - DPA 0.003g 0.006g Pupusas
Monounsaturated Fat 1.514g 3.964g Pupusas
Polyunsaturated fat 0.989g 2.205g Pupusas
Omega-6 - Eicosadienoic acid 0.003g 0.045g Pupusas
Omega-6 - Linoleic acid 0.825g 1.95g Pupusas
Omega-6 - Gamma-linoleic acid 0.002g 0.003g Pupusas
Omega-3 - ALA 0.065g 0.087g Pupusas
Omega-3 - Eicosatrienoic acid 0g 0.007g Pupusas
Omega-6 - Dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid 0.005g 0.01g Pupusas

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Arepa Pupusas
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low Glycemic Index diet ok

People also compare

Vitamins & Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score

The summary scores indicate the extent to which this food can fulfill your daily vitamin and mineral requirements if you consume 3 servings, consisting of 100 grams of each (an approximation of 3 serving sizes).
Vitamins Daily Need Coverage Score
8%
Arepa
21%
Pupusas
Minerals Daily Need Coverage Score
26%
Arepa
41%
Pupusas

Comparison summary

Which food is richer in minerals?
Pupusas
Pupusas is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Pupusas
Pupusas is lower in glycemic index (difference - 55)
Which food is richer in vitamins?
Pupusas
Pupusas is relatively richer in vitamins
Which food is lower in Sugar?
Arepa
Arepa is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.58g)
Which food contains less Sodium?
Arepa
Arepa contains less Sodium (difference - 156mg)
Which food is lower in Cholesterol?
Arepa
Arepa is lower in Cholesterol (difference - 24mg)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Arepa
Arepa is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.264g)
Which food is cheaper?
?
The foods are relatively equal in price ($)

References

All the values for which the sources are not specified explicitly are taken from FDA’s Food Central. The exact link to the food presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Arepa - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168070/nutrients
  2. Pupusas - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/167663/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000-calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.