The Protein in Chickpeas

Chickpeas? Garbanzo beans? The name you give to the small, round, light-brown legumes with a creamy, nutty texture simply depends on where you live. Although they originated in the Middle East, people around the world consume them more than any other legume, according to the University of Arizona. The nutritional benefits of chickpeas stem from the rich amount of protein they offer and also from their excellent fiber, mineral and vitamin content.

The protein in chickpeas is one of their many nutritional benefits. (Image: ToscaWhi/iStock/GettyImages)

Calories in Chickpeas

A serving of any cooked legume, including chickpeas, is a half-cup. Chickpeas you cook from dried legumes differ slightly in their nutritional content than those you buy in cans.

A serving of cooked-from-scratch chickpeas offers 135 calories, while the same amount from a can contains 105 calories. Those amounts equal 7 or 5 percent, respectively, of the DV for calories if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet.

When you puree chickpeas and combine them with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and a sesame paste called tahini, you create hummus. The serving size for this spread, usually eaten as a snack, is just 2 tablespoons and supplies 54 calories.

Protein in Chickpeas

Your body needs the macronutrient protein to build muscles and other tissues. Animal sources supply the largest amounts of protein, but they also contain saturated fat, which puts you at risk for heart disease if consumed in excess. The recommendation for protein is 46 grams daily for women and 56 for men; more active people or those needing to build muscle may require more, says Harvard Health Publishing.

Beans and legumes, including chickpeas, offer a good alternative source of protein, whether you're full-on vegetarian or simply trying to reduce your meat intake. A half-cup of cooked chickpeas gives you about 8 grams of protein, or 15 percent of the DV, while canned chickpeas offer slightly less, with about 6 grams. At the same time, these servings supply only a trace amount of saturated fat.

Hummus supplies protein, too, but much less — you'll get between 1 and 2 grams in a 2-tablespoon serving.

Incomplete Protein in Chickpeas

You may have heard the warning that most plant-based foods don't provide "complete" protein — that is, all the essential amino acids in one serving — like animal foods do. While quinoa and soybean foods do supply all the amino acids, chickpeas and other legumes do not.

Don't let this fact scare you out of embarking on meat-free days or a vegetarian or vegan diet. Complementary proteins are those that provide all the essential amino acids, for example, hummus and pita bread or black beans and rice.

Even though they taste good together, you don't necessarily have to eat these complementary foods at the same meal. By incorporating a variety of grains, nuts, beans, seeds and vegetables into your daily regimen, you'll be getting all the amino acids you need over the course of your day, although not in one sitting.

Fiber in Chickpeas

Beyond their protein, another benefit of chickpeas is their high fiber content. Fiber is an indigestible part of plant foods that passes through your digestive system relatively intact, keeping your bowel movements regular and sweeping away bacteria. Both of these functions may help prevent colon conditions like diverticular disease.

In just a serving of cooked chickpeas, you'll get 25 percent of the daily value (DV) for fiber, while canned chickpeas deliver 19 percent. Even a small serving of hummus contributes 4 percent of the DV for fiber to your diet.

Not only does fiber hold benefits for digestive health, but, according to Harvard Health Publishing, it may also help prevent metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high triglycerides and excess belly fat.

Metabolic syndrome puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease. Many Americans don't get enough fiber in their diets, so the addition of chickpeas along with other legumes and vegetables can help boost intake.

Chickpeas Nutrition and Weight Management

The dietary fiber and protein in chickpeas both contribute to an overall feeling of satiety. Foods high in protein or fiber take longer for the body to digest, and when you eat foods containing them, you experience greater fullness and a diminished desire to overeat. This, in turn, supports weight loss and management.

Animal foods may deliver lots of protein, but they don't contain the added benefit of fiber. The combination of these two satiating nutrients in chickpeas and other legumes makes them stand out in the fight against being overweight or obese.

Compared to people who don't partake of chickpeas and hummus, those who do are 53 percent less likely to be obese; 43 percent less likely to be overweight; and 48 percent less likely to have excess belly fat, according to an article published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences in 2014.

Lower body weight is associated with a decreased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, report the authors of a review published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2017.

