What Makes Chickpeas a 'Complete Protein'?
Geraldine Campbell, MSc
January 16, 2017
Chickpeas are an ancient food source, offering an extremely well balanced nutritional profile, not to mention great taste and virtually endless cooking options. They are used in so many different types of dishes in a variety of global cuisines, it’s entirely possible you’ve been eating them without even knowing it. Middle Eastern dishes like falafel or the now ubiquitous hummus have chickpeas as the main ingredient. The famous Indian crisp-bread, poppadom and the hearty Italian soup pasta e fagoli also feature chickpeas as a main ingredient.
Chickpeas have become so popular across such a wide range of cultures and cuisines for good reason: They’re delicious, nutritious, easy to prepare, and are comparatively inexpensive….especially when you consider their nutrient profile. Chickpeas (often called garbanzo beans) are a pulse, or legume, and are very rich in fiber. In fact, just 1 cup (about 165 gm) of cooked chickpeas yields 50% of the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for fiber!
It’s not only fiber that makes chickpeas a staple ingredient in so many cuisines. They are packed with protein and healthy fats, and amazingly, the same 1 cup serving also contains 70% of your RDA for the important vitamin Folate and 84% of your RDA for the trace mineral Manganese. It should be emphasized that chickpeas are a “complete protein” meaning that they contain all 9 Essential Amino Acids (EAA’s) which is one of the many reasons they have become a such a valued food ingredient for vegetarians as well as omnivores across the globe.
You can find chickpeas in any supermarket or health food store. The easiest way to buy them is canned. When canned, they are packed in a salty brine that should be rinsed off prior to use (just tip the can of beans into a strainer, rinse well, and drain thoroughly). Chickpeas prepared in this way are incredibly easy to use, however, purists would argue that it is better to buy the beans in their dried form and then prepare them “properly”.
Dried chickpeas are certainly less expensive than canned ones and they will keep “forever” as long as they are stored in a moisture-free environment. Dried chickpeas need to be boiled and soaked for 4 hours, or simply soaked for 8 hours (overnight) prior to use so that they are properly rehydrated. There are three advantages to the dried beans and soaking method vs buying prepared beans in a can. Firstly, the consistency of the dried beans is arguably nicer; secondly, the soaking removes much of the phytic acid that is present in chickpeas, and thirdly, the soaking also helps to reduce flatulence ;-)
If you’re not familiar with phytic acid, it is the most infamous “anti-nutrient” in the plant world and any of your Paleo friends will tell you it is one of the main reasons you should avoid legumes entirely. The short story with phytic acid is that it does bind itself to nutrients in plants, reducing the bioavailability of some of that plant’s nutritional value, but with proper preparation (like soaking, sprouting, or fermenting), phytic acid can be greatly reduced or eliminated from plant based foods and they can be safely, deliciously, and nutritiously consumed.
Regardless of the canned or dried formats, chickpeas are definitely worth incorporating into your diet.
Nutritional Profile of Chickpeas: (1 cup or about 165 gms)
- 268 calories
- 45gm of carbohydrate, of which 12.5 grams is dietary fiber
- 14.5 grams of protein
- 4.2 grams of fat
- 84% of RDA of manganese
- 71% of RDA of folate
- 29% of RDA of copper
- 28% of RDA of phosphorus
- 26% of RDA of iron
- 17% of RDA of zinc
As you can imagine, a food with a rich nutritional profile would also have some related health benefits:
- Chickpeas are a fantastic source of inexpensive plant based protein, which is great for people who are vegetarian, looking to cut back on meat consumption, or are simply on a budget that does not allow for more expensive meat or fish sources.
- Rich in protein and fibre means chickpeas are filling and increase satiety, consequently helping to prevent overeating.
- They provide large doses of a wide range of essential B vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, iron, zinc, and folate; of which the latter 2 are often deficient in the modern diet.
- The high fiber content may also contribute to a healthy digestive system (although in some people it may be potentially problematic). The high fiber content of chickpeas is known to have a beneficial effect in reducing cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and heart disease.
Jukanti, A.K., Gaur, P.M., Gowda, C.L.L. and Chibbar, R.N., 2012. Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): a review. British Journal of Nutrition, 108(S1), pp.S11-S26.
Kalogeropoulos, N., Chiou, A., Ioannou, M., Karathanos, V.T., Hassapidou, M. and Andrikopoulos, N.K., 2010. Nutritional evaluation and bioactive microconstituents (phytosterols, tocopherols, polyphenols, triterpenic acids) in cooked dry legumes usually consumed in the Mediterranean countries. Food Chemistry, 121(3), pp.682-690.