Falafel is a deep-dried food made of mashed chickpeas. This traditional Middle Eastern snack is rich in fiber and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals essential for your health. The benefits of falafel can be attributed to its rich nutrients. It can be eaten alone or served with salads, veggies, or pickles. This gluten-free snack is popular among vegans and vegetarians. This article explores falafel nutrition profile, its health benefits, and some recipes. Keep reading.
In This Article
What Is Falafel?
Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, says, “Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty-shaped fritter made of mashed chickpeas. It is a popular Middle Eastern dish.”
It is prepared with dried ground chickpeas or fava beans or a mix of both. The legumes are soaked in water, crushed, kneaded, seasoned, and then fried in hot oil. Traditional recipes also contain ingredients like onion, garlic, parsley, paprika, and sesame seeds. Sometimes, baking soda is added to make the batter airier (1).
Mitri adds, “Overall, falafel is a healthy vegetarian food. It is primarily made of chickpeas, fava beans, or a combination of the two. These beans are high in protein, soluble fiber, and complex carbs to provide energy and enhance satiety.” The next section gives a proper breakdown of the nutrients in falafel. Scroll down.
Falafel Nutritional Facts
A 17 g falafel patty contains (2):
Total lipids (Fat)
Rhyan Geiger, RDN, states, “Falafel contains nutrients like protein, B vitamins, iron, and fiber. Because of its protein content, it’s a popular choice among vegans and vegetarians.”
Since falafel is fried, its oil content is high, which may be a cause for concern. However, there are a few other cooking methods to minimize the oil content and make it healthier.
Geiger continues, “The health aspects of falafel may be questioned because of the preparation methods. If deep-fried in oil, they may be higher in fat and calories. Instead, choosing to bake falafel increases the nutritional benefits.” Here is the easiest and tastiest way to bake crispy falafel at home.
How To Make Healthy Falafel
What You Need
- 1 can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
- ½ cup of white onion (finely diced)
- 1 cup of fresh parsley
- 1 cup of fresh cilantro
- ¼ teaspoon of black pepper (freshly ground)
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon of coriander
- 2 teaspoons of cumin
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon of salt or as needed
How To Prepare
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Coarsely blend chickpeas, onions, parsley, and cilantro in a mixer.
- Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, coriander, cumin, baking powder, and flaxseed. Blend until smooth.
- Grease a large baking sheet.
- Roll the falafel mixture into balls and place them evenly on a baking sheet. Flatten each ball into a disc (or any shape you want).
- Bake for 20 minutes. Flip the patties and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.
- Serve with pita bread or salad.
This is one of the healthiest ways to prepare falafel at home. Other than the cooking method, the ingredients, especially chickpeas, in falafel make it quite healthy. Take a look at its health benefits.
Health Benefits Of Falafel
1. Rich In Proteins
Chickpea-based falafels are a good source of protein, and the body readily absorbs chickpea proteins than proteins from other beans. They can be a good substitute for non-vegetarian protein. Also, chickpeas contain dietary fiber, folate, beta carotene, and other healthy fatty acids (3).
2. May Help Control Weight
Legumes like chickpeas and fava beans are considered low-GI foods (a glycemic index of 55 or less). A study showed that falafel, served with pita bread, pickle, salad, and tahini sauce, had an average GI of 33. A diet comprising nutrient-balanced low GI foods promotes greater weight loss and is crucial for preventing several associated metabolic syndromes (4), (5), (6).
3. May Promote Heart Health
Chickpeas are widely used in the Mediterranean diet. A study showed that chickpea supplementation could reduce the total serum cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), two biomarkers of cardiovascular diseases. Legume-rich diets also help lower systolic blood pressure and may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions (7).
4. Good Source Of Vitamins
Chickpeas contain important vitamins, such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, folate, and beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A. They also contain tocopherols, vitamin B complex, and folic acid. A study evaluated authentic falafel obtained from Israel and found that it contained 0.30 mg of thiamin (vitamin B1) per 100 grams. In other words, about five falafels can cover 40% of your daily recommended thiamin intake (8), (9), (10).
