Is Hummus Healthy? 4 Benefits and 4 Dangers of Hummus
Hummus has slowly and steadily been growing in popularity in the United States. In fact, according to the food trend-tracking group Baum and Whiteman, hummus is following the trajectory of Greek yogurt when it comes to popularity.
This Middle Eastern dip is both creamy and flavorful. It appears in nearly every potluck event, and is a definite crowd pleaser for dipping pita bread, chips, and veggies. Hummus can also be used as a snack, or as the protein in a vegetarian food wrap for lunch on the go.
The main ingredient in traditional hummus is chickpeas. It also typically contains tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, and garlic. Compared with other dips, it is more nutritionally dense.
The truth is, Americans love to add toppings to their food. Hummus is easily customizable, with some brands creating varieties that include ingredients such as beets, pumpkin, spinach artichoke, red pepper, edamame, cilantro chimichurri, black bean, Thai chili, and lemongrass chili.
But is hummus really good for you? In this article, we will explore if hummus is healthy. Then we’ll lay down the facts for you to decide.
Here we go.
4 Health Benefits of Hummus
1. It helps curb hunger.
The high fiber and protein content in hummus gives you a feeling of satiety that causes you to feel fuller longer. The chickpeas in hummus are a resistant starch and antinutrient, which inhibits the digestion of carbohydrates.
The fats in hummus also help slow down the rate of absorption of carbohydrates from the gut, which helps release sugar into your bloodstream slower and at a steadier pace.
The dietary fiber in hummus has been shown to increase levels of cholecystokinin, which is the hormone that makes you feel full. It also decreases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry. By reducing your appetite, the fiber in hummus can also help you reduce the amount of calories that you consume, which can assist you with your weight loss efforts.
Several studies have shown that hummus is effective in helping people lose weight and keep it off. In fact, one national survey showed that people who eat hummus on a regular basis are 53% less likely to be obese than people who don't.
People who eat hummus regularly also tend to have a lower BMI and average waist size. While the chickpeas in hummus are relatively calorie-dense, their nutrient-packed nature usually makes up for it.
Chickpeas are known as "pulses," along with other foods like beans, lentils, and peas. Studies have found that eating a serving of pulses every day helps control your appetite and can contribute to weight loss.
2. Promotes good digestion.
The high fiber content of hummus helps to keep you regular, and it helps good bacteria flourish in your gut. With six grams of dietary fiber in every 3.5 ounces of hummus, women are consuming 24% of their daily fiber recommendation and men are consuming 16% by just eating one serving. This dietary fiber helps soften and bulk up stools, making them easier to pass.
The raffinose fiber also feeds the healthy bacteria living in your gut. Specifically, adding hummus to your diet can promote the growth of bifidobacteria, while also inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria.
Bifidobacteria is a beneficial bacteria because it can help regulate intestinal microbial homeostasis, inhibit the colonization of pathogens and harmful bacteria in the gut, modulate local and systemic immune responses, repress procarcinogenic enzymatic activities in your gut, and aid in the production of vitamins.
Your gut bacteria can also convert some of the fiber in hummus into the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which helps nourish colon cells and reduce one's risk of developing colon cancer and other health problems.
3. Good for heart health.
Olive oil is one of the ingredients of hummus, and it’s known for being a great antioxidant that combats inflammation, which is good news for those searching for heart-healthy foods. The body becomes inflamed when it needs to protect itself from harm. However, when inflammation persists longer than necessary and becomes chronic, it can lead to many serious health problems.
In particular, hummus containing virgin olive oil also has the antioxidant oleocanthal, which may have similar anti-inflammatory properties that common anti-inflammatory medications have.
Also, the sesame seeds that are used to make the tahini in hummus could help reduce the type of inflammation that leads to arthritis. Finally, studies have often shown that eating a diet that contains chickpeas can reduce blood markers of inflammation.
4. Provides a high nutritive value.
Because of the nutritional composition of hummus from its basic ingredients, it can be considered one of the most nutritionally dense dips we can buy or make. It is also great because it can be enjoyed by almost anyone. While food allergies and intolerances impact a large portion of the population, hummus is a nutritional option that can be enjoyed by almost everyone because it is naturally gluten-, nut-, and dairy-free.
With just a few tablespoons of hummus, you will get a healthy dose of iron, folate, phosphorus, and B vitamins, which is a lot more than you would get out of a cream cheese-based dip that contains a lot of unhealthy fats, or other popular dips such as nacho cheese or queso.
The iron in hummus helps decrease symptoms of anemia by delivering oxygen to red blood cells. Additionally, the folate in hummus can reduce the risk of cancer, as folate-rich foods have been proven to fight certain cancers. The folate can also help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Hummus is also a plant-based protein, providing you with almost eight grams of protein per serving, making it a great option for vegetarians and vegans. Including enough protein in your diet is essential for optimal recovery and immune function.
