How Healthy Are Chickpeas, Really?
In recent years, garbanzo beans have become crazy popular; you can find them gracing the supermarket aisles in the form of chickpea pasta, chickpea flour, chickpea chips, and even chickpea pizza crust. But with all this hype, it's easy to wonder if the health benefits of garbanzo beans are truly that great. Ahead, a deep dive into chickpea nutrition, plus dietitian-approved ways for eating them.
As part of the legume family, chickpeas are related to kidney, lima, and black beans as well as peanuts (which, BTW, is why those with peanut or nut allergies might want to steer clear). Native to the Mediterranean, these roundish beans are grown in more than 50 counties today, according to Montana State University. And while the terms "garbanzo beans" and "chickpeas" are used interchangeably, garbanzo — aka Kabuli chickpeas, which are roundish, cream-beige beans — are actually one of the two main varieties of chickpea. The other main type is the desi chickpea, which is small and dark brown. Never heard of this cultivar? That's likely because this variety is more common in the Middle East and India, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. For the sake of this article (and since garbanzo beans are more common in the U.S.A.), let's just refer to chickpeas and garbanzo beans as one and the same. Got that? Good!
For a little legume, these beige beans offer a whole lot of good-for-you nutrients, such as iron, phosphorus, folate, and vitamin C as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, aka "good" fats. And as far as plants go, chickpeas (and other legumes, such as lupini beans) are unique in that they're packed with protein, a major macronutrient. Need proof? One cup of canned chickpeas offers nearly 15 grams of protein, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That's about one-third of the daily protein requirement for women (46 grams) and one-fourth of the requirement for men (56 grams).
In the fiber department, chickpeas continue to steal the show with a whopping 13 grams of fiber per cup. Here's why that's awesome: Fiber is a type of carb that's linked to heart health, digestive wellness, and a lower risk of diabetes. But most Americans don't get enough; in the U.S., adults eat an average of 10 to 15 grams of fiber a day, according to Harvard Health Publishing. That's a far cry from the daily recommendation of 25 and 38 grams for women and men (age 50 and younger), respectively.
Here's the nutritional profile of one cup of canned chickpeas (~180 grams), according to the USDA:
- 263 calories
- 15 grams protein
- 6 grams fat
- 40 grams carbohydrate
- 13 grams fiber
- 8 grams sugar
Health Benefits of Chickpeas
If chickpeas aren't part of your rotation already, you may want to pencil them in — after all, they boast an impressive resume of health benefits. Here's what garbanzos can do for you, according to dietitians and scientific research:
Thanks to the protein and fiber content of chickpeas, the tasty beans are some of the best foods for avoiding hanger. These nutrients take a long time to pass through the digestive system, which triggers the release of satiety hormones such as leptin, explains registered dietitian Erin Wagner, R.D., CDCES. In turn, you'll stay full for a long time, which can be a *lifesaver* on those busy days of back-to-back Zoom meetings. (Related: Is Fiber the Secret Ingredient to Weight Loss?)
Though it's responsible for many garbanzo bean benefits, fiber can also cause digestive distress in some people. Reason being chickpeas contain raffinose, a type of soluble fiber that's digested by gut bacteria in the colon, explains registered dietitian Ashley Marolo, R.D. Unfortunately, some folks are sensitive to this process and, in turn, experience gas, bloating, or abdominal pain after eating chickpeas. The good news? If you're using dry beans (vs. canned) you can ease these side effects by soaking them for 8 to 10 hours before cooking to reduce the raffinose, says Marolo. If you're using canned chickpeas, rinsing them first can help reduce the raffinose. You can also "cook them with herbs that relax the digestive system such as cumin, turmeric, mint, or fennel," she adds.
Promote Healthy Digestion
Let's be real: Digestion problems (literally) stink, but chickpeas can help. The nutrient-dense legume contains both insoluble and soluble fiber, both of which can support healthy bowel movements. Insoluble fiber increases fecal bulk, helping stool move through the digestive system, says Marolo. This may be beneficial for preventing or managing constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic. Meanwhile, soluble fiber absorbs water, forming a gel-like substance that slows digestion, which can be helpful for managing diarrhea and loose stools, says Wagner.
May Reduce Cancer Risk
Not only does it help your system run smoothly, but the fiber in chickpeas might also play a part in preventing colorectal cancer, aka colon cancer or bowel cancer. "When you eat chickpeas, the fiber passes through your digestive tract and is broken down by bacteria in your gut," explains registered dietitian Alyssa Northrop, M.P.H., R.D., L.M.T. This produces a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which can hinder proliferation (a fancy term for multiplication) of colon cancer cells, according to a 2018 review. Butyrate also provides energy for the cells of your intestinal lining, thereby improving its function. And this further protects against colon cancer, as the disease is "closely related" or associated with dysfunction of the intestinal lining, according to the review.
