As a legume, chickpeas are considered both a vegetable and protein food, helping you hit two important food groups at once. These nutty beans are rich in a number of important nutrients that keep you well -- including protein, vitamins and minerals -- and they provide fiber too. Including chickpeas in your diet may play a role in reducing your risk of a number of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Chickpeas aren't super low in calories like most veggies, but they're rich in a number of good-for-you nutrients. A 1-cup serving of boiled chickpeas has 270 calories, 45 grams of carbs, 4 grams of fat, 15 grams of protein and 13 grams of fiber. That same 1-cup serving also meets 70 percent of the daily value for folate and 26 percent of the DV for iron. It's also a good source of a number of other minerals including manganese, magnesium, zinc and copper, as well some other B-vitamins, including thiamine and vitamin B-6.
Fiber is one of the reasons you may want to add chickpeas to your menu. Most Americans fall way short of meeting their recommended daily fiber needs, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Depending on your age and gender, fiber needs range from 21 to 38 grams a day. A 1-cup serving of chickpeas provides about a third of your daily fiber needs.
While you might know that adding more fiber to your diet is good for keeping you regular, there are a number of other health benefits. Fiber in foods like chickpeas keeps you feeling full longer, helping you eat less, which may benefit your waistline. Chickpeas contain soluble fiber, which helps lower low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol. Soluble fiber also helps keep blood sugars steady, which benefits people with diabetes. There's an association between a higher intake of fiber and lower risk of certain types of digestive cancers, including stomach and colorectal.
Most Americans don't have a problem getting enough of the B vitamin folate in their diet, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. But certain groups, namely women of childbearing age, may not be getting enough. Folate is a critical nutrient during periods of rapid cell growth, especially during the development of a fetus. Low intakes of folate before and during pregnancy are associated with neural tube defects, or birth defects of the spine or brain leading to conditions such as spina bifida. Folate also plays a role in the formation of red blood cells and DNA. One cup of chickpeas meets more than 70 percent of a woman's daily folate needs and almost 50 percent of the daily needs of a pregnant or nursing woman.
Children, teens and women, as well as vegetarians, may have a tough time getting enough dietary iron. Iron helps make red blood cells and certain hormones, and it's important for cell function and normal growth. Due to the menstrual cycle, women have higher iron needs than men, 18 milligrams vs. 8 milligrams a day. After menopause, women's needs drop to 8 milligrams a day as well. One cup of chickpeas meets more than 25 percent of a woman's daily iron needs and more than 50 percent of a man's needs.
However, the iron in chickpeas is nonheme iron, which isn't absorbed as easily as heme iron -- the type of iron found in meat. But you can improve the amount of iron your body absorbs from the beans if you combine them with a food rich in vitamin C. For example, add chickpeas to your tomato soup, or use red peppers to eat your hummus.
Chickpeas are an excellent source of protein, with a 1-cup serving containing more protein than that of two large eggs. However, the protein in chickpeas isn't "complete" because, unlike animal foods, it doesn't contain all of the essential amino acids. But you can easily get the amino acids you need by eating other sources of protein, such as eggs, dairy, meat, grains and veggies, throughout the day. Although you don't have to eat your chickpeas at the same meal as these other foods to get the benefits, you can mix chickpeas into quinoa or add a few to a dinner salad. If you're a vegetarian eating chickpeas as a source of protein, eat a varied diet that includes whole grains and veggies -- such as a 100-percent whole-wheat pita or carrot and celery sticks with your hummus -- to get all the essential amino acids.