The Surprising Superfood No One Talks About: A Cardiologist Explains

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When asked to name a superfood, the lowly chickpea probably isn't the first answer you'd come up with. But it has more scientific evidence to support its stature than most foods.

The chickpea is also known as a garbanzo bean, a ceci bean, a cicer, a Bengal gram, or chana, depending on which part of the world this ancient food staple is found. And the scientific research is substantial: Health benefits attributed to diets rich in chickpeas have been identified in terms of diabetes, heart health, GI health, cholesterol, and even weight loss. Indeed, in a recent analysis of diets rich in chickpeas and other dietary pulses (lentils, peas, beans), weight loss was superior even when calories were comparable to diets without pulses.

The science supporting the heart health benefits of chickpeas goes back to at least 1968, in one of the most interesting studies I have ever read. In this study, 30 healthy males were fed a variety of diets all with equal calories. On a diet low in fats, their cholesterol levels averaged 123 md/dl, a very healthy level. When they changed to a high-fat diet by adding butterfat, their cholesterol rose to 206 mg/dl. (That's why I recommend avoiding buttery coffee—your cholesterol may shoot up, too, and you'll probably be seeing me in my cardiology clinic.)

Finally, the researchers added chickpeas to the high-fat diet and the participants' cholesterol fell to 160 mg/dl (so, maybe you should put some hummus in your buttery coffee). Thus, chickpeas and other pulses appear to blunt the rise in blood cholesterol that dietary fats may otherwise induce.

Here, I'm sharing one of my favorite recipes for chickpeas, which has no added oils and eating it would be expected to result in lower cholesterol while also providing oodles of taste:

A Delicious, Oil-Free Chana Masala

  • 1 cup chickpeas (chana)
  • First group of spices:
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp. tea (any black drinking tea)
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. cumin seed
  • ½ tsp. aniseed
  • 7 to 8 shakes of black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. any garam masala of your choice
  • Second group of spices:
  • 1 tsp. coriander seed
  • ½ tsp. cumin seed
  • 2 red dry chilies or red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 2 medium-size onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. green coriander, finely chopped

Soak the chickpeas for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Then rinse, and add the baking soda and 2 glasses of water. Wait for ½ an hour.

Drain the water and rinse again so that all the baking soda is washed out. (This way, the chickpeas will come out evenly cooked.)

Add to the pressure cooker with 3 glasses of water for 3 minutes. Then reduce the flame and cook for about 20 minutes. Now keep it aside, and it will cook in its own pressure.

Dry-roast the second group of spices.

In the pressure cooker, mix the first and second group of spices, onion, tomato, and coriander. Cook for 5 minutes until the gravy becomes thick.

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