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I love falafel but are they actually healthy?

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Question: I love falafel! I'm a vegetarian and eat falafel pitas at least once a week. I know they're deep fried, but they're frequently touted as healthy.. What's the real deal?

Answer: I really like falafel too and it's a good source of vegetarian protein. But depending on where you buy your falafel pita from – and how many toppings you add – you might be getting more calories, fat and sodium than you think.

For anyone reading this who is not familiar with falafel, they are deep fried balls – or fritters – made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans seasoned with onion, parsley, cumin and coriander. The falafel balls are stuffed in a pita or wrapped in a flatbread and topped with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, pickled vegetables, hot sauce and tahini sauce.

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A 3.5 ounce serving of deep-fried falafel – no pita or toppings – has roughly 330 calories, 31 grams of carbohydrate, 17.5 grams of fat, 13 grams of protein and 294 milligrams of sodium. Falafel is also a good source of soluble fibre, the type that helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

This meal is high in fat with almost half its calories (47 per cent) coming from fat. However, if it's fried in a healthy oil (such olive, canola or grape seed oil) and you limit your intake of fat for the rest of the day, falafel definitely fits into a healthy diet.

Now, here comes the bad news. Some falafel pitas can have as many as 750 calories, 30 grams of fat and 1,500 milligrams of sodium – a full day's worth of salt. To minimize the damage, consider sharing a falafel pita, or eating only half and saving the remainder for lunch the next day.

To cut back on sodium, go easy on the toppings. Choose only one of the pickled vegetables and ask that only a little sauce be added.

If you make falafel at home, you can save calories and fat by pan frying it in a little olive oil or baking it in the oven.



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