Friday, June 15, 2012

You Hum-MUST Read This

As healthy snacks go, hummus with raw veggies is really a no-brainer...well...almost.  Am I the only person who thinks that every piece of advice regarding food these days comes with a caveat?  This is no exception.  All hummus is not created equal.

Raw veggies are quite difficult to screw up.  Sure some have more calories than others (and if you're on a strict diet you may want keep this in mind) but I've yet to meet someone who can really over do it on naked raw veggies, so pick what you like, and eat a variety of colors.  Most major grocery stores even sell pre-washed and pre-cut veggies these days.  If time is of the essence, it doesn't get easier than that!

Hummus, on the other hand, is the kind of thing that really gets me riled up!  Hummus is perfectly healthy.  It's packed with protein and fiber, important things to look for when choosing a snack.  Unfortunately though, like many other healthy foods, when it's sold in a package it should be looked at critically before purchase.  Something to keep in mind as you shop: Each brand of hummus, and each flavor, is made differently, and that means that it's nutritionally different too.  Something to keep in mind when you eat: The labels on hummus packages are often unrealistic about the size of a single serving.  No matter how many veggies you consume, eating a whole container of hummus (or even half) is a snack gone wrong...too much of a good thing.  

Hopefully by now you are getting the hint that you really should look at food labels when you shop.  I think it's most important to look at the label on a packaged food when you presume it's a healthy choice.  The nutrition label on that bag of Oreos is not going to have any good news on it, but the converse is not true.  Just because I told you hummus can be part of a healthy snack, doesn't mean that you should just grab any old tub of it and eat as much as you like while assuming it's good for you.  Even good foods need to be purchased and eaten mindfully.

As a guideline, a snack should be around 100-200 calories, low in fat, and exceptionally low in saturated fat.   When you look at a food label, the first thing you should peak at is the serving size.  On each brand of hummus that I looked at, 2 tablespoons is the serving that all of the nutrition information is based on.  That's not very much.  Odds are most of us will eat more than that in one sitting!  Check this out...
I measured out 2 tablespoons of hummus, and a more realistic portion (for me at least!) of 1/3 cup.  If I ate 1/3 cup of the following brands of hummus (plain or original flavor) here's how the hard numbers of my snack would add up.

Tribe: 160 calories, 9 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat
Cedar's: 160 calories, 12 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat
Sabra: 187 calories, 16 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat

And what about those cute little single serve Sabra cups with pretzels on top?  Well, here's the info from their website:

1 Sabra single serve cup with pretzels = 380 calories, 23 grams fat, 3 gram saturated fat

So, buyer beware of portion size and convenient packaging.  Wondering what makes the brands nutritionally different?  Tahini is a traditional ingredient in hummus.  It is a paste made of ground sesame seeds.  Since sesame seeds are quite high in fat, so then is tahini.   Each brand's hummus likely has a unique recipe, with different amounts of each ingredient.  You can tell roughly how much of an ingredient is in a serving of any food by looking at the order of ingredients listed on the label.  All foods list ingredients from most to least in a product.   On the Cedar's and the Sabra labels tahini appears second, and on the Tribe list it is 4th.   This little observation tells any keen customer that there is more tahini in the Cedar's and Sabra hummus than in the Tribe brand.  This is likely why is has almost half the fat!  If you prefer a brand of hummus that is a little heavier on the tahini that doesn't mean you are making a bad or unhealthy choice, but it should be a clue to have a bit less of it when you portion out your snacks.  Also, flavors of hummus vary wildly in fat and calories so don't assume they are all created equal.  Varieties with added olives, pine nuts or other high fat ingredients will drive up the total fat per serving so keep that in mind.

If portion control is really your Achilles heel, try finding these in a local store or ordering them online.  I'm a huge  fan!
Wild Garden makes these single serve, squeezable, hummus packs that are perfect for snacking on the go.  When unopened, they don't even need refrigeration!  I first tried these on an Alaska Airlines flight and was pleasantly surprised!  You can search their website for stores near you or order online at

If you have a food processor, it's super easy, and economical, to make your own hummus.  Making your own gives you control of what you add, and how much of each ingredient you use.   I chose to omit the tahini entirely from my hummus.   The calories worked out to be about the same as the store bought brands, but mine has less fat, and it's preservative and additive free.  It's totally not necessary to make your own hummus in order for it to be a healthy part of your snack routine, but if you do buy prepared brands, keep an eye on your portions and make the smartest choice to satisfy your individual taste buds and nutrition goals.

Homemade Hummus:

1 large peeled garlic clove
1 can garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon
Salt and pepper

What to do:
Open the can of beans and drain the liquid out in a colander or mesh strainer and give them a quick rinse with cold running water.

Put the garlic into the food processor bowl and pulse alone a few times until it's finely minced.

Add the beans.

Zest the skin of the lemon right into the bowl on top of the beans.  Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice of the whole lemon into the bowl.  I like to do this over a strainer so no seeds get into the mix!

Pulse the ingredients until they look like a thick paste.

As the food processor is running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in through the hole in the lid.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and pulse a few more times.


Hummus is a great snack to get creative with.  Consider adding sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, extra garlic, or even hot sauce to your recipe to customize it to your taste.