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Falafel: A Vegetarian Delicacy

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Falafel is a deep-fried chickpea-based snack. It can be classic street food or a fine-dine delicacy made with ground chickpeas (or fava beans), herbs, and spices, formed into a small patty-shaped fritter. It is crispy from the outside and delicious and moist from the inside. Usually, you can serve it with pita bread, salads, other sauces or dips, and pickles. This delicacy is popular in Middle Eastern cuisine.

You can easily make falafel at home. Preparing falafel at home is healthier than buying it from shops or stores because store-bought falafels are mostly deep-fried. You can exclude the deep frying part at home and adopt other healthy cooking techniques such as baking or air frying. 

Falafel is very popular among vegetarians. Since falafel contains chickpeas, it has several health advantages. However, it has some disadvantages too. It is deep-fried and considered to be fast food. The hazards of deep frying are known to everyone. The food not only gets covered with a layer of fat but also gets subjected to micronutrient losses. However, adopting other cooking methods like baking will help in providing more benefits than deep-fried ones. 

Nutritional Values of Falafel

The USDA provides the following nutritional value for one hundred grams of homemade falafel.

Energy: 333 kcalProtein: 13.3 gFat: 17.8 gCarbohydrate: 31.8 gIron: 3.4 mgSodium: 294 mgVitamin C: 1.6 mgMagnesium: 82 mgPhosphorus: 192 mgPotassium: 585 mgCalcium: 54 mg

The HealthifyMe Note

Falafel has chickpeas as the main ingredient. Hence, most of its nutrients come from chickpeas. Although the traditional way of preparing is deep-frying them, air-fried or baked falafels retain better nutritional properties. Falafels contain reasonable amounts of protein, iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. However, they also have high calories, carbohydrates and sodium.

Health Benefits of Eating Falafel

Diabetic Friendly

Low glycemic index (GI of 55 or less) foods include legumes such as chickpeas and fava beans, which are suitable for people with diabetes. Chickpeas in falafel can also help balance glucose levels, which is especially beneficial for pre-diabetics and diabetics. 

In a study, researchers discovered that after eating chickpeas, participants’ blood glucose concentrations dropped between 29% and 36%. Although traditional falafel is deep-fried, it contains a good amount of nutrients, making it better than other deep-fried products like vadas, paranthas, potato chips, etc. So, it is a healthier snack option for people with diabetes.

Prevents Constipation 

Constipation, which hits approximately 20% of the population each year, can result from inadequate fibre in the diet. Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans in falafel, prevent constipation. Chickpeas are rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre. The fibre bulks up the stools and eases bowel movement.  

Packed with Nutrients

Chickpeas have an impressive nutritional profile. They are rich in various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. In addition, they have phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium that help strengthen bones. The nutrients present in falafel may help in boosting mental health, helping with digestion, supporting stronger bones, and many more. It is also a good source of micronutrients that lowers the risk of chronic diseases.

Aids in Weight Loss

The rich protein content in falafel can help lose weight. It is a filling snack that keeps you satiated for a long. In addition, it is a healthier snack than regular junk available in the market. However, its weight loss properties come from the high protein content, which prevents muscle loss and aids in burning more calories while digesting. However, it is typically deep-fried, which increases its fat and calorie content. Therefore, you should consume it moderately or choose air-fried or baked falafels. 

Possible Side Effects of Eating Falafel

Store-bought Falafel is High in Sodium

Sodium levels in store-bought falafel mixtures can be high. According to studies, high sodium consumption can raise blood pressure. Therefore, if you are on any cardiac drugs or follow a low-sodium diet, you should consult a health expert before including it in your diet. However, making falafels at home will assist in regulating the quantity of salt. 

Obesity and Heart Diseases

Falafel is junk food. It is usually deep-fried in oil, which raises calorie and fat content considerably. According to a prospective cohort study, deep-fried food consumers have an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancer.

