Breaking scientific research now credits the humble chickpea with the ability to help prevent heart disease and reduce food cravings. According to a study published in the April 7th edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a single ¾-cup serving of chickpeas, lentils or beans a day lowers levels of harmful LDL cholesterol by as much as 5 percent, leading to a 5 to 6 percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers examined 26 clinical trials involving over 1,000 people to obtain the results, which confirmed what many natural food experts have known all along – chickpeas are a true ‘superfood’, possessing healing and life-prolonging capabilities.
Chickpeas, scientifically known as Cicer arietinum and also called garbanzo beans and “Egyptian peas,” have been consumed for at least 7,000 years. With a delicate, nutty flavor and a creamy consistency, chickpeas are a key ingredient in hummus and falafel, and a staple of Mediterranean and Asian diets – both acknowledged by dietitians to be healthier than the standard American diet.
Yet, consumers in the United States seem to find it difficult to warm up to chickpeas, as well as their close cousins: lentils, beans and peas. A mere half a serving per day is the average national intake – woefully inadequate when it comes to accessing all the health benefits of this amazing food.
Chickpeas appear to influence other food choices
In a study published in 2010 in Appetite, 42 volunteers consumed their normal diet for 4 weeks, then ate a chickpea-supplemented diet for 12 weeks, then returned to their habitual diet for 4 weeks more.
Researchers found that the volunteers consumed fewer processed foods – as well as less food overall – during the chickpea weeks. In addition, they reported feeling “fuller” – although they were eating less – and reported more satisfaction with their diet in general, along with improvements in bowel function.
The healthier food choices appeared to be automatic, with no conscious effort by the volunteers. It is almost as if the act of eating wholesome chickpeas creates an appetite for other healthy foods, while reducing cravings for “empty” calories and highly-processed fare. When the subjects stopped eating chickpeas, however, their consumption of processed foods increased.
Chickpeas have been shown to stabilize blood sugar
Chickpeas’ optimal amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals promote blood sugar control and improve insulin resistance. In fact, chickpeas are a low glycemic food – which assist in stabilizing blood sugar.
In a study published in 2007 in British Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that a diet supplemented with chickpeas reduced visceral fat and improved insulin resistance in rats with laboratory-induced obesity. They concluded that a chickpea-rich diet could help prevent the onset of diabetes.
Chickpeas improve thyroid and immune function
Just one cup of cooked chickpeas contains 14.53 grams of protein – almost twice as much as a cup of whole milk – and a whopping 12 grams of dietary fiber. The serving also provides 70 percent of the daily value of folate, or vitamin B-9 – essential to proper brain function and mental and emotional health.
In addition, there are sky-high levels – nearly triple the daily value – of the mineral molybdenum, which means that chickpeas can help offer protection against cancers of the stomach and esophagus. A cup of chickpeas also contains 40 percent of the daily value of phosphorus, vital for maintenance and repair of healthy bones and production of RNA and DNA, and 20 percent of zinc, an important antioxidant crucial for immune function and thyroid health.
High-protein, fiber-rich, low –fat plus salt, sugar and cholesterol-free, chickpeas – at a modest 268 calories a cup – offer perfectly balanced nutrition.
Reduce inflammation with superfood nutrition
Like other superfoods, chickpeas contain potent phytochemicals that scavenge free radicals, prevent oxidation of fat, and reduce the inflammation that is implicated in many chronic serious diseases, including cancer , heart disease and arthritis.
The chickpea’s outer seed coat is rich in the antioxidants quercetin, kaempferol and myricetin, while the cotyledon – a fancy way of saying the internal fleshy part of the chickpea – features antioxidant phenolic compounds, including caffeic, vanillic and ferulic acids.
Chickpeas’ 25 percent content of soluble fiber contributes cardio-protective effects, while their 75 percent content of insoluble fiber helps to ward off cancer. Just one word of caution: these healthful dietary fibers can cause digestive disturbances, including bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation. As your body becomes accustomed to a higher fiber intake, symptoms usually subside. Also, to prevent digestive upset, always chew well.
How do I select and prepare chickpeas?
Look for organic chickpeas, either dried or canned. Although light tan, “desi-type” chickpeas are more common in the United States, brown or black “kabuli-style” chickpeas are even richer in antioxidants; choose these whenever possible. Store dried chickpeas in an airtight container in a dark, dry, cool place. To prepare fresh chickpeas, simply soak them in water for at least four hours; rinse well and cook as you would any other bean.
Canned chickpeas, more convenient to prepare and use, retain most of their disease-fighting nutrients. Rinse them thoroughly for one minute before using, especially if the label shows salt or other additives.
You can puree chickpeas with olive oil, garlic, fresh lemon juice and tahini to make hummus; ramp up flavor even more by adding pine nuts, mint, parsley or roasted red peppers. Sprinkle chickpeas with your favorite spices and nibble them out of hand as a snack, stir them into pasta and rice dishes, casseroles and soups, or add them liberally to salads.
Tasty, inexpensive, and versatile, chickpeas are a truly wise dietary choice – and one that offers a veritable “jackpot” of nutrition and health.