All in all, hummus can be considered to be a superfood because it includes unique health benefits that can be hard to get from other foods that you may eat every day.
4 Not-So-Healthy Aspects of Hummus
1. It can sidetrack you from losing weight.
If you’re aiming for weight loss, you have to watch your hummus consumption. While hummus is a great alternative to other dips when you are trying to lose weight, the ideal serving is just two tablespoons.
Some commercial hummus dips contain as much as 700 calories per container, so scooping up as much hummus per bite as you would salsa isn't going to be your best choice when it comes to weight loss.
The tahini that is in hummus is made from ground-up sesame seeds, which have 89 calories and 8 grams of fat per tablespoon. Tahini increases the fat and calorie content of hummus, and while the fats are mostly healthy fats, the best way to benefit from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats is to use them as a replacement for saturated fats in your diet.
Healthy fats are still fats, so consuming them in high quantities may cause you to gain weight, which can lead to health problems. However, using these fats in moderation and replacing saturated fats rather than using them in addition to saturated fats can ensure that you reap the benefits of healthy fats without overdoing it.
One great way to use hummus when trying to lose weight is to replace mayonnaise with hummus on your sandwiches, or to portion out one serving of hummus to dip raw veggies in.
2. It can contain preservatives and additives.
Although there are pre-made hummuses that retain most of the health benefits of homemade hummus, some commercial hummus brands contain artificial additives and preservatives.
You can certainly buy your hummus instead of making it yourself, but this doesn’t mean that you should settle for a product that has ingredients in it like preservatives, additives, and chemicals.
Avoid products that contain vegetable or soybean oil, and find brands that use olive oil or tahini as the base. Read the label to check for any unnatural ingredients that are potentially harmful.
In addition to preservatives and additives, many companies add unnecessary flavors and other additives to their recipes. These added chemicals take away from hummus's nutritional value.
Make sure to avoid buying products that contain add-ins like sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and potassium benzoate. You want to be familiar with the ingredients that you see listed, and you definitely want to be able to pronounce them. That way, you know exactly what you are eating when you're enjoying your hummus.
3. Hummus can raise your sodium levels.
Some commercial dips have added sugars and sodium way higher than the daily recommended values. While it is important to have some salt in your diet, it is also critical that you don't overdo it. The FDA recommends that people consume 1,500 to 2,300mg of salt on average, and under 1,500mg if you suffer from hypertension or are past the age of 45.
Consuming too much salt increases your risk of developing high blood pressure, possibly leading to heart problems and an increased chance of having a stroke. However, not eating enough salt can inhibit proper nerve function, kidney function, and muscle contractions.
Unfortunately, hummus can be high in sodium. The FDA reports that only foods with 5mgs of salt per serving are considered to be "low sodium," and hummus typically has anywhere from 40-200mg of salt per serving.
You can avoid this by making your own hummus at home, but your low-sodium hummus may not taste as traditional as others that you may be used to. Consider your lifestyle when determining how much hummus you eat. If you exercise a lot, your body can handle a bit more sodium in your diet.
Hummus clearly contains a lot of healthy ingredients, so if you lead an active lifestyle, hummus may be a great way to replenish the sodium in your body while also providing you with other ingredients that keep your body working at its best.
If you're living with high blood pressure or you have a family history of heart disease, you may want to limit your hummus intake or increase your potassium intake, which has been shown to counteract the harmful effects of eating too much salt.
To help mitigate the issue of salt in hummus, add some potassium in the form of green vegetables, and get some more exercise. The amount of salt that your body contains is important, and to stay healthy, you can watch the amount of salt in your hummus.
4. It can cause a sugar crash.
Although hummus is healthy when taken in moderation, some people overeat when it’s used as a dip. Since chickpeas are mostly starch, even though they are high in protein, a blood sugar spike and subsequent crash can leave a person feeling even more famished than before they’ve eaten hummus.
Not all hummuses are created equal. Some contain a lot of sugar that can make you feel better in the short term, but tired and groggy after it wears off. Also, a lot of people like to eat hummus with sweet things, such as dates or pita bread. This gives your hummus snack that sweet and salty mixture that people crave. However, it also adds a lot of sugar to your snack that can hurt you in the long run.
Hummus is packed with health benefits, and it is a simple thing to add to your daily diet. If you are buying your hummus from the grocery store, carefully read the nutritional information to make sure you’re not getting unnecessary ingredients that are harmful to your health.
Better yet, learn how to make hummus at home, and practice with adding in different flavors that you enjoy to create variety. It’s way more affordable to make at home than to buy, and you can be sure of what’s in it. Best of all, it is convenient, and you can easily take it with you to work and have it as a midday snack, or incorporate it into your lunch.