Allergies

People who have chickpea allergies should avoid falafel. Sesame seeds are a common allergen in the dips that people frequently serve with falafel. According to studies, they can trigger severe allergic responses in individuals who are sensitive to them. In addition, lentils, peas, and green beans, these ingredients used in falafel, have also been identified to cause allergic reactions. Some common symptoms of an allergic reaction include an itchy mouth, skin rashes, shortness of breath, vomiting, nausea, etc. 

Causes Gas and Bloating 

Chickpeas contain oligosaccharides that lead to stomach upset and gas build-up. In addition, too much consumption of chickpeas causes discomfort in the abdomen. 

The HealthifyMe Note: 

Falafel contains a variety of healthy ingredients. However, since it is deep-fried in oil, it significantly raises calories and trans fat in the final product. Therefore, you must consume it in moderation. Also, people suffering from health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, etc., must limit their consumption to avoid health hazards. Baked or air-fried falafel are healthier versions of falafel. 

Healthy Recipes with Falafel

The most typical approach to creating falafel is to wrap the ingredients into the shape of a flat patty, similar to a burger or a spherical ball, and then fry or bake it. The falafel can then be eaten like a burger, within pita bread, or separately. Since falafel can have a dry flavour profile, applying sauces can produce a more pleasing profile. Tzatziki, yoghurt dip, hummus, and tahini are popular garnishes. In addition, you may add veggie toppings like tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions.

Homemade Baked Falafel

Serving: 3-4

Preparation Time: 12-13 hours

Cooking Time: 10-15 minutes

Ingredients

Chickpeas: 425 g (drained and rinsed)Garlic: 4 clovesOnion: 75 g (chopped)Parsley: 2 tbsp (chopped)Olive oil: 15 mlBrown rice flour: 30 gBaking powder: 1 tspLemon juice: 10 mlGround cumin: 1 tspGround coriander: 1 tspSalt: To tasteGround black pepper: To taste

Method 

Add the chickpeas to a bowl and rinse them thoroughly. Soak them in water for at least 12 hours and do not cover them.Drain the water and rinse them well with fresh water. Drain the water completely and transfer them to a grinder along with chopped onion, ground coriander, ground cumin, black pepper, salt, chickpeas, brown rice flour, olive oil, baking powder, lemon juice, and chopped parsley.Pulse it until it gets combined, for approximately 1 minute.Scoop the mixture, form small patties, and place them on the baking sheet.Preheat the oven to 400°F or 200°C.Bake the falafel for 20-24 minutes in total. Flip the patties in between. 

Note:While soaking the chickpeas overnight, you can use a mesh cover or a clean cloth but do not cover it with a lid because chickpeas need air circulation. Refrigerating after grinding the chickpeas ensures that the falafel balls do not fall apart while baking or frying.

Air Fried Falafel

Serving: 25 balls

Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

One cup: 100 g/ml

Ingredients

Dried chickpeas: 2 cupsGarlic cloves: 5Onion chopped: ½ cupParsley leaves: 1 cupCilantro leaves: ½ cupGround coriander: 1 tspGround cumin: 1 tspSea salt: 1½ tspBlack pepper: 1 tspBaking powder: 1 tspCooking spray

Method

Soak the chickpeas a day before. Drain the water and transfer it with other ingredients to a food processor. Process everything for approximately 20 seconds. Refrigerate the falafel mixture for about an hour. With an ice-cream scooper, scoop out the falafel mixture and shape it to form balls.Lightly use cooking spray to the air fryer basket to avoid sticking.Heat the air fryer to 375°F for 15 minutes. Take it out when it is crispy and golden brown outside. Serve it!

Nutritional Facts per Serving

Calories: 63 kcalCarbohydrate: 11 gProtein: 3 gFat: 1 gSodium: 146 mgFibre: 3 g

Note: Do not use canned or cooked chickpeas. Baking powder is optional. However, adding a little will make the falafel lighter and airier. 

