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Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans or gram, were originally cultivated in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Most of us are familiar with the type of chickpea that is round and beige colored, but there are other varieties that are green or black. Like most legumes, chickpeas have a high protein and fiber content and contain several key vitamins and minerals.

Why You Should Eat Chickpeas

Roughly 70 percent of the fiber in chickpeas is insoluble fiber. That means it remains undigested until it reaches your colon. Once in the colon, the bacteria can metabolize the fiber to produce short chain fatty acids that provide fuel to the cells that line your intestinal wall.

If you suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) [1] you’ll be glad to hear that the fiber in chickpeas is well tolerated even with your condition.

Canned vs Home Cooked Chickpeas

Although home-cooked chickpeas are a bit more nutritious, there isn’t a big difference in the nutritional value. I personally find home cooked chickpeas to be much better, but that’s a personal preference.

Whether you buy them canned or dry, make sure you rinse your chickpeas really well several times.

Nutritional Content of Chickpeas

Nutritional Content of One Cup of Cooked Chickpeas

Calories Carbohydrates Protein Fat Fiber Cholesterol
269 45 15 4 13 0

 

Chickpeas contain vitamin K, folate, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, choline and selenium. They are a gluten-free source of protein and fiber and contain high levels of iron, vitamin B-6 and magnesium.

Chickpeas Are High-Quality Protein

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Because some amino acids cannot be made in the body they must be consumed in the diet. These are called ‘essential amino acids.’

Most non-animal sources of protein like chickpeas are not a complete protein because they lack the essential amino acid methionine.  You can get a complete protein that contains all the amino acids from your chickpeas by eating them with whole grains like brown rice, whole-wheat bread or pasta.

Health Benefits of Chickpeas

Here are a few reasons why you should eat chickpeas:

 

  • Lowers Blood Sugar Levels: high fiber diets lower blood glucose levels.
  • Bone health: the high mineral and vitamin content in chickpeas contributes to building and maintaining bone structure and strength.
  • Blood pressure: potassium lowers blood pressure due to its vasodilation effects. Less than 2% of US adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation. [2]
  • Good for the heart: fiber, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B-6 all support heart health.
  • Protect Against Cancer: folate, saponins and selenium all offer protection against cancer.
  • Improve Cholesterol: chickpeas lower the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood[3]
  • Inflammation: choline helps in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.
  • Prevents Constipation: high-fiber content promotes regularity and a healthy digestive tract.

 

Using Chickpeas in Your Meals

You can buy chickpeas year-round in cans or packaged. They have a nutty flavor and a buttery texture that goes well with many dishes.

I prefer to buy dry chickpeas. You should quickly sort through them and pick out debris and any peas that look damaged. Your peas then need to be soaked in water for 4 to 12 hours and it is best if you change the water part-way through.

Soaking dried legumes reduces the amount of time needed to cook them and it helps remove some of the oligosaccharides that cause gastrointestinal problems.

Once they’ve finished soaking, drain off the water and rinse them once more before cooking. All you need to do is to simmer them on low heat for 1.5 to 2 hours. After about one hour of cooking, start checking them occasionally until you can pinch the skin off easily and mash them with very little pressure.

I’ve read several recipes that suggest you take the time to peel each and every chickpea to remove the outer shell. The purists do this claiming it’s the only way to get really smooth humus.

I don’t want to take your fun away if you enjoy doing that sort of thing, but all you need is a really good food processor to make the smoothest hummus possible, even with the outer shell intact. Besides, many of the antioxidants present in chickpeas are concentrated in the outer seed coat!

 

Eating Suggestions:

 

  • Bean Salad: Toss chickpeas and other legumes with a vinaigrette. Add rice to make it a complete protein.
  • Hummus: Purée chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and tahini to make a quick and tasty hummus that you can use as a dip or spread.
  • Soups: Add chickpeas to vegetable soup to increase the nutritional content.
  • Pasta Salad: Make a Middle Eastern-inspired pasta dish by adding chickpeas to penne mixed with olive oil, feta cheese and fresh oregano.
  • Falafel: Make a Middle Eastern falafel by mashing chickpeas with cumin, garlic, chili and coriander. Make small balls and fry them until crisp and serve in pita bread.

[1] (Functional fibers – research shows they provide health benefits similar to intact fibers in whole foods, Brown-Riggs MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN, Today’s Dietitian, V)

[2] ( Increasing dietary potassium – find out why most people need to consume more of this mineral, Antinoro RD, JD, LDN, Linda, Today’s Dietitian, Vol. 14 No. 12 P. 50, Accessed 9 July 2014.)

[3]  (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17191025 )