bowl of raw chickpeas

Garbanzo & Chickpeas Are Gluten Free, But With Side Effects

[toc]Are garbanzo beans the same as chickpeas? Yes.

Then why are garbanzo beans called chickpeas? Good question…

The difference between a bean and pea is largely based on culture, as neither term is defined in botanical science. Both come from the same botanical family, Leguminosae (AKA legumes). The parts we eat – the seeds – are found inside of their pods.

From most culinary perspectives, the difference is that beans are typically oval or kidney shaped, while peas are round and usually – but not always – come from the species Pisum sativum.

The species Cicer arietinum (chick/garbanzo) are round but not perfectly so, like an English pea. Given their funky shape, it’s no surprise they’re called both names, depending on the part of the world you are in.

fresh hummus with olive oilThe term garbanzo bean comes from modern Spanish, and you will hear it frequently used in the US. In the UK and other English speaking parts of Europe, you always hear them referred to as chickpea. Bengal gram is another name, albeit rarely used in the West. All are the same thing.

Chana is what they are called in Indian cooking (like chana masala).

However chana should not be confused with the similar sounding chana dal, which is something different. It’s the split kernel of specific varieties of Bengal gram… called desi.

Desi are smaller, darker, and grittier than the traditional chickpea used in hummus and other dishes we regularly eat in America.

Are they good for you?

Before we even dive into the big side effect and one increasingly popular method of cooking them which may actually be terrible for you, let’s start with the positive stuff… the nutritional benefits.

How much protein there is in chickpeas on a per calorie basis is high; 1g protein per 18.4 calories.

To put that in perspective, here’s how much protein you get when you eat 100 calories worth of the following foods, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database (1):

spinach salad with avocado, chickpea, tomato, cucumber, carrotsTempeh = 10.6g protein
Beef = 10.0g
Lentils = 7.8g
Chickpeas = 5.4g
Quinoa = 3.7g
Peanut butter = 3.7g
Whole grain wheat flour = 2.9g

It’s definitely not the highest, but garbanzo remains an excellent GF vegan source of protein. Unlike beef, chicken, and dairy sources, you will have zero cholesterol since they come from a plant.

You get nearly two-thirds of your RDI for dietary fiber from a 3.5 ounce serving (17 grams of fiber). You won’t get that benefit with protein-rich beef or chicken, since meat doesn’t contain any fiber whatsoever.

A rich source of phosphorus, iron, zinc, and folate are a few other nutritious reasons they are good for you to eat.

Hummus won’t be as healthy since it is loaded with added olive oil or another type. That means less protein and more calories per serving.

Falafel, which is the legume mashed and fried, is often worse than hummus when it comes to fat content and calories.

Are chickpeas gluten free?

Yes, being a legume they do not contain wheat or other sources of gluten. However cross contamination during production may be an issue with some manufactured foods.

Are canned garbanzo beans gluten free? Technically yes, if good manufacturing practices are used to prevent contamination. That being said, very few brands of chickpeas are explicitly marked as such.

Brand Can Label Says GF? Website Says GF? Organic?
Bush’s No Yes No
Eden Foods No Yes Yes
Goya No No No
S&W No Yes No
Trader Joe’s No No No
Whole Food’s 365 No No Yes

Even though Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Goya, and other brands are not called out as being GF, their ingredient lists do not appear to have wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt, malt or other sources.

Since the types of preservatives they contain are not known to be derived from any of these grains, one may presume that all brands on this list are most likely gluten free and just not marked as such.

If you want to be 100% confident though, stick with the canned chickpeas which are clearly marked as not containing gluten. That ensures they are cognizant in avoiding cross contamination during storage and manufacturing.

baking with flour, noodles, eggsGluten free bread using chickpea stock should be safe, but be careful with the dried flours.

The reason is because most milled flours share the same equipment. For example, one month they may use it to grind wheat and the following month, it might be used to make another type of flour.

Even if the equipment is never shared, unless the entire factory is a dedicated wheat free facility, you can bet there is airborne gluten flying around everywhere.

Is chickpea flour gluten free? Don’t make that assumption unless the product is specifically marked as such. Unlike canned beans which are probably safe either way, milled flours are more prone to contamination for the reasons discussed.

