The many health benefits of chickpeas should come as no surprise. For over 8,000 years chickpeas have appeared in cuisines spanning all cultures. As a food, chickpeas or chick peas (Cicer arietinum) are ancient, and they contain lots of proteins, minerals and trace elements. They are rich in B vitamins and fiber, making them a perfect choice for vegans, and anyone focused on good health and weight loss.
The chickpea came to Europe, first by way of Asian Minor, then India, and the Mediterranean on merchant ships in the early Middle Ages. This food has remained popular today, in part, because its buttery nut-like taste blends harmoniously into many dishes, adding an exotic note of flavor.
The best-known culinary dishes using chickpeas include hummus (pureed chickpea puree), falafel (fried chickpea balls) or curry combinations. Chickpeas serve as a staple food in many parts of the world, including Mexico and India, where they are appreciated for the combination of nutrients and availability at a low price.
Benefits of Chickpeas and Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen (1098 to 1179) referenced chickpeas extensively in her writings. She recognized chickpeas as an important part of a medieval diet and valued their positive contributions to the entire body, particularly for fevers.
The following appears about chickpeas in Hildegard’s writings.
“The chickpea is warm and pleasant and easy to eat, and it does not increase the bad juices of those who eat it. For those with fever, fry chickpeas over fresh coals and eat them and he shall be healed.” Hildegard of Bingen
Chickpeas widely recognized for healthy nutrition
Beyond just Hildegard’s nutritional treatment, modern science also supports the health-promoting properties of chickpeas. All major health organizations recommend regular consumption of chickpeas in a balanced diet.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, chickpeas rank among foods that prevent disease and improve health. The German Vegetarian Association and the Swiss Society for Nutrition also promote the weekly consumption of at least one to two portions of chickpeas.
Dietary guidelines for Americans promote high consumption of chickpeas. They recommend 3 cups per person, per week, which corresponds to about 600 grams of cooked chickpeas per week.
The results of many studies support even larger quantities, namely 200-400 grams of cooked chickpeas per day. Increased consumption of chickpeas contributes to stable health and an enhanced performance.
Why are Chickpeas Healthy?
The nutritional benefits of chickpeas include the following for one serving of boiled chickpeas (approx. 165 g).
- 70 percent of the daily folic acid requirement
- 65 percent of the daily copper requirement
- 50 percent of the daily dietary fiber requirement
- 25 percent of the daily iron requirement
- 20 percent of daily zinc requirements
All of these virtues combine with a low glycemic index (GI) and moderate calorie intake.
Chickpeas for Healthy Digestion
Chickpeas have a positive effect on digestion and intestinal health due to their high fiber content. Two thirds of chickpea dietary fibers are insoluble. As a result, they pass through the digestive tract unchanged until they reach the large intestine. On their way, they stimulate intestinal peristalsis, clean the intestines, and maintain a healthy intestinal environment.
In the last bowel section, the bacteria of the large intestine partially break down the indigestible fibers into short-chain fatty acids, such as acetic acid, propionic acid and butyric acid. These short-chain fatty acids get absorbed by the cells of the colon wall and used as a source of energy.
The dietary fibers of chickpeas contribute to keeping the intestinal mucosa healthy, which in turn reduces the risk of colon problems, including cancer. Chickpeas also contain antioxidants known to prevent cancer.
Anti-oxidant Effect of Chickpeas
Most of the systems in our bodies are susceptible to oxidative stress and damage caused by reactive oxygen molecules. Our cardiovascular system, lungs and our nervous system are first and foremost affected.
Whereas chickpeas provide only small amounts of known antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene, the chickpea contains secondary plant substances with high antioxidant potential. These include the flavonoids quercetin, kaempferol and myricetin as well as various phenolic acids. Combined they constitute an important component in protecting the body from attacks by free radicals and reactive oxygen compounds.
Chickpeas also contain relatively large amounts of manganese – a trace element found in the energy-producing mitochondria of most cells and involved in energy production. Manganese is also an important component of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes. A single serving of chickpeas covers 85 percent of the daily manganese requirement.
Improved knowledge about the anti-oxidative effects of chickpeas has contributed to more studies, which could show in detail that the consumption of chickpeas reduces among other things the risk of heart diseases. Antioxidants keep blood vessels elastic and improve blood flow, and chickpeas can add to that.
Chickpeas Improve Heart and Cardiovascular Health
Chickpeas – consumed regularly – also lower blood lipid levels. If you want to improve your blood lipid levels and improve your heart and vascular health, consider chickpeas. They counteract arteriosclerotic changes in several ways and thereby reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease. The high saponin content of the chickpea (50 mg per kilogram of chickpeas) contributes to the blood lipid-lowering effect.
Saponins connect with cholesterol molecules of food to form an insoluble complex so they cannot enter the bloodstream via the intestine. In addition, saponins bind bile acids to themselves, so that the liver has to make use of the body’s cholesterol reservoirs to form new bile acids, lowering cholesterol levels. Moreover the extremely swellable dietary fibers of chickpeas also help to lower cholesterol levels.
Much like the saponins, the dietary fibers bind to the fats in the digestive tract so that they do not get into the blood, but are simply excreted. Research shows that 150 gram cooked chickpeas per day can help to lower the LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol“).
Chickpeas also regulate the blood sugar level because of their high dietary fiber and protein content. These factors appeal to diabetics and people with incipient insulin resistance.
Chickpeas – Good for Diabetes
Studies also show that chickpeas contribute both to a healthier pancreatic function (increased insulin release) and to a reduction in insulin resistance.
This effect benefits not only those who suffer from diabetes, but all who frequently cope with blood sugar fluctuations or hunger attacks. Finally, it works for people who want to lose weight. After all, losing weight gets easier with fewer hunger attacks and a more balanced blood sugar.
Appetite control and weight loss with chickpeas
Chickpeas do a great job saturating and expanding. Participants in a recent study ate significantly less between meals and consumed fewer calories per day, after eating chickpeas. The respondents reported a higher degree of saturation, leading to reduced appetite and reducing the likelihood of snacks between meals.
Since chickpeas are low in calories (100 g cooked chickpeas have only 120 kcal), they also help support people who have not yet reached their desired weight.
Just one portion of cooked chickpeas (approx. 220 g) provides 20 grams of protein. This easily competes with typical animal protein sources. For comparison, 100 grams of chicken breast fillet contains 16 grams of protein, 100 grams of pork fillet 23 grams and 100 grams of beef fillet 19 grams of protein.
Voila, a healthy alternative to the usual side dishes of potatoes and noodles. And, this option contains fewer carbohydrates, while still making you feel full.
How to Cook Chickpeas – The Basic Recipe
After thorough washing and cleaning, soak chickpeas for at least 4 hours in water. Then cook for 60 minutes. Cook peeled chickpeas for 60 minutes without first soaking. Soak black chickpeas in water for at least 12 hours, and cook for 90 minutes. The longer chickpeas soak in water, the less cooking time they require.
Try our chickpea salad recipe which is a cinch to prepare.