If you’ve Googled anything today, you might have figured out that today is International Falafel Day. Google is celebrating with a fun cartoon you can watch above the site’s search bar.
Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food, usually served inside pita bread, consisting of deep-fried ground chickpeas and fava beans. It’s a delicious dish (that some of us become intimately acquainted with on late-night food-cart visits). Unfortunately, despite its veggie and legume makeup, it’s not exactly the healthiest dish on the menu.
Here’s what the nutritional experts have to say about falafel.
“At the end of the day, if you love a great falafel sandwich, enjoy one. Just don’t make it your everyday go-to,” says Keri Gans, RDN. Why not? Falafel is, after all, usually deep-fried, which means it’s not great for any of us. But it’s especially bad for people with certain health problems.
“Anything that’s going to be higher in saturated fats is not going to be a best choice for somebody with heart disease or a history of heart disease [or] somebody who might be at risk for diabetes,” Gans says.
Julie Upton, RD, echoes this, noting that falafel is “not good for people with heart disease or anyone trying to lose weight.” Though both dieticians say that there are ways to make falafel healthier. For starters, eat it in a salad instead of in a pita sandwich smothered in sauce. “A street fair falafel pita with hummus may top 800 calories and have more than a day’s worth of fat,” Upton tells Health.
And here’s another hack, for those of us (myself included) who don’t like to think about how unhealthy falafel sandwiches can be: “If you’re making [falafel] at home, pan-fry [it] in healthy oil or air-fry,” Upton suggests. Gans seconds this. “Whether it’s baked or fried—that’s the big thing,” she says. However, other factors come into play, portion size among them.
But as far as fried foods go, you could certainly do worse than falafel. “As a general rule, because it’s plant-based it has a good amount of fiber and beneficial nutrients from the chickpeas and beans,” Upton says.
As with anything, the name of the game with falafel is moderation. “It’s a great food to enjoy in moderation, keeping it within your total calorie and fat budget,” Upton says. Phew.
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