Celiac or not, consider these side effects

Given its low cost, using chickpea flour as a substitute for wheat in pasta noodles, breads, crackers, cookies, and more is commonplace these days.

gluten free bread, sliced
Most GF breads are made with rice flour

Rarely is it 100% chickpea flour, but many are blending it with brown rice flour, corn, and other alternative grains in order for the product to be certified gluten free.

On one hand, this is a good thing. Since garbanzo has higher protein content than those aforementioned grains, it means that baked goods and pasta can have an improved ratio of carbs to protein.

That’s beneficial, but some take it to the extreme.

In our review of gluten free pasta brands, we analyze some which contain a whopping 14 grams of protein per 200 calorie serving. That’s about 2 ounces of dry noodles and since many people eat double that amount as an entree, it means you’re getting around 30 grams! That competes head to head with many of the best meat sources.

But when you eat too much of them, they can cause severe digestion problems. Getting a stomach ache after your meal might be just the start of your suffering.

Why do beans make you fart? It’s not because of the air they contain, as many people incorrectly believe.

Normal sugars – such as glucose and fructose – are broken down by your body easily. Probably too easily, as they hit your blood stream almost immediately.

This is why pasta and white bread made with wheat have such a high glycemic index. Likewise for the GF versions made with brown rice, which are often even worse for blood sugar (2) (3).

human digestive tract diagramThe types of carbs (sugars) in chickpea are not the same.

Beans contain a category of sugar called oligosaccharides. The types you find in garbanzo include raffinose, ciceritol, and stachyose (4). Unlike grains, these are hard for our bodies to digest.

They are too large to be absorbed in the small intestine, so they pass on through to the large intestine – where your gut flora will ferment them to break them down.

This fermentation results in the production of gas, including hydrogen and methane (which smells awful). While some people fart less than others after eating chickpeas, no one gets a free pass.

This is because all humans lack the enzymes necessary for digesting them any other way. Many mammals can break them down just fine – with 100% of it occurring higher up in the small intestine (5). But we as humans can’t and never will be able to.

That means if you’re blaming the dog for those four smells after your supper of lentils, you might actually be choosing the most unfair scapegoat in the house!

Why you need to be careful

As crazy as it may sound, passing gas may actually be a good thing, relative to some of the nasty side effects of eating chickpeas or hummus, which is made from them.

toilet shortcut signDo you or someone you cook for have any of the following digestive disorders?

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Crohn’s disease (ileitis)
  • ulcerative colitis
  • diverticulosis and diverticulitis
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction (CIP)
  • hemorrhoids
  • lactose intolerance
  • gallstones
  • Hirschsprung disease

If so, then be extra careful when eating foods containing chickpea. Because of the way humans digest them, the increased fermentation can lead to pockets of temporarily trapped gas in the digestive tract, which can easily worsen symptoms for many of those diseases.

For some, this might cause just a stomach ache after eating.

With a few of the aforementioned diseases like IBS and ulcerative colitis, the side effects of eating chana can even include diarrhea. If the body doesn’t know how to handle an intolerance, it sometimes works to get rid of the food as fast as possible.

While it’s true these symptoms should be considered for all legumes, some beans are digested much easier than others, because they contain lower amounts of oligosaccharides.

For example with most people, soybeans are by far the easiest legume to digest as long as you don’t have a soy allergy.

Many claim to not have any noticeable increase in gas and bloating when eating soy. Do chickpeas cause farts more frequently? Almost everyone would give a resounding “yes” to that question!

cooked falafel on plateDoes falafel cause bloating too? Yep and there is even a catchy name for it; falafel flatulence. Hummus can make you gassy, too.

Since acid reflux takes place in the esophagus, at the top of the digestive tract, are chickpeas bad for heartburn?

For some, they can be.

Unlike most of the aforementioned digestive disorders which take place lower, GERD is at the start. The reason it can still be affected is because of the fact that the stomach is not really digesting them much.

In turn, if you eat too much hummus or another dish containing this legume, it may sit in your stomach longer than say, a refined easily digestible grain.

As a result, the higher volume of food sitting in your stomach means it may be closer to your lower esophageal sphincter – that’s the “door” which separates your stomach and esophagus.

This can be compounded by problematic foods which are consumed with it, as those too may now be closer to your sphincter.

