Famous for their role in hummus, chickpeas are a surprisingly useful ingredient, one that’s packed with nutrients and is low in fat. So then, are chickpeas good for you?
They’re a type of legume, after all, which means there’s plenty of debates about their antinutrients and whether chickpeas are a wise idea or not. At the same time, we’re talking about a plant-based source of protein, one that’s used in a dip that countless people love.
So then, let’s take a close look at where these different perspectives come from and how chickpeas really fare when it comes to nutrition.
Are Chickpeas Good For Your Health?
- What Are Chickpeas?
- Benefits Of Chickpeas
- How Chickpeas Can Be Harmful
- What About The Carbs In Chickpeas?
- How Do You Use Chickpeas?
- Are Canned Chickpeas Healthy?
- Are Chickpeas High FODMAP?
- Final Thoughts
What Are Chickpeas?
Chickpeas also go by the name garbanzo beans. You’ve probably seen them in the grocery store. They’re sometimes sold dried or roasted, although canned chickpeas are the most common type.
Most of the chickpeas sold in the United States are beige and round, but there are other types too, including Desi chickpeas. Those chickpeas are darker, smaller, and have an irregular shape. They’re most often used in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.
You can find green chickpeas as well. These are younger and have a sweeter flavor.
Some of the nutrients vary from one type of chickpea to the next. But, in general, they’re all pretty similar. This means you should see most of the same benefits regardless of the type that you choose.
Benefits Of Chickpeas
They’re An Excellent Source Of Fiber
The first reason for chickpeas isn’t particularly exciting – the fiber content.
We all know the benefits of fiber, right? Getting enough fiber keeps us regular, helps to reduce heart disease risk, and keeps our blood sugar levels stable. There may even be weight loss benefits.
It’s easy to discount fiber, as it’s such a common macronutrient. Despite this, many of us aren’t getting anywhere close to the amount of fiber that we need. Not getting this fiber can cause digestive discomfort and lead to more serious issues down the line.
Ingredients like chickpeas are the perfect way around this problem. Not only do you get around 12.5 grams of fiber per cup of chickpeas, but chickpeas are less expensive and more shelf stable than many other sources of fiber.
Think about it. We often assume that we should be getting most of our fiber from fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic ones. But, doing that gets expensive fast and the produce doesn’t last all that long.
Why not turn to ingredients like chickpeas? They’re perfect if you’re on a budget or don’t have many vegetables in the house.
The Protein Content
We can’t forget about the protein either. Seriously, a cup of chickpeas contains around 14.5 grams of protein. It’s easy to see why this protein is so relevant. After all, protein plays countless roles in our bodies and helps to keep us full too.
Chickpeas also stand out because they offer an inexpensive plant-based source of protein. This makes them easy options for vegetarians and vegans. You can even roast them and use them as a low fat alternative to nuts.
Even if you eat meat regularly, getting some of your protein from plants is never a bad thing. Plants offer a different balance of nutrients than meat, along with plenty of interesting compounds and antioxidants that you certainly won’t find in your steak. Plus, ingredients like chickpeas are much lower in fat and saturated fat than most cuts of meat. This makes them powerful ways to decrease your saturated fat intake and improve your health in the process.
All The Nutrients
Here’s another obvious reason for eating chickpeas – the nutrients. Legumes are always fantastic in this sense, providing many important nutrients in a low calorie serving.
Folate is the most stand-out nutrient in chickpeas. You get more than 70% of your daily folate intake in a cup of cooked chickpeas. Impressive, right?
Folate is well-known for its role in early pregnancy, which is why many pregnant women take folate supplements. However, sufficient folate intake isn’t just important during pregnancy. We all need the nutrient, as it plays various roles, including promoting red blood cell formation.
You also get more than 20% of your daily intake for iron, phosphorous, and copper. The iron is especially important, as many people end up being iron deficient.
They Protect Your Heart
Chickpeas have been linked to improved heart health too, partly because they can decrease levels of LDL cholesterol (an effect that is strongly linked to their soluble fiber content).
You could promote heart health further by swapping out some of your meat for legumes like chickpeas instead. Doing so should decrease your saturated fat intake, which should lead to lower heart disease risk as well.
That’s not all. Some of the nutrients in chickpeas are relevant to heart health too, like magnesium and potassium, which both help to keep your blood pressure down.
How Chickpeas Can Be Harmful
They Must Be Cooked
First of all, chickpeas must be cooked before eating them. They contain toxins that can make you quite sick if you eat them without cooking them first.
The only exception is canned chickpeas. These have already been cooked, so you can just rinse them and use them as-is.
The need to cook chickpeas isn’t a big deal. However, it does mean that undercooked chickpeas might make you sick, so it’s crucial that you cook them for long enough.
Before we go further, let’s address the elephant in the room – legumes. Chickpeas fall into the legume family, along with beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts.
Legumes are often seen as healthy, as they contain plenty of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. They’re also perfect as a plant-based source of protein.
Despite this, countless blogs claim that legumes have some serious issues and could even cause health problems. The problem is partly related to antinutrients. These are compounds that the legumes use to defend themselves and are the reason most legumes will make you sick if you eat them raw.
Cooking decreases the antinutrient content significantly, but there are still some antinutrients present, including compounds like phytic acid and lectins.
These antinutrients can decrease your nutrient absorption and cause side effects like gas and bloating. However, they may not be much of an issue if your diet is rich in nutrients and you aren’t eating legumes with every meal.
Most experts argue that the benefits of legumes far outweigh the risks. Still, this is something you’ll need to decide for yourself. Some people prefer to be cautious and avoid legumes or only eat them rarely.
