The chickpea, scientific name Cicer arietinum, is a plant of the Fabaceae family, whose seeds are the second most consumed legume in the world, chickpeas indeed! Cultivated in more than 50 countries, we can find chickpeas in every supermarket, in dried form or even already cooked, in cans or glass jars, ready to enrich soups, sauces or even side dishes and salads. But chickpeas can also be processed into a flour to make batters, baked goods and the delicious farinata. When we bring these mouth-watering dishes to the table, however, we are not only preparing ourselves to enjoy real specialties, but also foods packed with healthy properties. Today let's try to understand the health benefits of chickpeas.
Chickpeas provide vitamins, including A, C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B9, and minerals, such as iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and calcium (Koul et al, Plants, 2022). Chickpeas contain beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants, have no cholesterol, while they contain fiber, unsaturated fatty acids and proteins, the latter in higher quantities than other legumes (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016). Chickpeas provide essential amino acids but are deficient in methionine and cysteine. This deficiency is overcome by serving chickpeas together with whole grains, as in pasta and chickpeas. In fact, chickpeas and pasta together are able to offer the body all the essential amino acids, becoming a very balanced dish (Koul et al, Plants, 2022).
Chickpeas and blood sugar
Chickpeas have a low glycemic index and help keep postprandial blood sugar under control, especially when consumed together with foods with a high glycemic index, since they help slow down the absorption of carbohydrates. In fact, studies have shown that consuming chickpea hummus, which is pureed chickpeas seasoned with oil and spices, together with carbohydrates, in particular 25 grams of white bread, made it possible to reduce postprandial blood sugar levels compared to those who had only consumed bread. (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016). In general, chickpea consumption has been shown to improve insulin resistance and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016).
Chickpeas and the heart
Chickpeas, included in a healthy and balanced diet, also help protect the heart. In fact, including chickpeas in one's diet made it possible, in 5 months, to reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol in people with a high cardiovascular risk (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016).
Chickpeas and cellular degeneration
Chickpeas support the gut microbiota and stimulate the latter's production of butyrate, which is a short-chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor action, capable of inhibiting the proliferation of diseased cells especially in colon level (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016). But the anti-tumor action of chickpeas also affects the entire organism, thanks to the reduction of inflammation and the supply of antioxidants (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016).
Chickpeas, obesity and abdominal fat
Including chickpeas in your diet can bring important benefits even in cases of overweight and obesity. In particular, chickpeas are able to reverse the process of accumulation of visceral fat but also insulin resistance and alterations in cholesterol levels induced by an unbalanced diet (Yang et al, Br J Nutr, 2007).
Chickpeas, some ideas for eating them
One of the most famous preparations in the world based on chickpeas is certainly hummus, a sauce prepared by blending cooked chickpeas and combining lemon juice, tahini sauce, extra virgin olive oil and spices. 4 tablespoons of hummus per day correspond to 2 cups of legumes per week (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016). In addition, hummus is a healthy way to replace foods rich in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates, such as mayonnaise, margarine or cheese, in the preparation of salads, toasts, sandwiches and pasta (Wallace et al, Nutrients, 2016). Another way to consume chickpeas is to add them in the form of flour to baked goods such as desserts and bread. In this way it is possible to reduce the content of acrylamide, which is a toxic substance that forms when foods containing carbohydrates are subjected to high temperatures (Rochwa Rosiak et al, Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2015). Chickpea farinata is a simple and tasty recipe, presented in the Healthy Eating section, as is chickpea and rosemary soup or chickpea and chestnut soup.
Chickpeas, some tricks to make them even more nutritious
Chickpeas contain iron but this is in a form that is difficult for our body to assimilate. However, there are several ways to increase the ability to assimilate iron from chickpeas. For example, combine chickpeas with a source of vitamin C, such as lemon juice. This has proven to be one of the best ways to increase the availability of iron contained in chickpeas (Verna et al, Nutrients, 2021). Finally, cooking chickpeas in a pressure cooker has also been shown to increase iron availability (Doumani et al, Food Nutr Res, 2021).