Used for centuries as a dietary staple throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, and India, the humble chickpea is becoming increasingly popular these days throughout Europe and North America.
Hailed as a superfood, this tiny legume is a true nutritional powerhouse that can benefit your waistline, skin, brain, and long-term health.
Practically speaking, it’s a very budget-friendly, easy to prepare food that can be used in a wide variety of recipes, both savory and sweet.
I’ll give you some tips about how you can incorporate more of this wonder food in your diet later. But first, let’s take a look at some of the good things chickpeas contain and what these do to keep you fit and well.
Chock Full Of Protein
Chickpeas are chock-full of protein, with an amazing 15 grams of protein per 1 cup serving. For comparison, a hard-boiled egg has just over 6 grams of protein.
Particularly for vegetarians, vegans, and those who follow a gluten-free diet, chickpeas are often a go-to source for meeting protein needs. Protein provides energy and keeps you feeling full for a longer period of time than carbohydrates do.
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More importantly, protein repairs damage to cells and used to rebuild them. And, it is used by your body to manufacture certain necessary hormones, enzymes, and even hemoglobin, which transports oxygen around your body.
It’s recommended that men get 56 grams of protein daily and that women get 46. Though these numbers may seem out of reach, eating chickpeas makes them easy to meet.
High Fiber Food
Chickpeas are a high-fiber food, with 1 cup of cooked chickpeas containing 12.5 grams of dietary fiber. Found in all plant-based foods, fiber is not digested by your body but passes through your digestive tract instead.
Fiber can be either soluble (able to dissolve in water) or insoluble (doesn’t dissolve in water), and chickpeas contain both of these types. Both forms of fiber have special health benefits.
Soluble fiber can help reduce cholesterol levels because it binds to cholesterol and carries it out of your body. Lower cholesterol numbers can reduce your risk for heart disease.
Exciting recent studies have shown that high-fiber diets can even reduce your risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer and colon cancer.
Fiber also reduces your blood glucose, which can prevent diabetes. If you already have diabetes, it still works to lower your glucose, which may allow you to take fewer diabetes medications and could prevent you from having to take insulin.
Your waistline may get smaller with regular fiber intake from foods like chickpeas, too. Just like protein, fiber acts to fill you up and keep you full, so you won’t have as many hunger pangs or cravings, making it easy to stick to your healthy-eating plan.
Loaded With Minerals
Chickpeas are loaded with many minerals, including some that are difficult to get elsewhere.
Potassium helps to reduce blood pressure numbers and stroke risk. It’s also important for strengthening bones and keeping your reflexes quick.
It regulates muscle contraction and relaxation, so having sufficient magnesium can help lower the number of cramps you may get. It helps regulate metabolism, too.
In terms of mental health, potassium keeps your mind and memory sharp, and having the right levels can help lower your anxiety and stress.
Iron & Folate
Chickpeas have an abundance of iron, which is crucial in fighting fatigue and keeping your energy levels high.
Having enough iron also ensures you won’t get anemia. It’s especially important for women to get sufficient iron, as some is lost due to menstruation.
Folate is another mineral that’s particularly vital for women of childbearing age, as it helps prevent birth defects like spina bifida.
Consuming just one cup of cooked chickpeas will meet 70% of the government’s recommended daily folate allowance for women.
Magnesium & Calcium
Both magnesium and calcium play important roles in maintaining bone density, preventing osteoporosis and lessening the risk of breaking bones due to a fall. Taken together, they may help reduce cramps, just like potassium.
Selenium & Manganese
Selenium is one of those minerals that’s hard to find, since most foods contain very little of it, if they have it at all. Luckily, chickpeas contain quite a bit of it.
Some studies have shown that it can help cancer tumors, specifically liver tumors. It alters liver enzyme production, which helps to reduce inflammation caused by the tumor and makes it grow at a slower rate.
Manganese is also a rare, trace mineral that most foods lack, though chickpeas have it. It’s integral for formation of connective tissues, regulation of metabolism, maintenance of bone density, and proper function of the thyroid gland.
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Vitamins: Choline & Vitamin C
Just recently classified as a vitamin, choline is part of the B-complex family of vitamins. It reduces inflammation throughout the body, which is important, as inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Important for optimal brain health, choline also regulates the transport of fats throughout the body.
Chickpeas are a good source for the well-known vitamin C. It’s thought to be helpful in treating upper respiratory infections (colds), and plays an important role in keeping the immune system strong.
Some studies have found that it reduces the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It may even help in reducing the risk of both lung and colon cancers.
Adding Chickpeas To Your Diet
Now that we’ve examined just how much this little legume can do for your health, here are some tasty ways to incorporate more chickpeas in your diet.
First, it’s important to know what kind of chickpeas to buy.
For the most budget-friendly, delicious, and long-lasting choice, I recommend buying dried chickpeas, not canned ones.
They provide a nicer, softer texture than canned varieties, which can be quite hard.
A 2-lb bag of organic dried chickpeas costs around $2.50, and can feed at least 8 people comfortably, working out to be much cheaper in the long-run than canned beans.
To make them, just soak them overnight in water, and they’ll be ready to use in recipes the next day. If you end up not using them the next day or day after, you can freeze them in a plastic bag for around 3 months and use them whenever you’re ready.
There are lots of simple, savory recipes you can make with this versatile ingredient. It works well in Middle Eastern dishes like falafel and hummus or in Indian meals like curry.
As a sandwich spread, it also offers a great vegan alternative to egg salad… just mash up some chickpeas or blend them with a hand blender for a few minutes and add some carrots and celery.
Believe it or not, it’s also great as a sweet option. The water you soak the chickpeas in can be saved and used to make vegan meringues!
I hope this guide to the chickpea encourages you to eat this ancient-but-new superstar legume more often.