Chickpeas may not look like it, but they deliver quite a few health benefits, including the ability to promote growth, protect the heart, improve digestion, build strong bones, prevent chronic disease, lower risk of genetic diseases, avoid diabetes, and help with weight loss.
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What are Chickpeas?
When it comes to legumes, few are as famous around the world as the chickpea, which goes by many other names, including garbanzo bean, Bengal gram or Egyptian pea, depending on where you’re eating them. These small, pale-brown beans have been in active cultivation for the better part of 7,000 years, making them the oldest and most relied upon legumes on the planet. Although there are roughly 90 identified species of chickpea, many of them share an impressive nutrient profile, which has made them such an essential crop in certain regions for centuries or even millennia. In fact, chickpeas are crucial parts of some region’s cuisine, such as in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, where hummus can be found on almost any menu. More specifically, the main ingredient in hummus is chickpea. From Burma and the Philippines to Mexico and Portugal, chickpeas have become a legendary component of human cuisine and nutrition, from soups and salads to dips and side dishes.
The reason chickpeas have withstood the test of time as a foodstuff is its condensed nutritional supply and the ease with which chickpeas can be grown, even in harsh conditions. Providing protein, dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, folate, phosphorous and a number of essential vitamins, along with a rich blend of antioxidants and active components, chickpeas are a powerhouse of healthy eating. Chickpeas are also simple to cook, requiring only about 10 minutes of boiling until they are soft and ready to eat.
Health Benefits of Chickpeas
Before you start licking your lips for some pita and hummus, let’s dig into the health benefits of chickpeas.
Arguably the most significant aspect of chickpeas is the high protein content, making it an ideal option for vegetarians who want to ensure they have proper nutrient intake. However, chickpeas are not “complete” proteins, meaning that they should not be relied on as a sole source of proteins. That being said, chickpeas are an important source of the proteins needed for growth and development, as well as proper healing and repair throughout the body.
There are a number of antioxidant compounds that can be found in chickpeas, including polyphenols, phytonutrients, beta-carotene and key vitamins, which can reduce oxidative stress in the body and prevent chronic disease. Antioxidants seek out free radicals, the dangerous byproducts of cellular metabolism, which can cause healthy cells to mutate. These antioxidants can help protect the body from cancer, coronary heart disease, macular degeneration, and even cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Digestion is the starting point for health in the human body, so ensuring that your gastrointestinal system is working properly is key. The high levels of dietary fiber found in chickpeas can help to bulk up your stool content and keep your bowel movements regular, while also eliminating inflammation, cramping, bloating and constipation. This can also improve nutrient digestion and ensure that you’re getting all of the nutritional value from your food.
Blood sugar management is important for everyone, not only those who are suffering from diabetes, and chickpeas has shown a strong ability to regulate blood sugar levels through the optimization of digestion. This is believed to come directly from the soluble fiber levels found in chickpeas, in addition to a solid and balanced nutrient profile. By ensuring that our body maintains normal levels of insulin and blood sugar, chickpeas can prevent the development of diabetes and help people manage the condition.
The high density of nutrients, combined with the dietary fiber content of chickpeas, makes the perfect for people trying to lose weight. The fiber helps the body feel satiated and full for longer, by interacting with ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and partially inhibiting its release. The blend of nutrients and minerals also keeps the body energized and active, preventing fatigue and between-meal snacking. This make chickpeas great for reducing caloric intake overall, because you simply don’t feel hungry, despite the 270 calories per cup of chickpeas.
The concentrated minerals found in garbanzo beans, including iron, phosphorous, magnesium, copper and zinc mean that these beans are exceptionally good for bone health. Many of those minerals are essential when trying to improve bone mineral density and prevent age-related conditions like osteoporosis.
Reduced Genetic Defects
Folate is an important B vitamin for many different reasons, but it is most often associated with the potential benefits it can have for women. Low folate levels are closely associated with neural tube defects and other complications with the birth of children, so adding folate-rich chickpeas to your diet, particularly during pregnancy, is a delicious way to ensure your baby’s healthy delivery.
Our cardiovascular health gets a boost in two different ways from garbanzo beans; first of all, the high levels of soluble fiber help to scrap cholesterol and rebalance those levels in our heart, thus preventing atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. Furthermore, the only fats that are found in garbanzo beans are omega-3 fatty acids, which are the beneficial polyunsaturated fats that our bodies require. This further protects the heart and helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Word of Warning: While the majority of chickpea benefits are wonderful, they do possess compounds called purines, which can be broken down by the body into uric acid. If you suffer from kidney stones, gall stones, or gout, you may want to avoid the consumption of chickpeas, as they could exacerbate the conditions if consumed in large enough quantities.