Support Heart Health
Need another reason to ~heart~ chickpeas? It can improve several risk factors of heart disease, including high levels of LDL cholesterol, aka "bad" cholesterol. The soluble fiber in chickpeas binds with LDL cholesterol in the digestive system, explains Wagner. When the fiber is excreted in the feces (see: 💩), it brings along the cholesterol, thereby preventing your body from absorbing the "bad" stuff. This also reduces blood levels of LDL cholesterol, which is associated with a lower risk for heart disease, says Marolo.
Other risk factors of heart disease include low HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), high triglyceride levels, and high blood pressure — and chickpeas may help with all three. The beans contain alpha-linoleic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, notes Wagner. Omega-3 fats can increase HDL cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels, according to an article published in Circulation. Furthermore, chickpeas are "rich in magnesium and potassium, [two] nutrients that can help lower blood pressure," shares Marolo. (Related: 11 Foods That Are Loaded with Potassium)
Decreases Risk of Diabetes
"When soluble fiber mixes with water in your stomach, it forms a gel that slows digestion and glucose absorption," says Northrop. This prevents blood sugar spikes and improves your blood glucose levels altogether, she explains, thus reducing your risk of diabetes. Seriously, is there anything fiber *can't* do?
And then there are the isoflavones in chickpeas, which may reduce diabetes risk by decreasing insulin resistance. Quick refresher: Insulin resistance happens when your cells stop responding to insulin, the hormone that controls how the food you eat is changed into energy, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. In turn, glucose can accumulate in the blood, leading to high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) and a higher risk of diabetes.
How to Pick, Prep, and Eat Chickpeas
Thanks to their popularity, you can find chickpeas in many forms in the grocery store, notes Northrop. "Dried chickpeas are the least expensive and most basic type, but they require a soak and longer cooking time," she says. (Soaking shortens overall cooking time, but more on that in a bit.)
You can also buy canned chickpeas, which are pre-cooked and ready to use — just be sure to rinse them before using to wash away excess sodium, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Alternatively, look for canned chickpeas labeled "low sodium" or "no salt added" to avoid unnecessary salt. (In this case, you may still want to rinse them to reduce the raffinose.)
But wait, there's more: Chickpeas are available as gluten-free flour, which is made by grinding dried chickpeas into a fine powder. You can buy chickpea flour on its own, i.e. Bob's Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour (Buy It, $14 for 2 bags, amazon.com), or you can find it in prepared gluten-free foods such as pizza crusts, i.e. Banza Plain Frozen Pizza Crusts, $50 for 8 crusts, amazon.com. And then there's always chickpea pasta for a gluten-free (protein-packed!) alternative to traditional noodles, i.e. Banza Chickpea Pasta (Buy It, $25 for 6 boxes, amazon.com)
How to Cook Chickpeas
Rinse the chickpeas, transfer them to a large pot, and add enough water to submerge all the beans. Cover the pot and let soak for at least three hours (or overnight) on your countertop. Toss the water, rinse, then add three cups of broth or water for every one cup of dry chickpeas. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 30 to 60 minutes (or more) until the beans reach your preferred tenderness. Drain excess water then serve. As for canned chickpeas? You can eat them as is, or bake, roast, or sauté the beans.
If you're looking to elevate your garbanzo game, try these tasty ideas for chickpea recipes:
As hummus. These days hummus is a grocery store staple that's available in many flavor variations, such as Sabra Olive Tapenade Hummus (Buy It, $3, target.com). It's also insanely easy to make at home; all you need is canned chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, spices, and a food processor. Feeling fancy? Try this unique rose and spice hummus recipe. Use it as a veggie dip or spread it on a sandwich.
As crunchy snacks. The next time you're craving potato chips, snack on roasted chickpeas instead. "Drain and rinse [canned] chickpeas, then roll them in a clean dish towel to dry them as much as possible," explains Northrop. "Toss with olive oil and salt, and roast for 20 to 30 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit." Once they're golden and crispy, season with spices such as chili powder or rosemary. Or, for a sweet version, try cinnamon sugar. "Eat them by the handful or toss over mixed greens for the best salad ever," says Northrop. On the go? Grab a bag of roasted chickpeas, such as BIENA Honey Roasted Chickpea Snacks (Buy It, $17 for 4 bags, amazon.com).
As falafel. "Falafel is a popular Middle Eastern [dish] made from ground chickpeas, herbs, and spices rolled into balls and fried," says Northrop. (Frying is the traditional method, but you can also make baked falafel.) "These are delicious, especially with hummus — more chickpeas! — and tabbouleh," she says. Or make a falafel bowl for a filling, satisfying meal.
In a soup. If you need to bulk up a canned or homemade soup, toss in some chickpeas. Or make a chickpea soup from scratch, as recommended by Northrop: Sauté onions, celery, and carrot in olive oil. Once the onion is soft, add minced garlic and sauté for another minute. Add a can of diced tomatoes, four cups of veggie broth, spices, and rinsed canned chickpeas. Finally, "simmer for about 20 minutes and enjoy a healthy, vegetarian bowl of comfort," says Northrop.