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If you’ve wanted to go more plant-forward or finally participate in Meatless Monday, you may have wondered how to stay vegan while still meeting your health goals.
Foods like chickpeas and lentils are a great place to start—not only are they rich in plant-based protein and fiber, but they are also versatile, affordable, and can be incorporated into a variety of delicious meals.
In the past, dried or canned chickpeas and lentils may have been collecting dust in the back of your pantry, but now is their time to shine.
But which one is healthier? Let’s settle the chickpeas vs. lentils debate by looking at their nutritional profiles, cooking characteristics, and ways to use these legumes in the kitchen.
What’s the Difference Between a Chickpea and a Lentil?
Chickpeas and lentils are both legumes, meaning they are plants from the Fabaceae family that bears seeds or fruit that grow in pods.
Another way to describe some legumes is with the term “pulses,” which are the dried edible seeds from a legume—for example, a pea pod is a legume, but the edible pea inside the pod is a pulse.
However, while all pulses are considered legumes, not all legumes are pulses.
Legumes that can be used for oil extraction or are not dry grains (like peanuts and green beans, respectively) are legumes but not pulses.
As chickpeas and lentils are the edible portion that grow inside pods, they are considered both pulses and legumes.
Chickpeas—also known as garbanzo beans—are typically round and beige but can sometimes be found in black, green, or red varietals.
Typical beige chickpeas have a mild and neutral flavor with a thin outer skin and become fluffy and soft inside once cooked.
Lentils are much smaller than chickpeas and come in wide varieties, including green, red, brown, and black—all of which have varying sizes and textures.
The main colors of lentils are:
- Green: These can vary in size but tend to be hearty and nutty when cooked.
- Brown: Brown lentils are the most common type and have a flattened lens-like shape known for their softness and popularity in soups, dips, and stews.
- Yellow and red: These are most often found in Indian cuisine like daal and create a mush-like consistency when cooked.
- French lentils: Also known as Puy lentils, these are small and greenish, retain their shape well, and have a thicker skin that lends to a pleasant “popping” texture when eaten.
- Beluga (Black): These are tiny black lentils that have a similar appearance to caviar and are commonly found in warmed salads.
What Are the Health Benefits of Legumes?
The health benefits of legumes are widespread, as these plants contain protein, dietary fiber, unsaturated fat, iron, phosphorus, B-vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, as well as other vitamins and minerals.
Most legumes, including chickpeas and lentils, also contain polyphenols, which are bioactive compounds that provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
These nutritional qualities have allowed legumes to be associated with improved cardiovascular and metabolic health and reductions in cancer risk—especially colorectal cancer.
Intestinal health is particularly improved by legume consumption because of their high fiber content, a lot of which is in the form of resistant starch.
Resistant starch is a unique type of prebiotic carbohydrate that gets its name because it resists digestion in the upper gastrointestinal tract and reaches the colon instead.
This reduces the impact on blood sugar and allows the resistant starch to act as fuel for gut bacteria, supporting the microbiome and overall health.
Legumes are also known for promoting a healthier body weight, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Nutritional Profile of Chickpeas Vs. Lentils
|Chickpeas (1 cup cooked)||Lentils (1 cup cooked)|
|Iron||26% of the Daily Value (DV)||37% of the DV|
|Vitamin B6||13% of the DV||21% of the DV|
|Folate (Vitamin B9)||71% of the DV||90% of the DV|
|Phosphorus||22% of the DV||28% of the DV|
|Magnesium||19% of the DV||17% of the DV|
|Manganese||74% of the DV||43% of the DV|
When it comes to nutrition, lentils have a leg up on chickpeas in most areas.
Lentils have fewer calories and carbohydrates, more fiber and protein, and greater amounts of iron, vitamins B6 and B9, and phosphorous.
Manganese is the only micronutrient that chickpeas have more of than lentils, and chickpeas also have more healthy unsaturated fat, as lentils are virtually fat-free.
How Do You Cook Chickpeas?
Dried chickpeas take a lot longer than lentils to cook from their dried form.
Their texture is soft on the inside, and they hold their shape well when properly cooked.
Most chickpeas have a little skin on them that is noticeable after cooking—these can be removed if you have time and patience, but most people keep the edible skins on.
