A bowl of hummus

It’s not the most popular dip around—salsa’s got it beat by a landslide—but over the past few decades, hummus has increasingly made its way into plenty of shopping carts.

Since the late '90s, according to the Department of Agriculture, hummus sales have ballooned from less than $10 million to between $700 and $800 million. And nearly half of Americans bought hummus in 2016, market research firm Mintel reports.

But with 50 calories and about 3 grams of fat per 2-tablespoon serving, you might wonder: Is hummus good for you?

“There’s enough [scientific] literature to show that chickpeas, and by extension hummus, are beneficial for you,” says Domingo J. Piñero, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of nutrition at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health. But there are some nutrition traps to watch out for. 

The Magic of Chickpeas and Hummus

If there was a nutrition contest for dips, hummus—traditionally made from mashed chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, olive oil, and spices—would win in the “best all-around” category.

While it is about five times higher in calories than salsa, it has a little more than twice the fiber. And though it doesn’t deliver as much healthy monounsaturated fat as guacamole, it offers about 2.4 grams more protein (guacamole has none).

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The chickpeas are likely mostly responsible for hummus' health benefits. Also called garbanzo beans, they—along with dried beans, dried peas, and lentils—belong to a class of legumes called pulses. And pulses, dietitians will say, rank high on the healthy foods list.

Chickpeas are chock-full of key nutrients, such as B vitamins, calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, and zinc, Piñero says.

And they’re loaded with fiber—a 2-tablespoon serving of hummus supplies 2 grams. “Our diets are low in fiber,” Piñero says, “so including chickpeas in your diet … is good for your intestine and your health.” (The Daily Value for fiber is 25 grams.) 

These healthful attributes might help explain why studies suggest that people who eat a lot of pulses tend to weigh less, have better regulated blood sugar (glucose), lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences in 2014, for example, found that those who reported eating any amount of chickpeas, hummus, or both at the time they were interviewed had markers that point to better health compared with non- eaters.

Admittedly, the number of chickpea and hummus eaters was small—264 out of the 18,000 adults in the study—but they were 43 to 53 percent less likely to be overweight or obese, and were 51 percent less likely to have elevated blood glucose levels than non-eaters.

Hummus and chickpea eaters also had smaller waists and a lower body mass index—interesting findings given that there was no difference in calorie intake between the two groups. 

The study results don't prove that chickpeas or hummus was responsible for making these people healthier, but the findings do suggest that those who eat these foods tend to be healthier overall.

Within pulses as a food group, says Piñero, chickpeas are extra special because they have a better nutritional profile than other beans, such as black beans.

“The quality of the protein is slightly higher,” he says, meaning chickpeas contain a good variety of amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and their protein is easily digested. A serving of hummus supplies 2.4 grams of protein.

Plus, if hummus is made traditionally, with olive oil, you’ll also get a dose of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. (Piñero suggests avoiding hummus made with other oils, such as soybean oil, since the fatty acid composition of that oil isn’t as healthful as olive oil.)

But, says Piñero, the biggest thing to pay attention to when buying hummus in the store is the sodium content, since some brands add more than others. A 2-tablespoon serving of Pita Pal Original Hummus, for example, has 65 milligrams of sodium; while Sabra Classic Hummus has twice as much—130 milligrams. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting your daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day.

When using hummus as a dip, says Piñero, you can save calories and bump up the nutrition by swapping veggies, such as celery stalks, or carrot or cucumber slices, for pita chips or bread. You can also spread it on a sandwich as a more nutritious alternative to commonly used condiments, such as mayo or mustard. 

A Recipe for Healthy Hummus

For the most healthful hummus, says Piñero, make it yourself (see our recipe below). Using canned chickpeas makes it quick and easy; just rinse before mashing, says Piñero. If you can’t find tahini in your grocery store, he says, add a little sesame oil instead: “It’s a strong flavor, so you don’t need to use too much of it.”  

Easy Hummus Dip

1 15-oz. can chick peas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup tahini
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. cumin
⅛ tsp. salt
⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

Place all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth. If too thick, add 1 or 2 tbsp. water.

Makes about 1½ cups.

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