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Hummus: How Healthy Is It?

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WebMD Expert Column

“Pureed chickpeas” may not sound that appetizing. But a traditional Middle Eastern spread, hummus, based on exactly that, has become a hot food trend.

You can find pre-made hummus -- typically made from pureed chickpeas, lemon juice or vinegar, garlic, tahini (sesame seed butter), and olive oil -- in any grocery store and in restaurants across the country. It's also easy to make at home.

Hummus has virtually taken over the “refrigerated flavored spreads” category, which enjoyed sales of more than $300 million in 2009, according to data from Symphony IRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

It's a case of "something old is new again." Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are one of the world's oldest cultivated foods, dating back to the Neolithic period in what is now Sicily, according to The Food Encyclopedia. During the Roman Empire, chickpeas were shipped in jars from Sicily to the rest of Italy. But the Middle Eastern region is thought to have created hummus hundreds of years ago by combining pureed chickpeas with lemon juice or vinegar, tahini (sesame seed butter), garlic, and olive oil. 

Whether you're new to hummus or a longtime fan, here's what you'll get if you home in on hummus.

How Healthy is Hummus?

Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are rich in fiber and protein. They also contain vitamins and minerals such as folic acid (chickpeas tend to be higher in folic acid than other beans), zinc, and magnesium.

Beans in general have been linked to various health benefits, such as lower blood cholesterol. They may also help prevent cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, early lab tests show that three compounds in beans (saponins, protease inhibitors, and phytic acid) may help defend cells from the type of genetic damage that can lead to cancer.

Hummus also traditionally features tahini (sesame seed butter), which contributes some additional protein (3 grams per tablespoon) and fiber (0.7 gram per tablespoon) along with monounsaturated fat (3 grams per tablespoon). Chickpeas and tahini both contribute fair amounts of calcium and iron, as well.

10 Helpful Hummus Tips

Here are 10 ways to add hummus to your diet.

1. Hummus serves as a super spread on sandwiches and wraps. Try it instead of mayonnaise. You'll get more flavor with less fat.

2. Hummus turns into a tasty dressing. Blend some hummus with broth, water, or wine until you get your desired drizzling consistency to make a dressing for cold pasta salads.

3. Hummus serves as a great dip with raw veggies. Fill a serving bowl with the hummus of your choosing and surround the bowl with assorted raw vegetables such as sugar snap peas, sliced cucumber or zucchini, grape or cherry tomatoes, and broccoli or cauliflower florets.

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