It’s easy to go overboard on this popular Middle Eastern spread, but it can still be part of a healthy diet. Here’s what you need to know.

Hummus is one of those tasty snacks that always seems to disappears quickly, whether it’s set out at parties or tucked inside a lunch box. The creamy chickpea-based dip boasts a rich, nutty flavor that’s tough to resist, especially when it’s served as a vehicle for veggies or spread over fresh pita bread.

If you love hummus, then you’ve probably overindulged once or twice (or more). But how healthy is hummus, exactly? And how bad is it for you if you eat too much? Let’s dig deeper into the health benefits of this popular Middle Eastern spread and the most nutritious ways to make it part of your diet.

What is Hummus?

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The basic ingredients in hummus are chickpeas, tahini (a thick sesame seed paste), extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt—though many brands sell "flavors" that add everything from toasted pine nuts to olives or chipotle peppers. Traditional recipes start with dried chickpeas, but many people use the canned variety to significantly speed up the hummus-making process.

You can serve any hummus as is, or you can top it with delicious ingredients like fresh herbs, pumpkin seeds, or even spiced ground beef. The most traditional way to enjoy hummus is as a dip, but you can also use it as a topping for a healthy grain bowl or a fattoush salad.

Hummus Nutrition

For store-bought hummus, a typical serving size is about two tablespoons. From a nutrition standpoint, this looks pretty good:

Sabra Classic Hummus (2 tbsp serving)

Calories: 70
Fat: 5g
Saturated Fat: 1g
Sodium: 130mg
Carbohydrates: 4g
Fiber: 2g
Sugar: 0g
Added Sugars: 0g
Protein: 2g
Calcium: 2% DV

A small amount of hummus delivers an impressive dose of plant protein and fiber. Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are the primary source of these satiating and energizing nutrients. In addition to protein and fiber, these powerhouse pulses pack a wealth of other key nutrients like folate, iron, potassium, and manganese. Chickpeas also boast a low glycemic index, which may help in managing blood sugar levels.   

Hummus is also a good source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which in moderate amounts can help lower your risk for heart disease and improve cholesterol. Tahini and olive oil supply the bulk of these heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

Hummus Serving Size

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Yes, hummus packs plenty of health benefits, but here’s the tricky thing about it. The two tablespoon serving size you see on nutritional labels is simply unrealistic. Who actually eats two tablespoons of hummus? Unless you possess a supernatural amount of self-control (if you do, I want to meet you) you’re probably eating closer to an entire cup in a single sitting.

Let's do some math: If there are 16 tablespoons in one cup, this means you’re actually consuming 560 calories, 40g fat, and 1,040mg sodium. Add pita bread or chips into the mix and the numbers become even more troublesome. For these reasons, it’s important to be mindful about how much hummus you’re eating, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.

The Verdict on Hummus

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Hummus is a nutrient-dense spread that can be part of a healthy diet, but it's actually easy to overdo. Like just about anything we eat, moderation is key. But given that you’re likely to surpass the minuscule serving size, what can you do to make hummus a little bit healthier? Try these simple tricks:

Be wary of mindless dipping.

We’ve all committed this hummus crime, which is most likely to happen if you’re consuming it from a large container. Pre-portioning your hummus into smaller containers can help with smarter snacking.  Also, try to serve hummus with crudité veggies like sliced carrots, cucumbers, or radishes as opposed to pita chips, to keep your calorie intake at a minimum.

Make your hummus from scratch.

While several quality hummus brands exist, why not try making it from scratch? Homemade hummus is extremely easy to make, and it also gives you more control over factors like sodium (you can, for instance, use "no salt added" chickpeas, and then garnish with a fancy salt to get more flavor with less sodium). You’ll also avoid artificial ingredients that lurk in store-bought varieties like preservatives and emulsifiers. Try these easy hummus recipes to get started.

Try an alternative hummus.

Who says that hummus has to be made from chickpeas? While purists may stage a mutiny, there’s a plethora of delicious plant-based hummus alternatives out there made from ingredients like sweet potatoes, beets, edamame, black beans, and more. It may be worth exploring these hummus alternatives to see if they are a better fit for your nutrition needs.