The Mediterranean diet has long been praised for the health-promoting benefits it provides. One of the main staples in a healthy Mediterranean diet is the chickpea, a.k.a., the garbanzo bean.
This legume is full of nutrition and fills you up so you don’t overdo it on unhealthy snack foods. It is also extremely versatile and can be added to any meal.
Chickpeas are full of fiber and protein, making them ideal replacements for meat in vegetarian and vegan diets. Whether you eat meat or not, the benefits of chickpeas are endless, and their unique nutty taste is perfect for all dishes, including the Mediterranean salad below.
The majority of the chickpea is protein, which is what makes it a suitable substitute for meat. There is also a decent amount of fiber, as well as various beneficial vitamins and minerals such as folate, iron, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, potassium, and manganese to boost health.
1. Packed With Protein
Many studies have found that chickpeas are a better source of protein and essential amino acids than other legumes. This is why they are ideal for those who miss out on the protein from meat.
Except for methionine, chickpeas contain most of the essential amino acids that your body needs. So long as they are paired with additional protein sources, you can get everything you need from one meal.
2. Appetite Control
Protein and fiber work together to slow digestion which curbs your hunger by promoting fullness. Eating chickpeas each day will lower your overall calorie intake as the levels of appetite-reducing hormones are increased.
You can avoid overeating by adding chickpeas to your daily diet, and you will feel full for longer. Roasted chickpeas also make the perfect snack for whenever those cravings rear their head.
3. Weight Control
Not only do chickpeas control appetite, but the low calorie content helps support weight loss and weight management. Studies have found that regularly eating chickpeas is linked to lower risk for obesity as compared to those who did not eat legumes at all.
4. Blood Sugar Management
Chickpeas work to support optimal blood sugar control in a number of ways, which makes them great for diabetics. Their low glycemic index prevents blood sugar levels from elevating quickly after consumption, and the high protein and fiber content slows the rate at which glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream.
Regularly eating chickpeas prevents the sugar spikes and crashes that are dangerous for your health and helps diabetics to effectively control their blood glucose levels.
5. Better Digestion
Being full of fiber makes chickpeas ideal for promoting digestive health. The fiber is mostly soluble, which means it can blend with water to form a gel that passes more slowly through the digestive tract.
Soluble fiber is beneficial for your gut bacteria and serves as nutrition for them, allowing for a stable, healthy gut microbiome. This prevents harmful bacteria from taking over, which can lead to digestive issues and irritable bowel syndrome.
6. Enhanced Heart Health
Chickpeas contain magnesium and potassium, both of which provide benefits for your heart. By preventing high blood pressure and reducing triglycerides and cholesterol, chickpeas can promote heart health and protect against cardiovascular diseases.
7. Cancer Protection
The consumption of chickpeas boosts production of butyrate, the fatty acid produced when gut bacteria digest the soluble fiber. This essential fatty acid has strong anti-inflammatory properties that protect your intestinal cells from inflammation and even cancer.
These legumes also contain saponins, which are important plant compounds responsible for inhibiting tumor growth of some cancers. Through their role in promoting gut health, chickpeas keep inflammation reduced, which means cancer cells are inhibited from proliferation.
8. pH Balance
Legumes in general have an alkalizing effect on the body, which is beneficial for combating acidity (all too common with the typical Western diet). Diets high in alkalizing foods, such as the Mediterranean diet, are associated with better heart health and longevity as a result of reduced acidity.
9. Full of Folate
Folate is an essential nutrient needed for the production of new cells. Folate also plays a role in the synthesizing of DNA. Folate deficiency can cause anemia and negatively impacts your immune system and digestion as well.
Pregnant women especially need to ensure they keep folate levels up, as deficiency can lead to birth defects.
Apart from the nutritional benefits, chickpeas are cheap and versatile. You can get them in canned or dried varieties and they are available at almost every store. They are easy to add to a meal, can be cooked a variety of ways, and can be made into flour for baking.
You can even opt to make a hummus dip for your vegetables or to add to your favorite sandwich.
FOR THE SALAD
2 (15-oz.) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium cucumber, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/2 cup crumbled feta
Freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large bowl, toss together the chickpeas, cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, olives, and feta, then season with salt and pepper. In a jar fitted with a lid, combine the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, parsley, and red pepper flakes.
2. Shake until emulsified, then season with salt and pepper. Dress salad with vinaigrette and serve alone or as a side to your favorite meal.
Outside of versatility and great taste, there are numerous reasons to include chickpeas in your diet. Add them to a salad, soup, stew, or as a side to compliment meat of your choice.
Vegetarians, vegans, and meat-eaters can all agree that chickpeas are wonderful legumes and add the perfect Mediterranean touch and nutrition to any diet.