A staple of Middle Eastern diets, as well as a popular hors d'oeuvre around the world, hummus can be either a boon or a bust to your own diet. A garbanzo bean-based paste, it's easy to incorporate it into your meal plan. For example, you can use it as a dip, an addition to sandwiches, or even use it to stuff your chicken breasts. Whether it's fattening or not depends on the ingredients, how you use it, how much you consume and how often you consume it.
Classic hummus is a mixture of garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, but it's not uncommon to add toppings ranging from roasted red pepper to olive tapenade to it. Commercially prepared hummus has about 25 calories and 1.4 grams of fat per tablespoon. So far, it looks like a healthy snack that could easily fit into a balanced diet -- until you realize that some individuals pile a tablespoon of hummus onto each chip they dip, and then go back and do it again and again. Only four dips in this fashion will give you 100 calories, not to mention the calories in the chips themselves. Make this a habit, and the pounds will creep on unless you compensate elsewhere in your diet.
Making your own hummus at home allows you to customize the ingredients to reduce calories as low as you like. If this your goal, tahini is the first thing to skip -- as long as the other seasonings are strong, you probably won't notice any taste difference. A typical hummus recipe calls for about 3 tablespoons of tahini -- and skipping it eliminates 267 calories and 24 grams of fat. Garlic, lemon juice and spices are so low in calories that you don't even have to consider them. You can't skip the garbanzo beans, or you would end up with salad dressing instead of hummus. One cup of drained, canned garbanzo beans contains about 210 calories and 3.75 grams of fat. So the only remaining ingredient is olive oil, which is used primarily for texture. At 119 calories and 13.5 grams of fat per tablespoon, reducing the amount you use can help lighten the dip. You can also eliminate it entirely and use water to thin the bean paste.
Hummus is often used as a dip for flatbread and pita, but it also goes well with raw veggies like carrots, celery and broccoli. Using veggies instead of starchy breads means you only have to worry about the calories from the hummus itself. Avoid fried chips and crackers, which have a higher fat content as well as more calories than baked varieties. Hummus also makes an exotic sandwich topping, and because you're only topping your sandwich with it, you are less likely to consume more than a single 2-tablespoon serving.
Of course, even the highest-calorie hummus can fit into the healthiest diet with the right planning, while even the lowest-calorie hummus can pile on the pounds if you eat too much. Don't consider hummus a "free" food just because you eat it with vegetables. Plan it into your diet for the day, and compensate for the calories it adds to your meal plan by cutting out another food. Keep portion sizes in mind. If you are snacking alone, spoon out a serving onto a plate and put the rest of the hummus away so you won't be tempted to munch mindlessly. If you're at a party, dip your carrot stick and move on -- don't stand around the hummus to avoid the temptation to dip some more. Hummus can be a healthy snack if you control your portion size.