Pictured recipe: Garlic Hummus
Have you taken a look at the refrigerated section of your grocery store lately? Some have entire displays of the many brands and versions of hummus. There's plain hummus, flavored hummus and even—yep—dessert hummus. Sure, it seems good-for-you, but what's really in the spread, and is it healthy?
The Middle Eastern staple is made primarily from blended chickpeas, tahini, oil and salt. (Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds.) "The basic recipe is going to be the same whether you're eating it in a restaurant, making it at home or buying a container of it at the store," says New York City dietitian Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet. The main difference between making it at home and buying it is the oil used. You may find canola oil or soybean oil in store-bought versions, whereas you'll probably use olive oil in homemade.
First, let's look at the nutrition stats for hummus: a 2-tablespoon serving contains about 70 calories, 2 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of carbohydrates and 1.5 grams of fiber.
The verdict based on the numbers and ingredients? Hummus is healthy—and you can include it as part of a nutritious diet. However, if you're on a specific diet, it may not work with the eating plan.
For instance, chickpeas (and thus hummus) are not allowed on the Whole30 diet because they are a legume. For the same reason, hummus is not allowed on a paleo diet. Hummus can be keto friendly, if you eat it in limited amounts and allot carbohydrates in order to make room for it. (Many people count "net carbs" or total carbs minus grams of fiber. In this case, a serving of hummus has 3 net carbs.)
Hummus is gluten-free (though watch what you're dipping into it; crackers and chips are not always gluten-free). Finally, hummus is traditionally vegan; however, Gans says she has seen versions sold in specialty shops or farmers' markets that are made with yogurt, in which case it won't be vegan.
Pictured recipe: Vegan Bistro Lunch Box
One of the most important numbers to pay attention to is the protein. "A popular misconception is that hummus contains a lot of filling protein," says Gans. But a serving only contains 2 grams, which is not much. (For reference, 3 ounces of chicken breast contains around 30 grams of protein. Big difference.)
If you're counting it as your main source of protein on a salad or sandwich, "you may be hungry sooner rather than later," she says. While the protein count isn't as high as most people think, the fat content does help make hummus filling.
The best way to eat hummus is as a condiment, so you're not relying on it to meet your protein needs. Slather it on a turkey, cheese and veggie sandwich in place of mayo to add a bonus hit of protein and fiber.
When it comes to how much hummus you can eat, it depends on what you're eating it with and if it's part of a meal or snack. As part of your meal, keep it to 2 tablespoons, advises Gans. If it's a snack, like as a dip for raw veggies, then double it for 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) in order to get 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, which will make for a more satiating snack.
Hummus lovers have healthier diets. People who eat hummus tend to consume more fiber, vitamins A, C and E, magnesium, folate, potassium and iron compared to those who don't eat it, points out a study review in the journal Nutrients.
Hummus eaters also had lower BMIs and smaller waistlines and were 53 percent less likely to be obese, according to research in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. The carbohydrates in chickpeas are slowly digested, providing lasting energy, and eating more fiber (as hummus consumers do), is associated with weight management, the researchers point out.
What's more, those who ate about a serving a day of pulses (beans and lentils, which includes chickpeas) lost almost a pound more after six weeks of dieting compared to those who didn't, reports a meta-analysis on 21 studies in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Pictured recipe: Pumpkin Hummus
You can buy hummus in a variety of flavors—from garlic to pine nut and roasted red pepper—which allows you to switch things up for variety. New on the scene, however, is dessert hummus, made from chickpeas blended with sweet ingredients like sugar and cocoa. According to Gans, the saturated fat content may be higher (they often use coconut oil) and, naturally, it contains sugar.
All that to say that dessert hummus "is still dessert," she says. Just because it's made with chickpeas doesn't give you license to eat a whole tub with a spoon. Use it as a dip for fresh fruit instead of whipped cream, she says.
"Hummus is a very flexible food," says Gans. Meaning: There are so many ways to eat it that go beyond pita chips. Here are a few ideas:
• Dollop it on a baked potato in lieu of sour cream
• Slather it on toast with a sprinkling of paprika
• Sub for mayo as a sandwich spread
• Stir into tomato sauce for a silky consistency without cream
• Buy or make dessert hummus as a dip for strawberries
• Stuff it into deviled eggs
• Mix it with avocado for a creamy dip
• Blend in vegetables (roasted red peppers, beets) for a tasty twist
• Top grilled chicken or burgers