bowls of chickpeas and hummus

Whether you call them chickpeas or garbanzo beans, there are plenty of ways to enjoy these delicious legumes (via Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). They can be added to salads and soups, used as a meat alternative for dishes like tacos, roasted and eaten as a snack, blended into hummus, fried up as falafel, and so much more (via Epicurious). And they’re as nutritious as they are versatile, offering plenty of protein, fiber, and micronutrients in relatively few calories (via NutritionData).

Chickpeas are the third most consumed legume in the world and figure prominently in the cuisines of India, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean (via the New World Encyclopedia). They were one of the very first plants cultivated by humans and have been enjoyed for thousands of years. Although they’re often the star in vegetarian and vegan dishes, even omnivores can appreciate their creamy texture and nutty flavor. Like other legumes, dried chickpeas require significant cooking time and benefit from soaking beforehand, but fortunately canned chickpeas are a cheap, ready-to-eat alternative that are just as nutritious. But what exactly should you expect if you eat chickpeas every day? Are there any downsides to this tasty legume?

Eating chickpeas every day is a great way to get protein … but there’s a catch

chickpeas

Whether you’re eating them because you’re following a meat-free diet, exploring new cuisines, or simply like the taste, chickpeas are an excellent source of plant-based protein. According to NutritionData, a one-cup serving of cooked chickpeas provides an impressive 14.5 grams of protein. In addition to helping build strong muscles, protein performs many other important functions in the body. In an interview with Harvard Medical School, registered dietitian Nancy Rodriguez explained that protein is vital for making hair, blood, connective tissue, antibodies, and enzymes.

But, like most plant foods, chickpeas are not a "complete" protein (via Cleveland Clinic). According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), all proteins are made up of some combination of 20 different amino acids. Nine of these amino acids are considered essential because our bodies can’t produce them and must get them from food. (On the other hand, if it’s not getting enough of the 11 nonessential amino acids from food, our bodies can produce these by modifying essential amino acids). Any food that contains all nine essential amino acids in appropriate quantities is considered a complete protein. Chickpeas, however, are low in the amino acids methionine and cysteine. But this doesn’t mean you should take them off the menu. By combining them with other complementary sources of plant protein (such as almonds), you can get all the essential amino acids you need (via SF Gate).

For better bowel movements, eat chickpeas every day

hand pulling toilet paper

Including lots of chickpeas (and other fiber-rich foods) in your diet will ensure smooth sailing in the bathroom. According to the Mayo Clinic, "dietary fiber … includes the parts of plant foods your body can’t digest or absorb." It comes in two forms: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber absorbs water as it passes through your digestive tract, while insoluble fiber doesn’t. Although both types of fiber are beneficial, the insoluble kind is responsible for keeping you regular. Adult women should aim to get 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, depending on age, while men should shoot for 30 to 38 grams. A daily dose of chickpeas is a great place to start. One cup provides a whopping 12.5 grams of fiber — half of an adult woman’s daily needs (via NutritionData).

Many people have less-than-stellar number twos. As Dr. Arun Sachdev, a gastroenterologist at INTEGRIS Health explained, "chronic constipation means a person generally has less than three stools per week lasting for several months." The condition affects 15–20% of Americans. Although not getting enough fiber to keep things moving along is a common culprit, it’s important to note that other possible causes include certain medications, hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and colon cancer.

Eating chickpeas is good for your gut bacteria

hands in heart shape on woman's stomach

In addition to improving your number twos, the fiber in chickpeas helps support your gut microbiome. As a 2016 paper published in Current Opinions in Gastroenterology explained, the gut microbiome is an ecosystem of billions of microorganisms (mostly bacteria) that reside in your large intestine. It performs a number of important functions, including helping to break down food, producing certain vitamins, and protecting the body against foodborne pathogens. Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique, but for optimal health it’s important that this collection of microorganisms be large and diverse. Our gut bacteria feed off of fiber, taking from them short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate that in turn become fuel for our own intestinal cells.

