Falafel: What’s the verdict?

Last week my sister texted me “How bad do you think falafel is nutrition wise?”  So I decided to give it a complete analysis.  While traditional falafel is chock-full of nutrients, these days it is often purchased as a street food which use less-than desirable cooking methods.

The Good:

  • Traditional falafel contains many healthy ingredients including: fava beans, chickpeas, herbs, onions, and spices.
    • Fava beans contain: protein, fiber, folate, B vitamins, iron, copper, and manganese.
    • Chickpeas contain: protein, fiber, folate, phosphorus, copper, manganese.
  • Falafel is often topped with tahini, tomatoes, and parsley.
    • Tahini contains: copper, manganese, amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and calcium.

The Bad:

  • Falafel is deep fried.  Unfortunately exposure to that much heat destroys most the nutrients provided by all of falafel’s healthful ingredients.
  • Falafel is often made with hydrogenated vegetable oil or canola oil.  These oils contain trans fats which promote inflammation and negatively affect cholesterol levels.
  • Falafel is often served with pita bread.  Processed pita bread is usually high in sodium and contains preservatives.

The Verdict:

  • If I were to grade falafel, I would give it a C+.  While most of the ingredients are nutrient dense, the deep frying and potential use of hydrogenated oil negate most of its health benefits.  It is a better option than a lot of prepared foods, but unless you’re making it at home it would be misleading to label it a “health food” and ultimately should be eaten in moderation.

Ways to improve your falafel:

  • Ditch the pita bread
  • Eat baked patties instead of ones that have been deep fried
  • Try making it at home where you can be sure you’re using quality ingredients
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