Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans and Bengal gram, are round, cream-colored legumes. They’re consumed all over the world, especially in African and Asian countries.
Chickpeas have an important place in world history as one of the very first legumes domesticated as a founder crop in the Fertile Crescent of southwest Asia. The edible legumes were popular among the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and then eventually they were brought to other parts of the world by Spanish explorers.
Chickpeas are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, fiber, carbohydrates, and a long list of vitamins and minerals. This versatile little seed makes a great meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans. Chickpeas are a staple in the diet for people in India and an important component of the diets of people who can’t afford to eat meat. Many people don’t know that these heart-healthy legumes are actually the main ingredient in the popular Mediterranean dip known as hummus.
Read on to find out why chickpeas are so nutritious and how you can make them a part of your everyday diet.
The nutritional benefits of chickpeas
In some parts of the world, like parts of India, chickpeas are eaten daily in large quantities all year-round. Chickpeas are a staple in these people’s diets for good reason. Read on to find out what makes chickpeas so special.
A cup of chickpeas has about 15 grams of protein. That’s about 26 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of protein for men and 32 percent of the RDA for women.
This is incredibly important for young children and infants in developing countries who have a lack of protein in their diets. It’s also important for vegetarians and vegans who choose not to eat meat. The high protein content makes chickpeas an excellent substitute for meat.
Chickpeas have 12.5 grams of fiber per cup, or roughly 50 percent of your daily needs! That’s quite a bit for such a small bean.
Fiber not only slows down the digestion of food to make you feel fuller faster, but it also helps you regulate your blood sugar, prevent constipation, and lowers your cholesterol. All of these features play an important role in helping you maintain a healthy weight, prevent heart disease, and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
One study, for example, found that people who consumed chickpeas ate fewer processed snacks during the study and less food overall compared to people who didn’t eat chickpeas. Another recent study in obese people trying to lose weight found that those who ate a serving of pulses (beans, lentils, or chickpeas) per day lost 3/4 pound more than people who didn’t include pulses in their diet.
Chickpeas are high in B vitamins including folate, riboflavin (B-2), pantothenic acid (B-5), and pyridoxine (B-6). Folate is a vital nutrient for brain and nervous system health, red blood cell production, cardiovascular health, and reproductive health. Adequate folate intake is vital during pregnancy to reduce the incidence of the birth defect spina bifida. One cup of cooked chickpeas contains nearly 90 percent of your daily needs of folate (1 cup of canned chickpeas contains only about 40 percent of your daily folate).
Another reason for vegetarians to eat more chickpeas: One cup of chickpeas has almost 5 milligrams of iron. Iron is important for making red blood cells and helping them carry oxygen to the cells of your body. It is also essential for preventing iron-deficiency anemia, especially in people who don’t get their iron from a meat source. Iron plays a role in metabolism and energy production.
Potassium is important for building muscle, controlling fluid balance, and regulating your heartbeat and blood pressure. Magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium all contribute to building and preserving bone structure and strength.
How to eat chickpeas
You can buy chickpeas canned or dried. Like most dried beans, dried chickpeas need to first be rinsed and then soaked in water for at least four hours before cooking. When simmered in water, chickpeas can take up to one and a half hours to become tender (less if you use a pressure cooker). If you’re very short on time, opt for the canned version.
You can add chickpeas to any soup or salad or mix with spices for a savory snack. There are so many possibilities. Try these recipes if you’re in the mood for something new:
- Spicy roasted chickpeas make a great on-the-go snack and are the perfect alternative to nuts, popcorn, or chips. View the recipe
- Pasta with zucchini, chickpeas, and gremolata breadcrumbs will help you add protein to your simple pasta dish. Chickpeas are a great choice for a meatless, yet hearty meal. View the recipe
- Chana masala is a classic Indian dish and chickpeas are the star ingredient. It pairs well with Indian breads like rotis and can be spiced up as much or as little as you want. View the recipe
- This smashed chickpea and avocado sandwich contains a high dose of fiber and is incredibly satisfying. If meatless sandwiches seem a little boring to you, chickpeas are here to save the day. View the recipe
- Chickpea cookie dough is sure to become your new guiltless pleasure. Eating a legume for dessert may not sound so appetizing, but you have to try this healthy cookie dough you can eat with a spoon. View the recipe
- Here are 15 healthy hummus recipes so you’ll never get tired of it. No chickpea recipe list is complete without a recipe for hummus. View the recipes
Humans have consumed chickpeas since ancient times, for very good reason. Chickpeas are a great source of protein, fiber, healthy fats, carbohydrates, B vitamins, and minerals. They may help you:
- feel full faster
- improve digestion
- lower cholesterol
- prevent birth defects in pregnant women
- prevent heart disease
- reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes
- avoid iron-deficiency anemia
It’s easy to see that chickpeas have valuable nutritional and potential health benefits. The downside? Eating too many could cause or increase gas, but that shouldn’t keep you from eating them. The benefits of chickpeas are too great to pass up.