There's no question hummus is hot: You can now find all kinds of flavors at the grocery store, from black garlic and coconut curry to red velvet and chocolate mint (yes, dessert hummus is a thing!). But is hummus actually healthy?
Though there’s no universal recipe, hummus typically stars chickpeas as its main ingredient. Chickpeas—and foods made with them—have exploded in popularity in recent years due to the rise of plant-based eating and gluten-free diets. Chickpeas, which are a member of the pulse family (along with lentils, beans. and peas, like black-eyed peas and split peas), check both boxes. They also happen to be incredibly eco-friendly, affordable, readily available, and versatile.
Benefits of chickpeas
One cup of ready-to-eat chickpeas contains 10 grams of protein and about 10 grams of dietary fiber—which is 40% of the daily minimum target. They are also packed with antioxidants and several other key nutrients. A 2016 study found that people who regularly consume chickpeas and/or hummus have higher intakes of fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, and vitamins A, E, and C.
The unique nutrient makeup of chickpeas may be why regular eaters of chickpeas and hummus have lower BMIs and waist measurements than people who don't eat those foods, according to government data. They're also 53% less likely to be obese.
Other research suggests that hummus may help offset blood sugar spikes from foods that are high on the glycemic index. When study authors compared the blood sugar of participants who ate white bread to the blood sugar of those who ate white bread with hummus, they found the second group had lower levels.
Chickpea consumption is also tied to improved gut health, and protection against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
RELATED: 7 Homemade Hummus Recipes
How healthy is hummus?
As for the healthfulness of chickpeas in the form of hummus, it really comes down to how the spread made. In traditional recipes, pureed chickpeas are combined with other anti-inflammatory superfoods, including extra virgin olive oil, tahini, garlic, and lemon. And even when sweet ingredients are added, like cocoa and sugar, dessert hummus served with fresh fruit is a far healthier option than, say, cake or ice cream.
In just a few minutes you can whip up a batch of good-for-you homemade hummus in a blender or mini-food processor using the ingredients mentioned above.
But if you buy pre-made versions, be sure to check the label. Choose brands made with extra virgin olive oil—as opposed to more inflammatory oils, like soybean oil. And skip hummus that contains preservatives: Scan the ingredient list for things like potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, and other words you don't recognize.
If you're eating hummus as a snack, max out on the health perks by scooping it up with fresh, raw veggies, rather than processed chips or crackers.
You can also enjoy hummus in other ways, too. Use it as a creamy salad dressing or a mayo alternative (for bean, chicken, egg, and tuna salads); to thicken sauces, soups, mashed potatoes, or cauliflower mash; or as a topping for oven roasted veggies or potatoes.
If you’re really adventurous you can even sample hummus ice cream, or try a recipe for hummus cookies or blondies or chocolate mousse. Hummus treats are a fun way to introduce more plant-based protein, fiber, and nutrients to your diet!
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Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.