If you don’t have heartburn, the food sitting in your stomach longer is actually a good thing for dieting and weight loss, since it means you should feel full for longer. Plus, slower digestion means less of a blood sugar spike.

Hemorrhoids and gallstones are only affected indirectly. The increased gas and bloating (and possibly diarrhea) in the digestive tract can lead to increased abdominal cramping and pressure. That might exacerbate the pain associated with nearby problems, like a hemorrhoid. Even back pain might be set off for the same reason.

How to eat without side effects?

dal bhat plateAfter understanding the reason why beans cause you to fart more, you may be thinking “screw this, I want to stop eating them altogether!”

But unless you have severe GI issues, that’s not the best approach.

If you were to nix legumes altogether, the remaining gluten free grain alternatives are often high carb and low protein. That’s unhealthy for you, too.

Brown rice bread and pasta may taste great, but it’s essentially all sugar. It’s especially not good for you if you’re diabetic.

Too much chickpeas can be bad for you, but continuing to eat them and other beans in moderation remains a good idea.

Follow these tips for how to reduce gas and the other side effects. Garbanzo beans are healthy for you if you eat them the right way.

1. Proper preparation

When eating canned chickpeas, make sure you drain the liquid and then rinse the beans.

That’s according to Amy Chaplain, an award winning vegetarian chef who is particularly known for her gluten free recipes involving chickpeas and other lentils. In her book At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well, she offers relevant advice on how to make legumes more digestive friendly (not to mention, more delicious).

2. The right cooking methods

closeup photo of raw garbanzoFor starters, do not eat raw chickpeas. The same advice actually applies to all raw legumes, with the exception of peanuts (which yes, are also a legume).

Generally, the rule of thumb with legumes is that the more thoroughly they’re cooked, the easier they are to digest.

If using fresh or uncooked raw garbanzo, soak overnight and drain the liquid beforehand.

Boiling or steaming for extended amounts of time is a good cooking method.

In India, they’ve mastered the best way how to cook chana – slow simmered with added spices like whole bay leaf to minimize intolerance. You remove the bay leaves before eating though.

However you prepare them, know that “thoroughly cooked” doesn’t necessarily mean roasting or frying.

Roasting typically uses high heat for short amounts of time. No one denies it changes them on a molecular basis, but some claim more GI symptoms when eating roasted versus boiled or steamed.

To the best of our knowledge, no scientific studies measure the two side by side. So while some suspect it’s worse, it remains unproven.

Gluten free roasted chickpea snacks are gaining popularity, thanks to their benefit of high protein content, high fiber, and lower calorie count relative to other finger foods, like chips, crackers, and popcorn.

What they fail to tell you is one potentially unhealthy thing about them.

IARC cancer ratingsThe carbohydrates in beans/peas can create acrylamide when they are roasted.

While it is not yet classified as a carcinogen in food, when found outside of food – such as an environmental toxin – it is classified as such.

The World Health Organization ranks acrylamide as Group 2A carcinogen (6).

In California, even when found naturally in cooked food, it’s still on the state’s Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer and reproductive harm (7). That’s a reason you see those Prop 65 warning signs at Starbucks and other coffee shops throughout California (e.g. roasted coffee beans).

It’s true any cooking method can create acrylamide, but high temperature and drying conditions are typically the worst. Roasting typically involves both of those characteristics. Grilling and frying are two other major offenders.

On that note, keep in mind that falafel are balls of fried chickpea mash.

Does coffee cause cancer? Read that link to understand more and for useful advice on how to reduce the amount of acrylamide in your cup of coffee.

3. Use Beano

The best solution for the prevention of farting after chickpeas is also the easiest.

boy wearing gas maskThose enzymes you’re lacking to digest beans? While, Beano supplements contain enzymes which make that possible.

Pop one or two right before your Mediterranean meal of falafel and hummus, or that chana masala and kaali daal from your favorite Indian restaurant. Do that and you might be toot-free after. Or at least, it should be noticeably minimized.

We shy away from promoting specific brands but in the case of Beano, since they have patents on proprietary enzymes, the knockoffs just don’t work as well based on our personal experience.

Even if you don’t have a GI disease, trying Beano tablets are worth it for social benefits if nothing else.