Chickpea Flour Could Improve Glycemic Response, Decrease Diabetes Risk


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Key Takeaways

  • Chickpea flour may improve glycemic response, which can lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
  • Previous research has highlighted other plant-based options like peas for controlling blood sugar, as well, thanks to the way they digest slowly.

Replacing wheat flour with a product derived from chickpeas could improve the way the body controls blood glucose levels, making it a promising switch for lowering diabetes risk or managing the condition, according to a recent study in Food Hydrocolloids.

Researchers found that wheat breads, including those with intact whole grains, have a high glycemic index due to highly digestible wheat starch. By comparison, creating flour out of chickpeas doesn’t have the same effect, they concluded. That’s because, unlike wheat-based flours, chickpea flour maintained the structure of its dietary fiber, slowing down digestion.

Importance of the Index

The glycemic index indicates how slowly or rapidly a specific food increases blood glucose levels. The faster that surge is, the higher the risk for development of Type 2 diabetes as the body becomes less able to handle insulin and blood sugar elevation.

There are factors that can affect the glycemic index value of a food, including:

  • Processing methods, which tend to raise the index value.
  • Nutrient composition, such as adding healthy fat or protein to a meal.
  • Cooking method, which can speed up sugar digestion.

The goal of using the index is to manage blood sugar spikes, as well as maintain steady energy throughout the day.

Power of Peas

The recent study joins other research that investigates the role of plant-based products to control blood sugar and stay on the lower end of the glycemic index.

For example, a 2020 study published in Nature Food looked at a type of pea that contained higher amounts of resistant starch, which takes longer to digest. The researchers concluded that creating flour from these peas could prevent the type of blood sugar spikes that increase diabetes risk.

An accompanying editorial to that study noted that starch can be the best or worst of food components, from a nutrition perspective.

When starch digestion is slower, which would happen with a food like peas, it provides multiple metabolic benefits and improves gut health, as well, according to the editorial’s author, Michael Gidley, PhD, at the Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Queensland in Australia.

A fast-digesting starch like highly processed products made with wheat flour—as well as corn, potatoes, and white rice—causes high insulin demand, he says, and that raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes development.

Pea flour, says Gidley, tends to fall somewhere in the middle. That means consuming whole peas is ideal because that provides:

  • Slower glucose release
  • Reduced blood sugar
  • Lower insulin demand
  • Increased gut fermentation

That said, pea flour and other plant-based options that are more processed than whole-food ingredients still are beneficial when compared to the fast-digesting types of starches, he adds.

Tamara Duker Freuman, RD

When you start incorporating alternative flours, you may also be eating other healthy options that are also derived from more nuts, seeds, or vegetables.

— Tamara Duker Freuman, RD

How To Make the Switch

Many non-wheat flour options already are available, labeled as “alternative flours” that are derived from a range of plant-based ingredients. In addition to chickpea flour are choices made from almonds, sweet potatoes, cassava, coconut, oats, and other ingredients.

Incorporating these into your diet can be beneficial, but dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman, RD, cautions that a gradual approach is your best bet, as a way to prevent uncomfortable side effects from a radical change all at once.

“When you start incorporating alternative flours, you may also be eating other healthy options that are also derived from more nuts, seeds, or vegetables,” she says. “For example, maybe you’re having more pasta derived from chickpeas, black beans, or edamame. But keep in mind that you’re increasing your fiber amount significantly.”

She notes that using something like chickpea flour can give you much more of that option in a single sitting. For instance, you might get two or three more cups of chickpeas this way, compared to eating the chickpeas themselves. That can result in bloating, stomach upset, flatulence, and diarrhea.

“Take it slow when you start to introduce these kind of foods and let your body adjust,” she suggests.

What This Means For You

Use of a non-wheat product like chickpea flour can help keep blood sugar steady, lowering your risk of Type 2 diabetes. But when ramping up with these alternative flour options, introduce them gradually to prevent bloating and stomach upset.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Balazs H. Bajka, et al. The impact of replacing wheat flour with cellular legume powder on starch bioaccessibility, glycaemic response and bread roll quality: A double-blind randomised controlled trial in healthy participants, Food Hydrocolloids, Volume 114, 2021,106565,ISSN 0268-005X, doi:10.1016/j.foodhyd.2020.106565.

  2. Petropoulou, K., Salt, L.J., Edwards, C.H. et al. A natural mutation in Pisum sativum L. (pea) alters starch assembly and improves glucose homeostasis in humansNature Food. Published October 26, 2020;1:693-704. doi:10.1038/s43016-020-00159-8

  3. Gidley, M.J. Give peas a chanceNature Food. Published October 26, 2020; 1:663-664. doi:10.1038/s43016-020-00168-7

By Elizabeth Millard, CPT, RYT
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.