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6 Health Benefits of Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)

From enhanced weight loss to cholesterol-lowering properties, the health benefits of chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) are wide and varied. Also known as garbanzo beans, Bengal gram, ceci beans and chana beans, these nutty-tasting legumes get many of their health-giving qualities from the high levels of fiber, zinc, copper, beta-sitosterol, and iron they contain. Here's the full scoop.

6 Health Benefits of Chickpeas

Powerhouse of Cholesterol-Lowering Fiber

Chickpeas are an excellent source of several cardioprotective nutrients including fiber (both soluble and insoluble fiber), folate and magnesium. Both epidemiologic and clinical studies suggest that fiber, particularly soluble fiber, can help lower LDL cholesterol (the 'bad cholesterol') levels and consequently reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Folate, in turn, has been shown to control high homocysteine levels, another well-known risk factor for heart disease, while magnesium works its cardioprotective magic by relaxing the arteries.

Beta-sitosterol – the dominant phytosterol in chickpeas – and saponins – phytochemicals found in a number of plant-based foods including chickpeas – may further contribute to the potential cardioprotective benefits of chickpeas by reducing plasma cholesterol levels.

Natural Source of Immune-Boosting Zinc and Copper

When we think of natural immune boosters, we typically think of famous immune-boosting superfoods such as elderberries or citrus fruits such as lemons, but the truth is, the spectrum of immune-boosting and flu and cold fighting foods is much broader than most people realize.

Chickpeas, for example, are an excellent natural source of zinc and copper, two minerals that are essential for the development and function of immune cells. Just one cup of cooked chickpeas (164 grams or 5.7 oz) provides nearly 30% of the Daily Value for copper and about 17% of the Daily Value for zinc.

Chickpeas May Also Aid Weight Loss

When it comes to the healthiest weight loss foods, it is hard to beat legumes. Legumes like chickpeas are loaded with fiber and protein, both of which help increase satiety. In addition to making you feel fuller with fewer calories, the protein and fiber in chickpeas can also put the brakes on your body's insulin pump. Released by your body in response to elevated blood sugar levels, insulin is a fat-storing hormone that is thought to play a key role in the development of central obesity, better known as belly fat.

Recipe to Try: Dairy-Free Chickpea Muffins

Benefits for the Digestive System

Chickpeas, like other legumes, can cause significant intestinal gas, which is one of the main side effects associated with high consumption of chickpeas. However, chickpeas may also offer some interesting health benefits for those who suffer from gastrointestinal problems. A review published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2012 reported that diets rich in chickpea may improve overall gut health by aiding the movement of material through the digestive system and by preventing constipation.

Good Source of Dietary Iron

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world and a leading cause of anemia, a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. People with anemia may experience dizziness, weakness and fatigue as their bodies have trouble providing enough oxygen to body tissues. Anemia and low iron levels in general may also cause loss of appetite, brittle nails, and hair loss.

Thankfully, low iron levels can usually be successfully treated with dietary supplements, iron-rich foods, or a combination of supplements and natural foods. Red meat and many other animal-based foods contain high amounts of easily absorbable iron, but also certain legumes, such as chickpeas, provide notable amounts of dietary iron. One cup of cooked chickpeas, for example, contains 4.7 milligrams of dietary iron, which corresponds to about 26% of the Daily Value for iron. It is worth noting, though, that the iron in chickpeas and other plant-based foods is so-called non-heme iron which is not as easily absorbed as the heme iron found in animal-based foods.

Potential Anti-Cancer Effects

If all the potential health benefits of eating chickpeas listed above are not enough to convince you to add these nutty tasting legumes to your diet, consider this: eating chickpeas might also offer protection against certain types of cancer. When beneficial bacteria in your gut ferment chickpea fiber, a metabolite called butyrate is produced. This short-chain fatty acid has been shown to suppress proliferation and induce apoptosis (self-destruction) of cancerous cells. In addition, beta-sitosterol, the main phytosterol in chickpeas, has been shown to reduce colon tumors in rats.

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