Hummus, a standard part of many Middle Eastern diets, is gaining popularity in the US and other countries. This is likely because many of us want to maintain a healthier diet, and hummus is seen as a healthier alternative for dips, spreads, or salad dressings.
However, before we make assumptions and fill our fridges with hummus, let’s see what the experts have to say about just how healthy hummus is.
What is hummus made of?
Traditionally, hummus is made out of blended chickpeas, olive oil, tahini (sesame paste), lemon juices, and spices. Once all of these ingredients are mixed, what you get is nutrient-dense food. According to Elizabeth G. Matteo, a registered dietitian at Boston University’s Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, “it generally offers more vitamins and minerals than many other dips or spreads,” because it includes calcium, folate, and magnesium.
Lindsey Pine, another registered dietitian based in Los Angeles, says that the nutrients that hummus offers can also stabilize blood sugar and help prevent blood disease. She also reveals that hummus contains what she calls the “trifecta of macronutrients,” which include healthy fat, protein, and fiber. All three of these help keep you satisfied for longer, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Chickpeas fall under the “pulses” category, and much like other pulses (such as beans, lentils, and peas), they are a good source of protein and fiber. That said, chickpeas are not a complete source of protein, which means they don’t have all the essential amino acids that meat, fish, dairy, and eggs contain.
What’s the healthiest way to eat hummus?
Even though hummus is full of nutrients, it’s not advisable to eat an entire tub of it in one sitting. “It is relatively high in calories due to the tahini and oil content,” explains Angela Lemond, registered dietitian, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Pine adds that it’s “very easy to overdo it”, especially with store-bought hummus which usually contains around 70 calories per two-tablespoon portion. To control your consumption, Pine suggests buying pre-portioned packs or portioning hummus out yourself before indulging.
Also, it’s important to note that hummus has the potential to be a healthy snack, but only if you’re pairing it with the right things. If you’re only dipping pita bread, chips, and crackers into your hummus, then your snack won’t offer you as many health benefits as using raw crunchy veggies like fresh bell peppers, broccoli, celery, and carrots.
Matteo recommends throwing some hummus into a homemade salad dressing or using a dollop of it onto Mediterranean-style dishes of falafel, fish, or chicken.
What’s the healthiest kind of hummus to buy?
Scan the nutrition label of your desired hummus to see if the brand you’re looking at overdoes it on sodium. You should be aiming for hummus that has around 80 mg of sodium or less per two-tablespoon serving.
While you’re at it, Pine suggests looking over the ingredient list. It’s best to try to choose a brand that doesn’t stray far from the traditional recipe of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, salt, and spices.
The best way to enjoy hummus, though, is to make it at home. You can use either canned chickpeas, dry chickpeas that have been soaked and cooked, or even frozen green chickpeas. That way, you can tweak the recipe to your tastes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can mix in other pulses or even veggies like edamame and beets.