According to a 2010 study published in Beneficial Microbes, the chief form of soluble fiber in chickpeas that nourishes our gut microbiome is raffinose. For three weeks, researchers supplemented participants’ diets with either nothing (the control group), 200 grams of canned chickpeas, or 5 grams of straight raffinose daily, and then examined the bacteria in their stool. They found that those who ate the chickpeas or raffinose had higher populations of beneficial bacterial species such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Bifidobacterium, as well as lower populations of potentially harmful bacterial species like Clostridium,

If you want to lower your cholesterol, eat chickpeas

bowl of soup with chickpeas

High cholesterol is a big problem in the United States. An estimated 93 million American adults have a total cholesterol level greater than 200 mg/dL, and approximately 28 million of those individuals have levels higher than 240 mg/dL (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In addition, about 17% of adults have an HDL ("good") cholesterol level below 40mg/dL. High cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms, but it’s a risk factor for heart disease and stroke, respectively the leading and fifth leading causes of death in the U.S.

If your doctor has told you that you need to lower your cholesterol, the soluble fiber in chickpeas can help. A 2016 review published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports noted that getting adequate soluble fiber can reduce both total cholesterol and LDL ("bad" cholesterol) by about 5%–10%, without having any negative impact on HDL levels. In a 2014 meta-analysis published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers reviewed 26 previously published studies to determine what effect pulses (chickpeas, beans, lentils, and peas) had on cholesterol. They concluded that "dietary pulse intake significantly reduces LDL cholesterol levels," with an average reduction in LDL of more than 3 mg/dL.

Eating chickpeas every day could actually cause digestive upset for some people

woman clutching stomach in pain

Although great for gut health, the prebiotic fiber in chickpeas may actually cause gastrointestinal issues for some individuals because it’s a FODMAP. As Healthline explains, FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) are a group of "nondigestible short-chain carbs that are osmotically active, meaning they force water into your digestive tract." And, because gut bacteria release gas as a byproduct as they feed on these carbohydrates, FODMAPs may cause bloating, abdominal discomfort, and a change in bathroom habits for sensitive individuals. As many as 60% of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are sensitive to at least one FODMAP. For these individuals, following a low-FODMAP diet can be helpful. But, as Healthline warns, for individuals without IBS, following a low-FODAMP diet can do more harm than good because it robs your gut bacteria of the fuel they need to thrive.

The good news for chickpea lovers is that they can be eaten (albeit in moderation) on a low-FODMAP diet. As registered dietitian Kirsten Jackson explains on her website, raw chickpeas are high in oligosaccharide FODMAPS. When cooked and canned, however, the offending oligosaccharides leach into the water the beans are stored in. As long as you drain and rinse the beans before eating them, it’s safe to eat up to one-fourth a can of chickpeas daily while following a low-FODMAP diet.

Eating chickpeas won’t spike your blood sugar

large pile of chickpeas

Although chickpeas are about 27% carbohydrates (via NutritionData), they won’t cause blood sugar spikes thanks to their status as a low-glycemic food. The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly the carbs in a food are converted to glucose, and thus how quickly a food can cause an increase in blood glucose levels (via WebMD). Straight glucose is used as a reference point for the GI and has a score of 100. A food that scores 70 or higher is considered a high-GI food, while a food that scores 55 or lower is a low-GI food. Glycemic load (GL) is similar to GI but takes into account how much of a particular food a person is likely to eat at one sitting. A high-GI food may not be a big deal if it has a low GL (in other words, if the serving size is small). A GL of 20 or more is considered high, while a GL of less than 10 is low.

Chickpeas score a 28 on the GI (via Medical News Today), making them a safe bet for anyone looking to avoid raising their blood sugar levels. Because it’s mixed with other protein– and fat-containing ingredients, hummus scores even better. It has a GI of only 6 and a GL of 0 (via Oregon State University).

You’ll build strong bones eating chickpeas

x-ray of pelvis held in front of woman

They say milk does a body good, but if you’re not a fan of dairy and still want to keep your skeleton sturdy, try adding more chickpeas to your diet. They contain significant amounts of two bone-building minerals: calcium and manganese (via NutritionData).

