You’ve probably heard a lot of warnings about how bad processed foods are for your health and why you should stop eating them.
But if you take this advice as a whole and avoid all processed foods, you would hurt your health. Some highly processed foods, like chips and cured meats, aren’t very good for you, but other, less processed foods can be a great addition to your daily diet.
Take chickpea pasta. Even though it’s processed (chickpeas are dried, ground into flour, and then made into noodles), it’s one of the healthiest things you can eat. This means that eating these non-traditional noodles is good for your body in a lot of different ways.
Here, experts talk about the health benefits of chickpea pasta and give tips on how to add it to your weekly meal plan in a tasty way.
What Does It Mean to Be “Processed,” Anyway?
Leslie Langevin, RD, co-owner of Whole Health Nutrition and author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook, says that the word “processed” has a bad reputation.
The American Heart Association says that “processed” just means that a food is changed, prepared, or packaged in a certain way before it gets to your plate (AHA).
This processing can range from very little (like frozen fruits or vegetables that have already been cut) to very much or “ultra-processed” (like sugary energy drinks and cakes).
Most of the time, we hear about how the latter is bad for our health. Ultra-processed foods do have extra salt, sugar, oils, colors, and preservatives added to them. According to the AHA, 70 percent of the sodium in the average American diet comes from commercially processed and restaurant foods.
But this is just one way that foods are changed, and it isn’t always a bad thing when a food changes.
The American Heart Association (AHA) says that some processing involves adding nutrients like fiber, calcium, or vitamin D, or packaging foods in a way that keeps them from going bad and makes them safer. For example, canning fruits and vegetables, pasteurizing milk products, or vacuum-packing meats are all examples of this.
Langevin says that certain types of processing can also make foods easier to digest or absorb. She says that some ways to do this are to grind oats into flour, sprout grains, or soak beans before cooking them.
And processing a food, like chickpeas, can make it easier to eat and enjoy in new ways without changing its nutritional value. Langevin says that eating chickpeas in the shape of a pasta noodle gives you the same nutrition as a whole chickpea and is fun for the whole family.
6 Good Things About Chickpea Pasta
There are many ways that chickpea pasta is good for your health. Here are a few examples:
1. It helps you digest food well.
Susie Polgreen, RD, CD, a dietitian with Whole Health Nutrition, says that depending on the brand, chickpea pasta usually has more fiber than white or wheat pasta (around 8 grams per serving, compared to 2 and 5 grams, respectively).
Here’s why that’s good for your digestive system: Polgreen says that both soluble and insoluble fiber help to bulk up your stool and move it through your digestive tract. This means that you have regular, healthy bowel movements.
Polgreen also says that fiber is a great source of prebiotics, which help feed probiotics, or “good” gut bacteria. In other words, chickpea pasta is great for your microbiome and has a lot of fiber.
Langevin says that with up to 8 grams of fiber per serving, this legume pasta can help you reach your daily fiber goal of 25 to 38 grams.
2. It can help keep your blood sugar stable.
If you need to watch your blood sugar but want to eat linguine, chickpea pasta is a great low-glycemic alternative.
“Because chickpea pasta is high in protein and fiber, it slows the release of glucose into the bloodstream,” says Polgreen. This makes it a better choice for controlling blood sugar than white or wheat pasta.
In other words, the fiber in complex carbs like chickpea pasta slows digestion. On the other hand, your body quickly breaks down and absorbs simple carbs like white pasta, which can cause your blood sugar to rise and fall after you eat.
3. It’s linked to a lower chance of getting a long-term illness
Your plate of chickpea pasta, which is high in fiber, may also help protect your heart.
“It has been shown that getting enough fiber is very important for overall health and preventing disease,” Langevin says. She says that a high-fiber diet may make you less likely to get certain cancers and heart disease.
For example, a series of systematic reviews and meta-analyses published in The Lancet in February 2019 found that people who ate 25 to 29 grams of fiber per day had a 15 to 30 percent lower risk of dying early from any cause, including heart problems, as well as a lower risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer (versus those who ate less fiber).
In the same way, switching out some animal protein (especially red meat) for plant-based protein (like chickpea pasta) may be good for your long-term health. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine in August 2019 found that eating more meatless meals is linked to a lower risk of certain cancers and heart-related diseases.
4. It can help you build up lean muscle
You probably think of meat when you think of foods that help build muscle. But chickpea pasta is a great source of protein that comes from plants, which is great for your muscles.
Langevin says that, depending on the brand, chickpea pasta can have almost twice as much protein as white pasta and even more than gluten-free rice pastas, which only have about 3 grams of protein per serving.
Langevin says that you should eat 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal to build and keep healthy muscle. And since each serving of chickpea pasta has up to 14 grams of protein, it can help you meet this protein goal, especially if you eat a plant-based or vegan diet. Yes, a big bowl of high-protein chickpea noodles can be a regular meat-free dinner.
But keep in mind that chickpeas, like most other beans, don’t have all the proteins they need on their own. She says that means they don’t have the two essential amino acids methionine and cysteine, while meat has all nine essential amino acids.
Even so, you shouldn’t let this stop you from eating legume pasta. Even if you eat chickpea noodles, you can still get the amino acids you need. Langevin says, “To make chickpea pasta a complete protein, just serve some toasted walnuts or seeds with it or a few whole grains at the same meal.”
5. It helps you lose weight and keep it off.
If you want to lose a few pounds or keep your weight the same, chickpea pasta can help you do both.
Again, fiber is the most important thing here. Langevin says this is because fiber makes you feel fuller during and after a meal. Fiber fills up your stomach and makes you less hungry, which are both important for losing weight or keeping it off.
Protein is another part of this equation that is important. Protein takes longer to break down than carbs, so it can help you feel fuller for longer and stop the rumblings in your stomach that make you want to eat high-calorie foods
6. It’s a good alternative for people with allergies
Chickpea pasta can be a safe and tasty alternative to regular pasta for people who are allergic to or sensitive to certain foods.
“Legume-based pastas can be a great choice for people who are sensitive to gluten or wheat,” says Polgreen.
Langevin says that’s because chickpea pasta doesn’t have gluten in it to begin with. She adds that it’s even better than gluten-free rice pasta, which is low in fiber and high in carbs.
Just check the list of ingredients on the back of the box again. Polgreen says that some brands of chickpea pasta only use chickpea flour, but other brands may use a mix of different flours that may not be gluten-free.
How to Start Eating Chickpea Pasta
Langevin says that chickpea pasta is easy to use in any dish where you would normally use pasta. Here are a few easy ways to start cooking with pasta made from beans:
- Put pesto, tomato sauce, or a light Alfredo sauce on it.
- It tastes and feels great in tuna salad when you add it.
- Use it as the basis for a pasta salad with a variety of vegetables and an oil-and-vinegar dressing.
- Mix the leftovers from last night into a breakfast frittata for a bit more texture and protein.