Originally cultivated in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, have spread their culinary influence to areas all over the world. They are featured prominently in Italian, Greek, Indian, Middle Eastern, Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.
Though the most common type of chickpea appears round and beige, other varieties include colors such as black, green, and red. Like other legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, chickpeas are prized for their high protein and fiber content, and also contain several key vitamins and minerals known to benefit human health.
Patsy Catsos, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and author of "IBS - Free at Last!" suggests that increasing fiber consumption in individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can be a challenge, however, chickpeas offer a source of fiber that is well-tolerated by IBS patients.6
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Nutritional breakdown of chickpeas
One cup of cooked chickpeas contains 269 calories, 45 grams of carbohydrate, 15 grams of protein, 13 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of fat and 0 grams of cholesterol. A one-cup serving of raw chickpeas provides 50% of daily potassium needs, 2% vitamin A, 21% calcium, 13% vitamin C, 69% iron, 2% sodium, 55% vitamin B-6 and 57% magnesium. Additionally, chickpeas contain vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, choline and selenium.
Though the most common type of chickpea appears round and beige, other varieties include colors such as black, green, and red.
Besides being an excellent vegan and gluten-free source of protein and fiber, chickpeas also contain exceptional levels of iron, vitamin B-6 and magnesium.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are extremely important in ensuring that the body functions properly. Some, known as nonessential amino acids, can be produced by the body when they are needed. Essential amino acids, however, cannot be made in the body and, therefore, must be consumed in the diet.
Most non-animal sources of protein, including chickpeas, lack the essential amino acid methionine, while whole grains lack lysine. The combination of legumes with whole grains such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread or pasta produces a complete protein that contains all of the essential amino acids.
Possible health benefits of consuming chickpeas
Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 grams of fiber per day for women and 30-38 grams per day for men.
The iron, phosphate, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K content present in chickpeas all contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength.
Though phosphate and calcium are both important in bone structure, the careful balance of the two minerals is necessary for proper bone mineralization - consumption of too much phosphorus with too little calcium intake can result in bone loss.
Bone matrix formation requires the mineral manganese, and iron and zinc play crucial roles in the production and maturation of collagen.
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption is important for good health, as it acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improves calcium absorption and may reduce urinary excretion of calcium.5
Maintaining a low-sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, however increasing potassium intake may be just as important because of its vasodilation effects. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation.4
The high fiber, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B-6 content, coupled with the lack of cholesterol found in chickpeas, all support heart health.
Chickpeas contain significant amounts of fiber, which helps lower the total amount of cholesterol in the blood, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease.
In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared to those who consumed less potassium (about 1000 mg per day).4
Selenium is a mineral that is not present in most fruits and vegetables, but can be found in chickpeas. It plays a role in liver enzyme function, and helps detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. Additionally, selenium prevents inflammation and also decreases tumor growth rates.2
Chickpeas also contain folate, which plays a role in DNA synthesis and repair, thus preventing the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA.2
Saponins, which are phytochemicals present in chickpeas, prevent cancer cells from multiplying and spreading throughout the body.1
High-fiber intakes from fruits and vegetables like chickpeas are associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
Vitamin C functions as a powerful antioxidant and helps protect cells against free radical damage.
Research shows that including chickpeas in the diet lowers the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.
Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in chickpeas that help with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.3
Digestion and regularity
Because of their high-fiber content, chickpeas help to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.
Lindsey Lee, RD, clinical dietitian with EatRight by UAB Weight Management Services, states:
"Most of the fiber in chickpeas is insoluble fiber, which is great for digestive health. Individuals who eat them typically have better blood sugar regulation since chickpeas are so high in fiber and protein."
Weight management and satiety
Dietary fibers are commonly recognized as important factors in weight management and loss by functioning as "bulking agents" in the digestive system. These compounds increase satiety and reduce appetite, making you feel fuller for longer and thereby lowering your overall calorie intake.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like chickpeas decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.
How to incorporate more chickpeas into your diet
Chickpeas are available year-round and are often found in grocery stores either dried and packaged or canned. They have a nutty flavor and buttery texture that allows them to be easily incorporated into any meal.
When preparing dried chickpeas, it is important to sort (pick out any small rocks or other debris that may have been wound up in the package), wash and soak them in water for about 8 to 10 hours before cooking in order to achieve optimum flavor and texture. You can tell they are finished soaking when you can split them easily between your fingers. Be careful not to soak them for more than 12 hours, otherwise they become mushy and bland-tasting. Soaking dried legumes reduces the amount of time needed to cook them, and also helps remove some of the oligosaccharides that cause gastrointestinal distress. Once they are finished soaking, chickpeas are best cooked by simmering for a few hours until tender.
Purée chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and tahini to make a quick and tasty hummus, which can be used as a dip or spread.
- Toss chickpeas and a variety of other legumes with any vinaigrette for an easy protein-packed bean salad. Add some rice to make it a complete protein
- Sprinkle some chickpeas over your salad to add a nutty flavor and to broaden the variety of textures
- Chickpea flour can add fiber, protein and an assortment of vitamins and minerals to gluten-free baking
- Purée chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and tahini to make a quick and tasty hummus, which can be used as a dip or spread
- Add chickpeas to vegetable soup to increase its nutritional content
- Mix chickpeas with your favorite spices for a delicious side or snack
- Mash chickpeas with cumin, garlic, chili and coriander, then separate the mixture into several small balls. Fry the balls until they are crisp and then serve them inside pita bread to create a traditional Middle Eastern falafel.
OR, try some of these healthy and delicious recipes using chickpeas:Skinny burgers
Easy tzatziki & Greek pita pockets
Berry spinach salad with maple cinnamon roasted chickpeas and balsamic dressing
Potential health risks of consuming chickpeas
Legumes contain oligosaccharides known as galactans - complex sugars that the body cannot digest because it lacks the enzyme alpha-galactosidase - which is needed to break them down. Because of this, the consumption of legumes such as chickpeas has been known to cause some people intestinal gas and discomfort. If you experience these symptoms associated with legume intake, you may consider slowly introducing them into your diet or taking any dietary supplements containing alpha-galactosidase. Another option is to drain the water used to soak dried legumes. This removes two oligosaccharides, raffinose and stachyose, and eliminates some of the digestive issues.
Beta-blockers, a type of medication, most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High-potassium foods such as chickpeas should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
High levels of potassium in the body can pose a serious risk to those with kidney damage or kidneys that are not fully functional. Damaged kidneys may be unable to filter excess potassium from the blood, which could be fatal.
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by Megan Ware RDN LD