Hummus is a spread that originated in the Middle East. It’s become a popular food around the world.

Traditional hummus is made from:

  • mashed chickpeas
  • spices
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • lemon juice
  • tahini

It’s used as a dip or condiment. Unlike many highly processed, unhealthy foods in the Western diet, you can feel good about eating hummus. Here are several reasons why.

Research shows that the Mediterranean diet reduces your risk of:

  • heart disease
  • cancer
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson’s

The Mediterranean diet is rich in:

  • olive oil
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • fish
  • whole grains
  • beans
  • legumes
  • seeds

Hummus contains many of these ingredients.

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are legumes. They’re the main ingredient in hummus. Chickpeas are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Insoluble fiber helps bulk up stool to prevent constipation. Fiber also helps you feel fuller longer. This may prevent you from overeating.

A 2014 examination survey found that eating chickpeas and hummus was associated with better nutrient intake, diet quality, and weight parameters in adults. The researchers say eating hummus and chickpeas should be encouraged.

Olive oil adds smoothness and a rich flavor to hummus. It has a reputation for being one of the healthiest oils you can buy. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). According to the Mayo Clinic, MUFAs may help lower your total cholesterol, normalize blood clotting, and help regulate blood sugar. All of these effects may reduce your risk of heart disease.

Olive oil may also reduce inflammation in the body that can lead to disease. According to a 2011 study, virgin olive oil contains phenolic compounds, specifically oleocanthal, which has similar anti-inflammatory abilities to ibuprofen.

Garlic often gives hummus a lot of its flavor. Despite its pungent odor, garlic is considered a superfood, thanks to its phytochemicals and antioxidants. It’s been a folk remedy for centuries, and is thought to have antibacterial properties. Research shows that garlic may slow the development of atherosclerosis and slightly lower blood pressure.

Research is promising, yet inconclusive, as to whether or not garlic can help prevent certain cancers and lower cholesterol. More study is needed.

Tahini, also known as sesame butter, is a paste made from ground sesame seeds.

Tahini is a valuable source of vitamins and minerals. It contains:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • niacin
  • folate
  • phosphorous
  • potassium
  • zinc
  • copper
  • manganese

According to a 2014 study, sesame seeds decreased total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol in patients with knee osteoarthritis. They also reduced malondialdehyde (MDA), a marker for oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress occurs when cell-damaging free radicals in the body and the antioxidants that keep them in check become imbalanced. This imbalance may be responsible for aging and disease.

A 1/2 cup of commercially prepared hummus contains 21 percent of your daily value of folate. Folate is a B vitamin found in legumes like chickpeas. Folate is a critical vitamin to pregnant women or women who are considering becoming pregnant. Folate and its synthetic counterpart, folic acid, are integral in preventing neural tube birth defects such as spinal bifida. Cooked dried beans contain up to double the folate as canned beans, so choose those more often.

Hummus is high in many other vitamins and minerals, including:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • phosphorous
  • potassium
  • zinc
  • manganese
  • copper
  • selenium
  • vitamin B-6
  • thiamin

Protein is necessary for cell creation, growth, and repair. Vegetarians who don’t eat meat, dairy, or eggs may struggle to find good sources of plant-based protein. Thanks to chickpeas, about 2 tbsp. of commercially made hummus contains around 2 grams of protein.

Hummus can take the place of many unhealthy foods in your diet. Some healthy ways to use hummus are:

  • as a mayonnaise substitute on a sandwich or turkey burger
  • as a substitute for half of the mashed egg yolks in deviled eggs
  • as a bagel topper instead of cream cheese
  • as a dip for veggies or chicken nuggets instead of ranch dressing

When prepared traditionally with healthy ingredients and eaten in moderation, hummus is good for you. It’s loaded with:

  • plant-based protein
  • fiber
  • healthy fats
  • vitamins
  • minerals

But not all hummus is created equal. Some brands aren’t made with high-quality ingredients. They may use oils other than olive oil, or a poor-quality olive oil. Some brands have artificial flavors and preservatives, or are high in sodium. Be sure to read the ingredients on the label before you buy.

If you can’t find hummus without unhealthy ingredients, or you just want to know exactly what you’re eating, homemade hummus is surprisingly easy to make. Try these recipes:

  • This traditional hummus recipe should be in every healthy cook’s arsenal. View the recipe.
  • Roasted red peppers and jalapeños give this hummus a sweet and spicy kick. View the recipe.
  • Toasted pine nuts add protein and iron to this variety of hummus. View the recipe.
  • This hummus gets its southwestern flair from avocado, lime juice, and chili powder. View the recipe.
  • There’s no rule that hummus has to be savory! Try this sweet recipe that includes cinnamon, coconut sugar, and dates. View the recipe.

How you eat hummus matters, too. If you dip fried tortilla chips or crackers into hummus, you’re eating a lot of extra fat and calories. Keep it healthy by using sprouted grain bread or fresh vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, and cucumbers as dippers.