5. May Prevent Anemia
Chickpeas are rich in vitamin B12 and folate, two crucial nutrients required for making red blood cells (erythropoiesis). A low red blood cell count may cause anemia, leading to circulation issues in the body (3), (11). While falafels are not proven to prevent anemia, consuming chickpea-based falafels may help maintain the folate and vitamin B12 levels in your body.
6. Is Gluten-Free
Traditional falafel is made with chickpea flour or fava beans, or both. These legumes are gluten-free and rich in dietary fiber. Falafel can be a healthy addition to a gluten-free diet to cover up the deficiency of other nutrients (especially fiber). It is also good for people with celiac disease (a digestive disorder triggered by gluten) (12), (13).
7. May Improve Bowel Movement
The dietary fiber in chickpeas helps smoothen the bowel movement, increases the frequency of defecation, and softens the stool composition to prevent constipation (7).
You can store falafel or its batter for several days or months if you follow proper storage techniques. Here are a few tips from the experts.
Storage And Food Safety
Geiger recommends, “To store falafel, place it in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or freezer for up to 6 months. There are no food safety concerns with falafel unless eaten past expiration.” However, ensure that you store the batter or falafel patties in an airtight container or ziplock bag.
The consumption of street food, including falafel, is often associated with health, safety, and regulatory issues mainly due to the unhygienic methods.
Elizabeth Barnes, MS, RDN, LDN, explains, “As with any food, make sure you follow proper food handling. The CDC is a great place to find out more about food safety.”
She suggests the following food safety tips for cooking falafel:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before cooking.
- Do not eat uncooked falafel batter.
- Cook thoroughly.
Falafel is prepared using a variety of ingredients, and some may cause allergies.
Possible Side Effects And Allergies of Eating Falafel
- Sesame seeds are a common allergen and often used in dips and sauces served with falafel dishes. They may cause severe allergic reactions in people allergic to them (14).
- Even chickpeas may cause allergic reactions. Barnes explains, “Some people, particularly those of Mediterranean or Indian ancestry or an existing allergy to another legume, may have an allergic reaction to chickpeas. Symptoms experienced may include rashes, hives, and skin redness.” Studies have also confirmed this claim as lentils, chickpeas, peas, and green beans have been described as potential allergens in Mediterranean countries and India (15).
- Another possible side effect Mitri mentions is, “Those who are sensitive to fried foods or fiber may experience bloating or indigestion.” Certain carbohydrates in chickpeas can also cause flatulence. We lack the enzymes to digest them, so they accumulate in the large intestine, resulting in a gas buildup (3).
Mitri suggests, “If you’ve never had falafel before, try a small portion first to make sure you don’t experience these side effects.”
Falafel is a deep-dried vegan snack made from mashed chickpeas. It is a good source of vitamins and minerals, protein, and dietary fiber that help treat many ailments. Falafel benefits your health in many ways. The intake of this gluten-free snack may help control weight, promote heart health, prevent anemia, and improve bowel movement. However, it may cause allergic reactions in some people who are allergic to chickpeas and sesame seeds. Hence, check the ingredients list before consuming this snack. Consult your doctor in case of emergencies.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is falafel a superfood?
Yes. Falafel is considered a superfood. In addition, the presence of various health-promoting ingredients like chickpeas and sesame seeds makes it a healthy addition to one’s diet.
Can you eat falafel every day?
Falafel is a good source of protein, fiber, and several micronutrients. But it is high in fat too. Hence, if you limit your fat intake from other foods, you can eat falafel every day.
Can falafel be eaten cold?
No. Falafel must be eaten hot and fresh.
Is falafel an appetizer?
Yes. Falafel is considered an appetizer. It can be paired with many ingredients and served as the perfect one-bite appetizer.
Is falafel from Egypt?
Yes. Falafel originated in Egypt.
- Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern deep-dried vegan snack made from mashed chickpeas.
- It is a good source of proteins, B vitamins, iron, and dietary fiber.
- Baked falafel may prove to be a healthier option with host f benefits such as promoting gut and heart health.
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- Falafel: A Meal with Full Nutrition
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