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For a Longer and Healthier Life, a Dietitian Shares the One Food She Always Keeps in Her Kitchen—and 6 Simple Recipes

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Switching up the foods you eat by adding more nutrient-dense items to your diet can drastically improve your health and longevity.

As a dietitian, one of my favorite healthy foods I always keep in my kitchen is a can of organic, no-salt (or low-sodium) chickpeas. Chickpeas are a type of legume in the same family as kidney beans and peanuts. Sometimes called garbanzo beans, the most common chickpea has a round shape and a beige color, but other varieties are black, green or red.

Chickpeas are a staple in the Mediterranean diet, and they're high in fiber and protein, both of which are necessary for bone, muscle and skin health. (One cup of chickpeas provides 12.5 grams of fiber and 14.5 grams of protein.)

Even longevity expert Dan Buettner agrees on the health benefits of chickpeas. Buettner, who coined the term "Blue Zones" — or places around the world where people live the longest — asked dozens of leading nutritionists and food scientists what people should eat to enjoy a long and healthy life. He found that of the most recommended foods, chickpeas stood out "like a flashing neon sign."

Here are six simple, quick and creative ways to incorporate chickpeas into your daily eating routine:

1. Swap croutons with roasted chickpeas in salads

This is a great way to add crunch, fiber, protein and flavor to your bowl of greens.

Roasted chickpeas are readily available at most grocery stores, but you can also make your own at home by rinsing and drying canned chickpeas. (It helps to blot them between paper towels or clean tea towels.) Then add a few tablespoons of olive oil and roast them on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until they turn crispy and golden brown.

If you want a stronger kick of flavor, throw in spices like paprika, cumin or black pepper.

2. Add chickpeas to smoothies for extra creaminess

The key to a filling smoothie is to add protein and healthy fats, so if you don't have protein powder on hand, chickpeas are a great source of plant-based protein.

They also give a nice boost of fiber to your smoothie for a more balanced meal — and adequate fiber is something many of us are lacking. A 2017 analysis in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine found that 95% of Americans don't consume enough daily fiber.

To make my go-to chickpea smoothie, simply blend almond milk, banana, chickpeas, dates and peanut butter.

3. Enjoy no-bake chickpea cookie dough bites as snacks

Chickpea cookie dough bites are a perfect afternoon snack. It only takes a few minutes to make an entire stash that typically lasts me a week.

They contain protein and fiber, which is key to holding me over until my next meal. They also prevent those blood sugar crashes that can come from eating high-sugar snacks.

In a food processor, combine drained and rinsed chickpeas, nut butter, oats and a sweetener of your choice (e.g., honey or maple syrup) and blend until smooth. After you mix in some chocolate chips, use a spoon to scoop out about two tablespoons of batter and roll it into a bite-sized ball with your hands.

Store everything in an airtight container.

4. Top pizza with barbecue-flavored chickpeas

I love using barbecue-flavored chickpeas as a pizza topping. It's a simple way to add both protein and flavor to any slice of savory pie.

Just mix your favorite barbecue sauce with chickpeas, stirring to coat evenly, and then scatter them on as a zesty topping.

5. Spread mashed chickpeas on avocado toast

One of my favorite quick breakfast or lunch meals is chickpea avocado toast.

It's easy: Mash up some chickpeas with avocado and flavor with spices (I like to add cumin powder and chili powder to mine), lemon juice and cilantro. Spread the mixture on whole-grain toast and top it with a pinch of chili flakes.

6. Chickpea pancakes for brunch

Using chickpeas in place of flour for pancakes is a total gamechanger.

You'll need some rinsed canned chickpeas, eggs, nut butter, baking soda, vanilla extract and milk (you can use substitutes like oat or almond milk). Blend until the batter is smooth, then heat the pancakes on a griddle, letting each side cook for a few minutes. Serve with your favorite fruit toppings!

Rahaf Al Bochi is a dietitian and founder of Olive Tree Nutrition, a nutrition consulting company. She has been featured in numerous publications, including CNN, U.S. News & World Report and HealthDay. Rahaf is also a recipient of the 2020 Georgia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Outstanding Service to the Media Award. Follow her on Twitter @OliveTreeRD.

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