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Not all Chickpeas Wear Capes: The Legume with Superpowers

Why You Should Eat More Chickpeas if You Have PCOS, Gestational Diabetes, or Type 2 Diabetes

*Note: This topic can get a little sciencey. If you’re struggling with terms like “insulin resistance” and “blood glucose,” check out these illustrations on my Instagram account. The illustrations are simplified and do not address some of the more complicated nuances of insulin resistance in PCOS. Regardless, they should help!

First of all, everyone should eat more “leguminous” plants (I’m obsessed with this word, and it refers to legumes such as soybeans, beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils). They are superfoods in several different ways, but for right now, I’m going to focus on how legumes, specifically chickpeas, can improve the health of individuals with diseases related to insulin sensitivity. Since I work in reproductive nutrition, Type 2 Diabetes, Gestational Diabetes, and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) come to mind immediately.

It is not completely clear why chickpeas and other legumes improve insulin resistance. There are several proposed mechanisms that likely all play a role in making chickpeas a blessing for our blood sugar.

Researchers have found in a several studies studies that chickpeas and other legumes increase the levels of glucose transporters on our cell membranes (1). This basically means that when we eat sugar, and it circulates in our blood (blood glucose), our cells are more likely to let it enter our cells to be used as energy. If it doesn’t enter our cells appropriately, we develop high blood sugar, which can damage our bodies over time. In the reproductive world, this can mean pregnancy loss, stillbirth, infant hypoglycemia, high birth weight, preterm birth, and increased chance of cesarean delivery. In PCOS, the body compensates for large amounts of sugar with more insulin, which can lead to problems with ovulation and sub/infertility. Individuals with PCOS who become pregnant are also more likely to develop Gestational Diabetes. In Type 2 Diabetes, chronic high blood sugar can lead to vascular damage causing increased the risk for heart attack, stroke, neuropathy, vision loss, and chronic kidney disease.

Okay, fear mongering over. Clearly these diseases can have serious consequences, which is why it is so exciting that diet can be so effective at balancing blood sugar. In the blood sugar world, chickpeas truly are super heroes.

We also know that chickpeas contain phytoestrogens (you may have heard of these in soybeans as well). Phytoestrogens, like the antioxidant isoflavones in chickpeas, improve insulin secretion (1). Improved insulin secretion means blood sugar is absorbed into cells faster, reducing blood sugar levels. Chickpeas are also known to be a food with a low glycemic load. This means that even though they contain a relatively high amount of carbohydrate, they do not increase our blood glucose too much. Because chickpeas contain high amounts of protein and fiber, the absorption of glucose into our bloodstream is slowed. If you consider the effects of phytoestrogens, fiber, and protein together, it means that the sugars in chickpeas are broken down and slowly dispersed into our blood stream, but quickly accepted from the blood into our cells. This is a great combination for blood sugar balance!

Improving insulin sensitivity, insulin secretion, and glucose tolerance (our ability to move glucose from the blood to the cell) are all vital for the management of diseases like diabetes and PCOS. Approximately 65-70% of women with PCOS are affected by insulin resistance (2). Although diet may or may not be the cause of these individual’s insulin resistance, diet can be used regardless to help manage the disease and related symptoms.

Insulin resistance is the hallmark of Type 2 Diabetes and Gestational Diabetes, so women with these conditions can absolutely benefit from adding more beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas to their diets. Try adding legumes to salads, soups, and wraps. You can also buy pastas made from chickpeas and other legumes. I’m obsessed with Banza (not an advertisement). If your gut struggles to digest beans, consider pureed forms like hummus. The broken-down texture may be easier to digest than the whole form. Rinsing beans after cooking or when draining from the can also reduce the amount of gas they form during digestion.

Finally, are chickpeas better than other legumes? All legumes have similar, but variable, benefits. For instance, the antioxidants in different beans are often different. Chickpeas contain high levels of isoflavones, while black beans contain higher levels of anthocyanin. Both are important antioxidants, so it is helpful to eat both. If you enjoy legumes, make sure to eat them frequently (as tolerated), and to eat a variety of different peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.

Do you have an amazing legume recipe?? I’d love to see it. Comment or email it to me at


1. Clark JL, Taylor CG, Zahradka P. Rebelling against the (Insulin) Resistance: A Review of the Proposed Insulin-Sensitizing Actions of Soybeans, Chickpeas, and Their Bioactive Compounds. Nutrients. 2018;10(4):434. Published 2018 Mar 30. doi:10.3390/nu10040434

2. Marshall JC, Dunaif A. Should all women with PCOS be treated for insulin resistance?. Fertil Steril. 2012;97(1):18-22. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.11.036

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