According to American Bone Health, "when your body makes new bone tissue, it first lays down a framework of collagen. Then, tiny crystals of calcium from your blood spread throughout the collagen framework." These calcium crystals fill in all the gaps in the "web" of collagen. Collagen makes bones flexible, while calcium makes them strong. Although calcium is also an important electrolyte that circulates through our bodies, the vast majority is found in our bones. In fact, the body uses our bones as a sort of calcium "bank," making "deposits" and "withdrawals" of this important micronutrient as needed to maintain stable circulating levels. Not getting enough dietary calcium means your bones must give up theirs, leading to brittle and fracture-prone bones (via the National Institutes of Health). Although not as well-known as calcium, the trace mineral manganese also plays an important role in bone health. Several enzymes involved in bone formation need manganese to function properly, and manganese deficiency can cause decreased bone density (via the National Institutes of Health). One cup of cooked chickpeas contains 8% of your daily calcium needs and a whopping 84% of your manganese requirement (via NutritionData).

Stock up on folate by eating chickpeas

bowl of hummus

Folate (vitamin B9) isn’t just for pregnant women — everyone needs this important micronutrient. And chickpeas are a great way to get the folate your body needs. According to NutritionData, a one-cup serving contains 282 mcg — 71% of the daily value (DV).

Folate is necessary for the replication of DNA and RNA, as well as cell division (via the National Institutes of Health). This makes it particularly critical during periods of growth. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for folate is 400 mcg for both men and nonpregnant women. Pregnant women, however, need substantially more folate (600 mcg), and breastfeeding mothers also have higher-than-average folate needs (500 mcg). Although most adults get enough folate, about 17% of women between the ages of 19 and 30 don’t get the minimum suggested amount. Folate deficiency usually occurs alongside other nutritional deficiencies. It can lead to anemia, which in turn causes extreme fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and heart issues. Most people know about folate deficiency, however, because of the devastating effect it can have during pregnancy. Babies whose mothers don’t get enough folate during pregnancy are at increased risk for preterm birth, low birthweight, and neural tube defects (conditions such as spina bifida that affect the formation of the brain and spinal cord).

Eating chickpeas is a great way to get iron

crispy roasted chickpeas

When it comes to the micronutrients your body needs for good health, iron is critical. This trace mineral is what allows your red blood cells to transport oxygen to every cell in your body (via the National Institutes of Health). It’s also necessary for DNA synthesis, a well-functioning immune system, and formation of certain hormones. Unfortunately, iron deficiency is quite common, affecting 20% of non-pregnant women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men (via WebMD). If untreated, iron deficiency can progress to anemia, a condition in which the body can’t produce enough healthy red blood cells. This leads to symptoms that can include extreme fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, headaches, pale skin, and cold hands and feet (via the Mayo Clinic).

Chickpeas are a solid source of iron, providing 26% of your daily needs in a one-cup serving (via NutritionData). But actually making use of that iron is a bit tricky. As the Harvard School of Public Health explains, there are two types of iron: heme (from animals) and non-heme (from plants). While heme iron is easily absorbed by the body, non-heme iron is much less bioavailable. But vitamin C can boost the absorption of nonheme iron. Unfortunately, as NutritionData notes, chickpeas only provide about 2 mg of vitamin C per serving. So to get the most advantage out of the iron in your chickpeas, be sure to pair them with a good source of vitamin C.

Snack smarter by eating chickpeas every day

falafel and pita bread

Because they’re filling, snacks that feature chickpeas will keep you feeling fuller longer and cut down on how much you eat overall. But what gives chickpeas their staying power? According to The Cooper Institute, how full (satiated) you feel after eating something depends on the macronutrient content of that meal. While food that takes up a lot of space in your stomach may trigger signals to stop eating, protein and fiber have the biggest role to play in controlling when you’ll be hungry again — and chickpeas are packed with both.

In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, researchers gave participants either chickpeas or white bread and then monitored how much they ate at a meal given several hours later. Even though the servings of chickpeas and white bread were the same in terms of calories and total carbs, the chickpea group reported feeling fuller and consumed less of the post-experiment meal. In another study published in 2020 in The Journal of Nutrition, participants were divided into one of three groups. The control group had no afternoon snack, while a second group consumed 240 calories of a granola bar daily for six days. A third group was given 240 calories of pretzels and hummus during the experiment. Those who ate the hummus saw a 70% reduction in appetite and desire to eat later in the day, and consumed about 20% less dessert later in the day.