Minerals in Chickpeas

The protein and fiber in chickpeas are just the start of their nutritional benefits. While canned chickpeas and hummus offer small amounts of minerals, cooking chickpeas from dried legumes affords you a wealth of these micronutrients.

Of particular note, in a serving of cooked chickpeas you'll get 13 percent of the DV for iron, a trace mineral needed to transport oxygen through the bloodstream. For your body to absorb iron, you need to eat foods containing it along with vitamin C. Pairing chickpeas with tomatoes, bell peppers or lemon juice fills the bill.

Cooked chickpeas supply rich amounts of other minerals too, like 11 percent of the DV for phosphorus, 12 percent for zinc, 32 percent for copper and 37 percent for manganese. Phosphorus builds healthy bones and teeth, while zinc supports your sense of taste and helps with wound healing. Copper and manganese comprise many enzymes in the body.

Chickpeas and Folate

Chickpeas contain a variety of vitamins, but these legumes are best known for contributing an excellent amount of folate to your diet. In a half-cup of cooked chickpeas, you'll get 36 percent of the DV for this nutrient; in a serving of canned, the amount goes down to 8 percent. Two tablespoons of hummus contain 4 percent of the DV.

The body uses folate, one of the B vitamins, for making DNA and for cell division. Because of its role in manufacturing genetic material, folate is an especially important nutrient for women and girls of childbearing age; a deficiency can cause fetal birth defects.

Chickpeas Nutrition and Overall Health

Consumption of chickpeas and hummus has links to good health in general, according to the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences article. The authors examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2003-2010, and determined that individuals who ate any daily amount of chickpeas or hummus had better overall diet quality, with a higher nutrient content, than those who didn't.

In addition to having better weight management and lower body mass indexes, those who ate chickpeas or hummus daily enjoyed lower blood cholesterol levels and were 51 percent less likely to have elevated glucose than those who didn't consume these foods. That's good news for those with Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

An article published in the journal Nutrients in 2016 found that hummus has far greater nutritional value than other snack foods. The authors ranked hummus as having the highest nutrient-to-calorie ratio of all the most popular dips and spreads, including salsa, peanut butter and even other bean dips. If you're trying to lose or maintain your weight, you'll get the biggest nutritional bang for your calories when choosing hummus as your snack.

Prepare Dried Chickpeas

Cooking chickpeas from dried legumes offers the most nutritional benefits, but it's also more time consuming than opening a can. You can boil or pressure-cook chickpeas to have them on hand for meals and snacks.

If boiling, cover each cup of dried chickpeas with 4 cups of cold water. Soak the beans overnight; then drain and add fresh water. Bring the water and chickpeas to a boil; then lower the heat and simmer until the beans soften. This takes roughly 90 minutes. Drain again and then incorporate the cooked chickpeas into a variety of cold and hot dishes.

Ways to Enjoy Chickpeas

Chickpeas are delicious served cold in salads. Try mixing them with feta or goat cheese, red onion, olive oil, rice vinegar, cumin and turmeric for lunch or serve the mixture on greens with pita bread for a light dinner.

The texture of chickpeas holds up well in vegetarian burgers. Puree with onion, chili powder and a little vegetable broth, then add rolled oats to hold it all together. Bake the burgers and serve on a whole-wheat bun with tahini dressing or a slice of sharp cheddar cheese.

These beans add protein to hearty vegetarian dishes, like minestrone, and they pair well in soups containing sweet potato and kale. Go for an Indian flavor by making chana masala, a dish that combines chickpeas with tomatoes, onions and curry spices and is served over rice.

For another meal, puree chickpeas with garlic and onion to make chickpea fritters called falafel. Falafel is usually deep fried, so for a healthier version, brush the fritters with olive oil and bake them in the oven. Serve them on greens or couscous or in whole-wheat pita rounds with tomatoes, lettuce and a yogurt-cucumber sauce.

You can make your own hummus in a snap and control the ingredients. Using garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and tahini makes a standard hummus. You can also puree the beans with flavorings like red pepper flakes, parsley, crushed garlic or even cooked beets or spinach. Commercially made hummus may be more convenient, but don't forget to check the label to avoid brands that contain too much sodium or other unwanted additives.

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