Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Is Hummus Good For You? An RDN Weighs In

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With flavors such as dill pickle, sea salt caramel, and pumpkin pie stocking store shelves, it’s clear: the hummus hype is real. To many Americans, it might seem like the excitement’s developed over the past decade, but hummus has actually been a crowd-favorite for multiple centuries (read: long before Trader Joe’s started churning out creative renditions of the chickpea-based dish).

There are multiple theories on the origin of hummus: some say it’s a biblical food with roots in Israel, some are adamant that it hails from Syria, and some uphold that it’s from Lebanon, among other claims, according to the BBC. (The topic is so hotly contested that it’s practically representative of the ongoing tensions in its native Middle East, as a Tel Aviv food journalist told NPR in 2016.) That being said, you can still garner an idea of hummus’s beginnings by looking at its main ingredient: the chickpea. According to “The Oxford Companion to Food,” the small legume dates back to 8000 BC in ancient Egypt. Casual.

No matter the historical specifics, hummus has traditionally been made with the same base ingredients across the Middle East: chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), garlic, and lemon, according to the BBC. It’s then frequently topped off with olive oil.

“All of these ingredients make it not only a delicious dip/spread but also a nutritious choice,” says Vandana Sheth, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes.” Not only that, but the creamy creation can also deliver a host of benefits, from supporting digestion to managing blood sugar.

Still, how healthy is hummus, really? Let’s put it this way: whoever was the true inventor knew what they were doing. Ahead, learn all about the benefits and nutritional value of hummus.

Is Hummus Good For You?

It sure can be. “Food is more about the package than the individual nutrient,” says registered dietitian and therapist Krystal George, RDN, AMFT. “Consuming hummus with other foods such as vegetables, whole grains, and proteins, can allow for a balanced and nourishing meal.” That said, hummus does bring to the table a rather nutritious package on its own.

Hummus Nutrition Facts

Hummus’s impressive nutrition is largely due to its chickpea content. Each little legume is full of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids (aka “good” fats), according to a scientific article published in Nutrients. Other standout nutrients found in hummus include manganese, copper, folate, and iron, Sheth adds.

What’s more, hummus (again, thanks to chickpeas) is pretty packed with protein — at least for a plant-based source. In fact, one cup of hummus offers around 19 grams of protein —more than the amount of protein in three eggs.

Here’s a snapshot of the nutrition facts for 1/2 cup of store-bought hummus, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • Calories: 292
  • Protein: 10 g
  • Fat: 22 g
  • Carbohydrate: 18 g
  • Fiber: 7 g
  • Sugar: 1 g
  • Sodium: 525 mg

Health Benefits of Hummus

Aids digestion.

Not only are they naturally high in fiber, but chickpeas also contain a mix of both types of fibers: soluble and insoluble, says Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, LD, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Olive Tree Nutrition. The former absorbs water in the gut, forming a gel-like substance that slows down digestion, according to the aforementioned article in Nutrients. This can be especially helpful if you’re dealing with diarrhea or loose stools. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, bulks up stool and promotes bowel regularity, which can be key if you suffer from constipation.

“Hummus also tends to be higher in amylose, a type of resistant starch that can aid in digestion,” says George. But that’s not the only perk provided by the amylase in hummus: the resistant starch is also digested and absorbed more slowly than other components, thereby reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating, according to the article in Nutrients. And on that note . . .

Manages blood sugar.

In addition to resistant starch, hummus is a rich source of fat, fiber, and protein, Al Bochi says. “These three components slow down the digestion process, which slows down the rise of blood sugar so you don’t experience a spike compared to just eating a carbohydrate food on its own.”

The tahini and olive oil can also play a part in this hummus health benefit. They both provide healthy fats, which slow down the breakdown and absorption of carbs, further leading to a gentle rise in blood sugar vs. a quick spike, Sheth explains.

Supports heart health.

There are a few different ways hummus can keep your ticker, well, ticking. First, the spread “can help lower LDL cholesterol, the type of cholesterol associated with increased risk for heart disease,” Al Bochi says. In addition to promoting healthy digestion, the soluble fiber in chickpeas “also acts like a sponge, absorbing LDL cholesterol in the digestive system,” she explains. “When the fiber is ultimately excreted, it brings the LDL cholesterol with it, thereby preventing the body from absorbing the ‘bad’ stuff itself and lowering levels of LDL cholesterol.” (The lower your LDL levels, the lower your risk of heart disease.)

Another reason hummus can help keep your heart healthy? Tahini — well, certain components in tahini. The sesame seed paste is “high in PUFAs [polyunsaturated fatty acids] and MUFAs [monounsaturated fatty acids] as well as antioxidants known as sesamin and sesamol,” George says. “Both of these antioxidants, plus the PUFAs and MUFAs, have been known to inhibit cholesterol absorption and production, thereby reducing one’s total cholesterol.”

Helps with inflammation.

“Hummus can help with inflammation because of its key ingredients,” Sheth says. “Chickpeas, for example, have been shown to reduce biomarkers of inflammation.” Olive oil — especially extra virgin olive oil — is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, she adds. Then, there’s tahini, or more specifically, “the sesame in tahini, which has the ability to reduce serum levels of IL-6, an inflammatory biomarker associated with different types of cancer,” George says. So why is hummus’s anti-inflammatory ability a big deal? Because inflammation can often contribute to chronic conditions, such as heart disease and, as George points out, cancer.

Are There Any Downsides or Risks to Hummus?

While the dish clearly has plenty of pros, it can also come with a couple of cons.

For starters, hummus contains chickpeas, which are a type of legume and, thus, related to peanuts (which are also part of the legume family), per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Because of this, those with peanut or nut allergies might want to steer clear of hummus as it could trigger a similar reaction. Similarly, hummus also tends to contain tahini, which is made of sesame seeds — another common food allergen.

Even if you’re not allergic to its ingredients, you might want to be wary of hummus if you have a sensitive stomach. “Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and other digestive issues may find hummus hard to tolerate due to its high fiber content,” George says. “Folks who struggle to absorb fats, such as those with gallbladder and pancreas-related issues, might also struggle with the dish, as it can sometimes come with added oils and fats.”

As with any store-bought product, it’s important to read the ingredients before buying any random hummus off the shelf — and this is especially key if you have hypertension or cardiovascular disease, as packaged varieties can be filled with salt for extra flavoring, George notes. “While flavor is key, the sodium in hummus, and all foods, in general, should be in moderation for optimal health.”

The Bottom Line

Hummus can absolutely be good for you, especially when used to create a balanced and nourishing snack or meal.

That being said, there’s no “standard serving” of hummus, Al Bochi notes. So, experts recommend keeping the recipe or product’s serving size in mind when consuming the spread and adjusting your consumption (think: frequency, serving size, etc.) according to your specific health and wellness needs. When in doubt, or for more personalized guidance, reach out to a registered dietitian for help.

And if you want to be sure what, exactly, is in your hummus, you can try making your own with this easy homemade hummus recipe.





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