Eating chickpeas can help you maintain a healthy weight

person stepping on scale

Since chickpeas make you feel full and reduce the amount you eat later in the day, it’s not surprising that research shows those who regularly eat chickpeas tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who don’t. A 2016 paper published in Nutrients noted that those who regularly consumed chickpeas or hummus were 53% less likely to be obese than those who didn’t regularly eat these foods. The average chickpea lovers’ BMI was 26.4, compared to 28.6 for those who didn’t eat chickpeas. Waist circumference was also significantly different, with the chickpea eaters averaging 92.2 cm compared to 97.9 cm. The authors cautioned, however, that it’s not clear if these differences are due to the chickpeas themselves or to other behaviors (such as exercising) that are more common in those who regularly eat chickpeas.

In a 2016 meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that those who consumed one serving of legumes (including chickpeas) a day lost about three-quarters of a pound more than those who didn’t consume legumes over a six-week period. Even in experiments where individuals consumed their maintenance calories, those who ate chickpeas and other legumes experienced weight loss. The authors concluded that "the inclusion of dietary pulses in a diet may be a beneficial weight-loss strategy because it leads to a modest weight-loss effect even when diets are not intended to be calorically restricted."

Will eating chickpeas every day ward off cancer?

circle of different-colored cancer awareness ribbons

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 39.5% of Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Although advances in screening and treatment have improved the prognosis for these individuals, cancer remains among the leading causes of death in the United States. Could something as simple as eating chickpeas every day reduce your cancer risk?

A 2016 paper published in Nutrients noted that butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid made by gut bacteria when they break down the fiber in chickpeas, appears to have anti-colon cancer properties. Butyrate prevents cells from dividing out of control and stimulates apoptosis, a pre-programmed "self-destruct" sequence cells go through when they become damaged or diseased. Other compounds in chickpeas, including lycopene and saponins, have also shown promise against cancer cells, at least in animal studies.

Chickpeas also contain a number of antioxidants, particularly selenium and beta-carotene (via Medical News Today). Antioxidants counter the effects of free radicals — unstable molecules that build up in the body as a result of metabolizing food and exposure to certain environmental factors. Over time, these free radicals can cause cell damage that leads to a variety of health issues, including the emergence of cancer.

Boost brain power and mood by eating chickpeas

Buddha bowl with chickpeas

Chickpeas are an excellent source of choline — a nutrient you may never have heard of, but which plays an important role in brain health. According to the Harvard Medical School, choline assists with the creation and release of a protein called acetylcholine. Acetylcholine conducts signals between neurons and plays an important role in cognition and memory. In fact, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have lower levels of acetylcholine in their brains, and medications to treat the early stages of the condition work by blocking the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. The NIH recommends adult men get 550 mg of choline a day, while nonpregnant women need 425 mg. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t consume the recommended amount of choline. Average daily intake is 402 mg for men and 278 mg for women.

Chickpeas are also rich in magnesium. According to a 2018 paper published in Nutrients, magnesium is needed for proper nerve function, and it also protects nerve cells from being damaged through over-excitation. Inadequate magnesium levels have been linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and depression, as well as neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

A one-cup serving of chickpeas offers 70.2 mg of choline (about 16% of a woman’s daily needs) and 78.7 mg of magnesium (about 20% of the daily requirement), according to NutritionData.

Avoid painful muscle cramps by eating potassium-rich chickpeas

woman with painful muscle cramp in leg

Potassium is a micronutrient that probably isn’t on your radar, but it should be. The NIH recommends that adult men get 3,400 mg of potassium daily, while non-pregnant women should aim for 2,600 mg. But average potassium intake among adult men is only 3,016 mg, while women get an average of 2,320 mg. Potassium is used by every cell in the body and, along with sodium, it plays a key role in regulating fluid balance. The NIH notes that "insufficient potassium intakes can increase blood pressure, kidney stone risk, bone turnover, urinary calcium excretion, and salt sensitivity (meaning that changes in sodium intakes affect blood pressure to a greater than normal extent)."

Sudden, painful muscle cramps are a telltale sign of low potassium levels. As Healthline explained, potassium helps relay signals from the brain to the muscles, causing them to contract. When potassium leaves muscle cells, this causes the muscle contraction to end. But, "when blood potassium levels are low, your brain cannot relay these signals as effectively. This results in more prolonged contractions, such as muscle cramps."

Although bananas are the poster child for potassium, chickpeas are also an excellent source. According to NutritionData, a one-cup serving offers 477 mg. That’s more than the 420 mg offered by a medium banana (via Eating Well).