Chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L.) are a type of legume in the same family as kidney beans and peanuts. They're also called garbanzo beans. They have a buttery, nutty flavor and creamy texture. In the U.S., we often see the Kabuli variety, which are tan, round, and slightly larger than a pea. In the Middle East and India, the Desi variety is more common. These are smaller, darker, and less round than Kabuli chickpeas.
The earliest known use dates back to 3500 BC in Turkey and 6970 BC in France. Today they’re grown in more than 50 countries. India produces more chickpeas than any other country in the world.
The nutritional benefits may be different for canned and dried cooked chickpeas. One serving, or one cup, has:
- About 269 calories
- About 4 grams of fat
- 34 to 45 grams of carbohydrates (canned chickpeas are on the lower end)
- 9 to 12 grams of fiber (dried cooked chickpeas are on the higher end)
- 6 to 7 grams of sugar
- 10 to 15 grams of protein (dried cooked chickpeas have more protein)
For vitamins and nutrients, one cup of chickpeas has:
- About 6% to 8% of your daily requirement of calcium
- About 40% of your daily requirement of fiber
- About 22% of your daily requirement of iron (for dried cooked chickpeas; 8% for canned)
- About 70% of your daily requirement of folate, or folic acid (for dried chickpeas; 15% for canned)
- About 39% of your daily requirement of phosphorus (for dried chickpeas; 17% for canned)
What Chickpeas Can Do for You
They help control blood sugar. Both canned and dried chickpeas have a low glycemic index. This means that your body absorbs and digests them slowly. Also, they have a type of starch that digests slowly, called amylose. Both of these things help keep your blood sugar and insulin from going up too fast. This is good for people with diabetes.
They help with digestion. Chickpeas are high in dietary fiber, especially a soluble fiber called raffinose. The good bacteria in your gut breaks this down so your colon can digest it slowly. Studies have found that eating more chickpeas can help make bowel movements easier and more regular.
They can help lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber is good for more than gut health. It can lessen your total cholesterol and your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This lowers your risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that you can lessen your total cholesterol if you add chickpeas to your diet.
They may lower your cancer risk. When you eat chickpeas, your body makes a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. In studies, butyrate helps get rid of sick and dying cells. This may lower your risk for colorectal cancer. Chickpeas have other cancer-fighting compounds, too, such as lycopene and saponins.
When to Avoid Eating Chickpeas
There are two health concerns to know about canned chickpeas.
1. Saponins have some risks. Saponins are natural chemical compounds found in all legumes. They make the foam in the liquid from canned chickpeas, called aquafaba. That foam is why you can find them in natural cleaning products, such as liquid soap or toothpaste.
Saponins have some health benefits. They have anti-cancer properties. Studies also link them to possible positive effects on obesity and diabetes.
But they may have some risks, too. Plants with saponins can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea in some animals. Studies say that they can cause reproductive issues in female mice, including damaged ovaries. And they're toxic to fish and cold-blooded animals, such as snails.
Saponins are not toxic to humans, but some people say we need more studies to confirm this.
2. Canned foods may contain BPA. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical found in the coating on the inside of food cans. Studies have shown that it can leak into your food.
The FDA says it's safe at the low levels found in canned foods. But research has shown BPA can harm your health. Studies have linked it to:
- Male and female infertility
- Brain development problems in fetuses, babies, and children
- Behavior issues in children
- Breast and prostate cancer
- Metabolic disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome
- High blood pressure
To stay away from BPA, look for canned chickpeas that say “BPA-free” on the label. Also, drain and rinse canned chickpeas under running water before you eat them to wash off any residue.
How to Prepare and Eat Chickpeas
You can buy them dried in a bag like beans and then soak them in water and boil them. Or you can buy them canned. Either way, they’re delicious and nutritious.
- Hummus: Chickpeas are the main ingredient in hummus, a delicious dip that also calls for tahini, lemon juice, and garlic.
- Soups and salads: Toss whole chickpeas onto any salad, soup, or stew.
- As a snack: Spread a layer of chickpeas on a baking sheet. Add your favorite seasonings and roast them until they’re golden and crunchy.
- Vegan cooking: Vegans love aquafaba, the liquid from canned chickpeas. It has similar properties to egg whites, and you can use it as an egg substitute.