Named for their red color and their shape, kidney beans are a type of legume that commonly comes in two varieties: light red and dark red. Both kinds tend to be firmer than most other kinds of beans, but the light-colored ones are a little softer in texture than their darker cousins.
Kidney beans are a type of "common bean" that share an ancestor with black beans, pintos, and navy beans. European explorers first discovered this ancestor bean in Peru and helped spread common beans around the world. Today, kidney beans remain an important part of the cuisine in South and Central America and the Caribbean.
Nutritionists often recommend beans as part of a healthy diet because of their high nutritional value. Like other beans, kidney beans can be counted as both a protein source or a vegetable.
Eating at least a half-cup of beans per day can improve overall health. According to one study, people who eat beans daily consume less fat and saturated fat while taking in more fiber, protein, folate, iron, and other important minerals.
Some of the other health benefits of kidney beans include:
Improve Heart Health
Beans may have a positive impact on health when eaten as a replacement for meat or other protein sources that are high in cholesterol. Reducing cholesterol is one way to lower your risk of heart disease and improve your heart health. Kidney beans are one of the healthiest types of beans to use as a protein source, with slightly less fat and saturated fat than other varieties of bean but with comparable amounts of fiber and protein.
Prevent Colon Cancer
Research shows that colon cancer may develop less often in people who regularly eat common beans, such as kidney beans. The non-digestible fiber in common beans plays a positive role in regulating cell growth in the colon, which may help reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. Further study is needed to discover exactly how this mechanism works.
Control Blood Sugar
Beans are a low-glycemic index food, so they don't cause spikes in blood sugar when you eat them. They can also help moderate the effects of foods that do cause spikes in blood sugar. For example, kidney beans or other common beans can be eaten with rice to slow the rate at which the rice digests.
Many people struggle with dieting, especially when adopting a low-carbohydrate diet. Eating a diet high in fiber may offer an alternative way to lose weight. Because fiber is filling, it can help people feel fuller longer and avoid overeating. Studies have shown that eating beans as part of a high fiber diet may help people who are trying to lose weight.
Kidney beans are rich in a variety of important nutrients, including:
Thiamine (Vitamin B1)
Nutrients per Serving
Light red and dark red kidney beans have slightly different nutritional profiles that may vary depending upon whether the beans are canned or dried.
A half-cup serving of canned kidney beans contains:
Protein: 7 grams
Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 19 grams
Fiber: 7 grams
Sugars: 2 grams
Things to Watch Out For
A natural protein occurring in beans can cause gastrointestinal distress, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Of all the common beans, kidney beans have the largest amount of this toxin, called phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). Cooking destroys the toxin, so be sure to cook kidney beans thoroughly.
Canned beans are fully cooked during the canning process, so they are completely safe to eat. However, using a slow cooker to cook fresh or dried beans may not heat the beans sufficiently to destroy the toxin.
Like most beans, kidney beans can cause gas. If you are cooking dried beans, the hot soak method may be best for reducing the compounds in kidney beans that create gas.
How to Prepare Kidney Beans
Kidney beans are a favorite of many cooks. Available dried, canned, and in food pouches, they hold their shape well when cooked and add visual appeal to any dish with their rich colors.
People who generally dislike most beans because of their soft texture will often still eat kidney beans due to their firmer texture. Because they are colorful and easy to pick up, they also make a healthy finger food for toddlers.
Kidney beans make a great addition to hot and cold salads, side dishes, soups, and even pastas. Here are some different ways you can add kidney beans to your diet:
Toss with green beans and wax beans to create a classic three-bean salad.
Combine with chili powder, seasonings, and other beans to make a vegetarian chili.
Try the classic Italian soup pasta e fagioli that includes kidney beans.
Mix kidney beans with rice and seasonings for a side dish with a Caribbean flair.
Add to a pasta salad for a protein boost.