The Omega 6 Content
Omega 6 is a healthy polyunsaturated fat, one that even provides benefits. However, most of us are already consuming more omega 6 than we need and not enough omega 3. This matters, as the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 in our bodies can influence inflammation and high levels of inflammation can contribute to many different diseases.
The optimal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 is heavily debated, with 4:1 being one of the most common. Other recommendations suggest even lower ratios, like 2:1 or even 1:1.
Most of us are nowhere near those ratios. Increasing omega 3 intake isn’t enough to get us there either. We also need to decrease our omega 6 intake.
Chickpeas don’t help much here. While they do contain some omega 3, their omega 6 content is much higher. A cup of boiled chickpeas, for example, contains 1,825 mg of omega 6 and 70.5 mg of omega 3. That’s a ratio of almost 26:1!
They Can Cause Side Effects
Chickpeas can lead to side effects too, including bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and more.
Thankfully, these side effects are often due to the fiber content. This isn’t an unusual pattern. Significant changes to your fiber intake often come with digestive side effects, as your body adjusts to the fiber. Avoiding these symptoms may be as simple as increasing your fiber intake slowly and drinking plenty of water.
That said, fiber isn’t the only reason for side effects.
The complex sugars and antinutrients in chickpeas can also cause problems if your stomach is sensitive (particularly if you’re not using canned chickpeas). Some people might need to be careful with chickpeas or even avoid them entirely.
What About The Carbs In Chickpeas?
Like most legumes, chickpeas are high in carbs – with a cup of cooked chickpeas containing a whopping 45 grams of carbs. Roughly 12.5 grams of these carbs are from fiber, but that still leaves more than 30 grams of net carbs.
Whether this is a problem depends on your point of view.
Carbs are linked to health problems, partly because they influence your blood sugar levels, which can lead to rises and dips in blood sugar. Such effects can be harmful. High carb diets may also increase the risk of inflammation and disease. They’re even thought to contribute to the prevalence of modern disease.
But, most of those issues are associated with simple carbs, particularly the ones you find in processed foods.
Chickpeas are considered complex carbs instead. Complex carbs increase your blood sugar more slowly and help you to stay full. Diets rich in complex carbs have even been linked to improved health.
Expert health advice often suggests that we should decrease our consumption of simple carbs and get more complex carbs in our diet, including carbs from whole grains and legumes. From this perspective, then, the carbs in chickpeas aren’t an issue at all.
Still, not everyone agrees.
There are some concerns that even complex carbs could cause harm in large quantities. Low carb and keto diets have become popular ways to decrease carb intake and improve health (as long as you make sure that you’re still getting the nutrients that you need).
If you are taking a low carb approach, then you might need to skip chickpeas entirely or keep your intake low.
How Do You Use Chickpeas?
Chickpeas are surprisingly versatile. They’re an easy way to add protein, fiber, and nutrients to most meals.
The simplest approach is to take a can of chickpeas. Once you’ve drained and rinsed the chickpeas, they can be used in many dishes, as they’re already fully cooked. Try tossing them into your salad, adding them to a curry, or even throwing them on top of pizza.
Chickpeas are excellent in sauces and spreads too. Hummus is a classic example, but that’s just one of many. In fact, you can make a protein rich pasta sauce using chickpeas, which is an impressive feat.
You can roast chickpeas as well (or buy them already roasted from your local store). They take on a slight nutty flavor once they’ve been roasted and you can use spices to make the flavor profile even more interesting.
Those are only a few options. Do some quick searching online and you’ll find hundreds of different chickpea recipes in plenty of styles. Even if you’re not a huge fan of legumes, you’re certain to find at least a few chickpea recipes that you enjoy.
Are Canned Chickpeas Healthy?
Canned chickpeas are already cooked, which makes them faster and easier to use than dried chickpeas. They’re normally easier to find as well, but, what about their nutrient content? Surely canned chickpeas aren’t nearly as healthy as fresh or dried chickpeas.
That concern is valid, as canned or processed foods are never as healthy as their fresh counterparts. Even so, canned chickpeas do offer many of the same benefits as fresh ones, including their potassium and protein content.
The canned version also loses out in some areas, as canned chickpeas contain much less vitamin C and vitamin E than fresh chickpeas, while also being higher in sodium.
You can easily get those lost nutrients from other foods, making sodium the main problem to think about. And, while many of us do need to decrease our sodium intake, the sodium in canned chickpeas isn’t such a big deal – as most of it is actually removed when you rinse the beans.
Overall, fresh or dried chickpeas are still a healthier choice than canned ones, but canned chickpeas have plenty going for them. They’re also an easy and versatile ingredient, which could be reason enough to use them regularly.
Are Chickpeas High FODMAP?
High FODMAP foods contain fermentable carbs that can be a serious issue for anyone with irritable bowel syndrome or other related conditions. Cutting down your FODMAP intake is a popular way to decrease symptoms.
Chickpeas are somewhat confusing in this regard, as they’re both high and low FODMAP. Or, more specifically, dried and fresh chickpeas are high in FODMAPs, while canned chickpeas are low in FODMAPs.
This happens because FODMAP compounds are water soluble. When chickpeas are canned, the FODMAPs move from the chickpeas to the liquid. You can drain your chickpeas and rinse them, leaving very few FODMAPs in the chickpeas themselves.
Chickpeas are nutritious, versatile, and inexpensive. They’re particularly useful if you’re short on time and money, as canned chickpeas are even more convenient and contain most of the same nutrients.
With so many benefits, it’s easy to see why chickpeas are seen as being so healthy. Yet, they have their dark side too, including the antinutrients, their omega 6 content, and their carbs. These issues make chickpeas more questionable, especially if you’re worried about carbs or legumes.
As always, the answer comes down to your diet and needs. For most people, chickpeas are an easy and healthy diet addition. Anyone following a paleo or keto diet, however, might need to avoid chickpeas entirely.