Can Chickpeas Lower Cholesterol?

Traditionally found in Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, chickpeas (Cicer arietinum)—also known as garbanzo beans—have grown to be a very popular addition to a healthy diet over the years. Chickpeas, as with other legumes, are chock-full of nutrients including cholesterol-friendly protein, phytosterols, and soluble fiber. In certain forms of Chinese medicine, chickpeas are also used to treat a variety of health ailments. Research studies have also shown that chickpeas can be used to maintain digestive health and healthy blood glucose levels in diabetics. Some of these studies are also showing that chickpeas can help lower certain aspects of your ​lipid profile.

A man with a handful of chickepeas
Mirek Weichsel / Getty Images

What the Research Says

There aren’t many studies that have examined the effect that consuming chickpeas has on your lipids, but the results so far appear promising. In these studies, chickpeas were consumed as part of a healthy diet, replacing calories from fats and carbohydrates in the diets of people with healthy to slightly high cholesterol levels. The average amount of chickpeas consumed daily was 140 grams, which roughly equals to about 5 ounces or one regular can of the legumes.

These studies found that consuming chickpeas resulted in total cholesterol levels being lowered by up to almost 4%, whereas low-density lipoproteins (LDL) were lowered by at least 3%. Chickpeas did not appear to significantly affect high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and triglycerides in these studies.

To see the effects found in these studies, you would need to consume chickpeas every day for about five to 20 weeks. Scientists investigating the relationship between chickpeas and cholesterol suspect that there are two ingredients that contribute to this legume's ability to modestly lower cholesterol levels: unsaturated fats and fiber. Separately, both of these components have shown to lower cholesterol levels in other studies.

Bottom Line

Although there are not a lot of studies examining the effects that consuming chickpeas has on cholesterol levels, there is some evidence that chickpeas may be able to help slightly lower your total cholesterol and LDL levels. This, coupled with their composition—which consists of unsaturated fats, fiber, complex carbohydrates, folate, and minerals—would qualify chickpeas as a good addition to a heart-healthy diet. Chickpeas also appeared to increase a feeling of fullness in a couple of these studies which may minimize looking for snacks soon after consuming your chickpea-containing meal.

On the other hand, chickpeas also appeared to increase certain gastrointestinal side effects in some of these studies, such as changes in stool habits and bloating, which may be bothersome to some people. Additionally, some people in these studies had trouble meeting the requirements of consuming 140 grams of chickpeas a day because of the fullness gained after their meals.

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By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.