The HealthifyMe Note: 

All-purpose flour is a common ingredient in making falafel, but you can use quinoa flour and brown rice flour as healthy substitutes. Unfortunately, falafel bought from shops and stores is not as healthy as homemade ones. 

Storage

You should consume falafel just after cooking. However, you can store it in an air-tight container. Remember to cool it before storing it. You can also refrigerate it in an air-tight container for up to 5 days. You can freeze falafel patties for up to 3 months.

Summary

Falafel originated in the Middle-Eastern country of Lebanon. Falafel as a side dish is readily available under Mediterranean cuisine in any restaurant. You can eat it with sauteed mushrooms, salads, pickled turnips, kimchi, pita bread, and lemon rice. When it comes to pita bread, it is a must-have side dish with falafel. 

Usually, falafel is rich in carbs, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and protein. These nutrients help control our blood sugar levels, prevent constipation and support weight management. But if you buy falafels outside, there can be a risk of deep-frying the food, which can cause obesity and heart disease. Also, those who have allergies should limit their consumption. Health experts and nutritionists suggest having homemade falafel rather than buying it from shops or packaged falafel.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. Is falafel junk food?

A. Yes, falafel’s are junk food. However, baked falafels are an excellent substitute for fried ones as they have reduced oil and fat. Moreover, you can include or exclude ingredients according to your choice in homemade falafels. Which will assist in weight loss, prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, etc. 

Q. Is falafel a Superfood?

A.Falafel contains healthy ingredients like chickpeas, peas, parsley, onion, etc., and has various health benefits, but it cannot be considered a superfood. Since it is deep-fried, it is considered junk food. 

Q. Is falafel good for building muscle?

A. Falafel made traditionally, i.e., deep frying, is not good for muscle building. However, falafel made at home in the air fryer or baked is considered suitable as a post-workout snack. It is high in fibre and protein, and you can take it after gymming sessions. 

Q. Are falafels good for energy?

A. Falafels are deep-fried foods made with mashed chickpeas. Falafels are rich in fibre. Therefore it provides energy with a long-lasting feeling of fullness. However, since it takes time to digest, our body slowly receives energy. 

Q. Is falafel good for your health?

A. Falafel is good for health if it is not deep-fried. Falafel is rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, and protein with low-fat content. These aid in regulating blood sugar levels, provide nutrients and assist in managing weight.

Q. Is falafel good for constipation?

Falafel in rich in soluble and insoluble fibre. The insoluble fibre draws water into the stools, making them softer, allowing them to pass quickly and preventing constipation. 

Q. Falafel carbs or protein?

A. Typical falafels are made with chickpeas and flour, which are high in carbs. 67% of the calories come from carbohydrates and others from proteins. According to USDA, 100 g of falafel contains 31.8 g of carbs and 13.3 g of protein. Thus, falafel is carbs. 

Q. Are falafels vegan?

A. The falafels are entirely made with plant-based ingredients. Hence, it is vegan. However, sometimes it is served with dairy-based products such as cheese or tzatziki sauce, making it non-vegan. Therefore, make sure of the ingredients used before eating it. 

Q. Is falafel high in fibre?

A. Yes, falafel is high in fibre; typical falafels contain chickpeas and all-purpose flour. A high-fibre diet can help decrease cholesterol, improve bowel movements, and protect gut health.

Q. Is falafel good for the colon?

A. Certainly, falafel is good for the colon. The fibre present in chickpeas serves as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are foods that are beneficial for the growth of microorganisms. The activity of healthy microorganisms increases, thereby supporting colon health. 

Q. How many calories are in a falafel?

A. According to USDA, 100 grams of falafel contains 333kcal. It is high in carbohydrates and is traditionally deep-fried; therefore, it has a high-calorie content. Baked or air-fried falafel will comprise lesser calories. 

Q. Which is healthier, hummus or falafel?

A. The nutritional profile of falafel is better if compared to hummus, according to USDA. Moreover, the sodium content of hummus (sodium- 607mg) is more than falafel (294mg). Hence, falafel is healthier than hummus.

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