Although time-consuming, cooking dried chickpeas on the stovetop is not very difficult—follow these instructions:
- Soak the dried chickpeas in a bowl of water for at least six hours—ideally overnight. Keep in mind that dried chickpeas can triple in size while soaking, so choose a large bowl.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas well.
- To cook, add the rinsed chickpeas to a large pot, cover with 3 inches of water, and add salt (about 1/2 of a teaspoon) and cover the pot.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let the chickpeas cook for 1.5-2 hours.
- You’ll want to cook them for longer to make dips or spreads like hummus, while the shorter time may be best for use in salads.
- Rinse with cool water once cooked.
You can also cook dried chickpeas in an Instant pot or slow cooker, which will speed up the cooking process.
How Do You Cook Lentils?
As lentils are smaller and less dense, they take significantly less time to cook than chickpeas, making them ideal for a busy night.
Unlike chickpeas, lentils do not require soaking beforehand.
However, the different types of lentils will require varying cooking times, with red and yellow lentils taking about half the time of brown, green, and black lentils.
On the stovetop, follow these instructions to cook brown, green, or black lentils:
- Rinse your lentils and look out for small stones or debris (your teeth will thank you for not skipping this step).
- For every 1 cup of lentils, add 3 cups of water and ½ of a teaspoon of salt to the pot or large saucepan.
- Cover and bring the lentils to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 25-30 minutes.
- Strain well and rinse with cool water before serving.
The instructions are similar for red and yellow lentils, with slightly different water ratios and cook times:
- Rinse lentils and look out for stones or debris.
- For every 1 cup of lentils, add 1 ½ cups of water and ¼ of a teaspoon of salt.
- Cover and bring the lentils to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes.
- Strain well and rinse with cool water before serving.
How Can You Use Chickpeas and Lentils?
The texture and mild taste of chickpeas and lentils work well in both savory and sweet recipes.
Chickpeas are common salad toppers, while lentils are often used in curries, soups, and stews.
One of the world’s most well-known ways to utilize chickpeas is with hummus—a blend of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and various spices.
Chickpeas are also often included in healthy baked goods, like cookies, brownies, or “dessert hummus.”
Many lentil varieties also work well atop salads, including Beluga and French lentils.
Lastly, both chickpeas and lentils are tasty when roasted after boiling—add different herbs or spices to make a crunchy snack.
FAQs About Chickpeas and Lentils
Do Chickpeas Have More Protein Than Lentils?
No, lentils have slightly more protein than chickpeas.
Per cup, cooked lentils contain 18g of protein, while cooked chickpeas have 15g of protein.
Are Chickpeas and Lentils Carbs?
Yes, chickpeas and lentils are both sources of carbohydrates.
However, they are healthy carbs, as they are a great source of fiber and resistant starch that bypass digestion.
Are Lentils or Chickpeas Easier to Digest?
This will vary from person to person, but the greater amount of fiber in lentils may make this legume a bit harder to digest than chickpeas if you have an unhealthy gut microbiome or are not used to eating high-fiber foods regularly.
Which Color Lentils Are the Healthiest?
While all colors of lentils are healthy, the Beluga (black) lentils are a bit more nutritious because they have higher amounts of antioxidants, protein, and iron than other colors of lentils.
What Is the Recommended Daily Intake of Legumes?
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming about 3 cups of legumes per week.
Another healthy eating program, the DASH Eating Plan of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, recommends splitting your legume intake into 4 or 5 half-cup servings per week.
However, most Americans only eat less than one cup of legumes per week.
- Legumes are a healthy food group that includes chickpeas and lentils.
- Both chickpeas and lentils are rich in fiber, plant-based protein, resistant starch, and plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Lentils have a slightly higher nutritional value compared to chickpeas, and chickpeas take significantly longer to cook, but both are healthy and tasty options.
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Polak R, Phillips EM, Campbell A. Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake. Clin Diabetes. 2015;33(4):198-205. doi:10.2337/diaclin.33.4.198
Wallace TC, Murray R, Zelman KM. The Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Chickpeas and Hummus. Nutrients. 2016;8(12):766. Published 2016 Nov 29. doi:10.3390/nu8120766