Diabetes Diet

The Tasty Bean that Doesn’t Raise Your Blood Sugar

It would be great if you could eat tasty meals that are high in carbohydrates while keeping your blood sugar low. Actually, even if you have diabetes and otherwise follow a very low-carb diet, you can do precisely this.

If you have had diabetes for a while, you know that when you chow down on carbs, your blood sugar level is sure to go up. But there’s an exception. In the United States this food is a little-known secret, but in India it’s well-known.

It’s my fault — at least in part — for keeping this special carbohydrate food a secret. I have known about it ever since 1994 when I began to gather information on the Glycemic Index. I’m not sure when I first wrote about it on my own website, but it was in 1998 or earlier, and I have eaten it since then even as I otherwise follow a very low-carb diet. I have mentioned this food in passing here at HealthCentral.com, but I just realized that I never previously gave it the attention here that it deserves.

Chana Dal

Now the secret is out: I’m talking about chana dal, which in India is sometimes also known as Bengal gram dal (or dhal) or chholar dal. Its scientific name is Cicer arietinum Linn, which actually doesn’t help us, because this the same scientific name as that of garbanzo beans (chick peas), which have a higher Glycemic Index.

Chana dal and garbanzo are different “market classes,” according to Dr. Hans-Henning Mündel, research scientist (plant breeder) at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Distinguishing between chana dal and garbanzo beans by looking at them either raw or cooked is difficult, because the only apparent differences are that garbanzo beans are bigger and chana dal is sold as split beans. But your body knows the difference.

It Has One of the Lowest Glycemic Indexes

Chana dal has one of the lowest Glycemic Indexes of any foods ever tested, even though almost two-thirds of its calories come from carbs. Its index is 8, where glucose is the index food, 100, and garbanzo beans has a GI of 36.

But when we buy chana dal, unscrupulous vendors have been known to substitute something else, yellow split peas, that are hard to distinguish from chana dal, at least until we cook them. Still, when we look at them carefully, raw yellow split peas appear to be quite smooth, while raw chana dal is somewhat wrinkled. Chana dal is also very forgiving on how long we need to cook these beans. When they are done, they aren’t hard anymore, and they don’t cook down to mush like yellow split peas do. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that these split peas have a Glycemic Index of 25 and don’t taste nearly as good.

Fortunately, we now have several reliable sources of chana dal which I show in the article on my own website at “Chana Dal.” Even better, we now have an organic option, the “24 Mantra Organic” brand, which several retailers offer and which I use exclusively.

How You Can Use This Secret Carb

How to use the chana dal that you cook? You can substitute chana dal for the garbanzo beans that you used to use in everything from hummus to a salad ingredient. Near the end of my long chana dal article at mendosa.com you can find dozens more recipes.

When I started to write this article, I had just began to cook up a few cups of chana dal to add to a new recipe. One of my favorite Indian and Pakistani dishes is saag, a puree of spinach or other greens along with added spices and sometimes other ingredients such as paneer, a fresh cheese. Instead of paneer, a friend of mine from India made saag with chana dal for a potluck a few days ago. It was so tasty and good for my blood sugar.

Do you know of any more great recipes for using chana dal?

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Jessica September 9, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Are the brown chana dal beans also low glycemic? or just the yellow ones?

    • David Mendosa September 9, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      I don’t know, Jessica. I haven’t heard of brown chana dal before.

  • Beverly September 4, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    I am having a very difficult time trying to find chana dal in a local store here in San Diego because I am also confused as to whether chana dal is actually yellow lentils as described on this website: http://food.ndtv.com/ingredient/bengal-gram-split-700943

    • David Mendosa September 4, 2015 at 8:16 pm

      Your safest bet, Beverly, is perhaps to buy it mail-order. I buy 24 Mantra brand, which I mention in my original chana dal article at http://www.mendosa.com/chanadal.htm

      But if you look really closely at chana dal and at yellow split peas you CAN tell the difference. When I looked at the yellow split peas in the bulk bin at a local natural foods store, I could see that they were completely smooth. They when I look at the chana dal, they look different: sort of wrinkled.

  • Diana September 4, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Hi David, I started using chana dal when you wrote about it many years ago, and I love it for the occasional “carby” tasting treat! I have found it at our huge Asian grocery store as well as at a tiny Middle Eastern store where the guy told me not to confuse it with yellow split peas–he said that his chana dal would take a long time to cook and wouldn’t turn to mush, so I knew I was getting the right thing. We cook it up and then bake it with a little homemade low-carb bbq sauce and a couple of pieces of bacon on top for wonderful baked beans! My blood sugar is always great after eating. Thanks for all of your great information and inspiration.

    • David Mendosa September 4, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      I’m glad that you are enjoying chana dal, Diana. Me too!

  • Gini September 2, 2015 at 5:41 pm

    I am with Jerry on wanting to know the carb content of 1 cup cooked chana dal. I read your article twice and could not find it. Forget the grams, please and tell us in cups. thanks!

    • David Mendosa September 2, 2015 at 6:19 pm

      You and Jerry are probably better than numbers than I am, Gini! Remember that I am a writer because I can’t add or subtract. Anyway, the keys to the problem ARE in my article where I wrote:

      do know that one cup of cleaned, uncooked chana dal weighs 6.75 ounces. This is equivalent to 191.4 grams.

      One cup of cleaned, uncooked chana dal yields 2 2/3 cups cooked chana dal.

      So, I took my packet of 24 Mantra chana dal from my pantry (a small shelf in my small kitchen) and read that 1/4 cup chana dal (of course that it the chana dal that they sell, which is uncooked has 26g of carbs. That’s 104g of carbs per cup uncooked. Divide that the the 2 2/3 figure above, which is 104/2.67, which is about 39 g for one cup cooked. Better check my math though.

  • jerry September 2, 2015 at 9:23 am

    how many carbs are in one cup cooked?

  • Honora September 2, 2015 at 2:42 am

    I discovered dried cook channa as a snack and took it on a hiking trip. I compounded the problem by having a brown lentil dahl for our second night’s evening meal. The next day I found out why I shouldn’t have eaten so much of the pulse family. Never been brave enough to eat it since. Suffice it to say that it is a good thing that the great outdoors is one big toilet. I was in a wilderness area that would maybe get 1 visitor passing through in a year…

  • Michael September 1, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I really like Chana Dahl but it raises my blood sugar . I made great hummus with Chana Dahl for the first year I was diabetic but then I adopted the Richard Bernstein tolerances for blood sugar levels and I realized that Chana Dahl spiked me higher that I wanted to go. I also made a great curry with them. I used Bobs Redmill which is supposed to be the real thing, I may try 24 Mantra Organic and see if it is any better for me.

  • Beverly September 1, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    David, I went back to your chana dal article and was checking out the recipes. I have to presume that all of them that contain rice and/or barley are no longer on your consumption list. Do you still recommend any of the many recipes listed there other than the basic recipe?

    • David Mendosa September 1, 2015 at 1:44 pm

      I really like chana hummus, one of the recipes there, Beverly. Lately, I have been making chana saag, which is not one of the recipes. I love saag and follow one of the standard recipes for it and substitute the chana dal for the usual paneer.

  • Tricia September 1, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    David, thanks again for sharing this information about chana dal. I saw your previous post about it and was a bit skeptical because in the past I have eaten many types of dal and my blood sugar always went through the roof. Alas, you were totally right about chana dal. Last year I ordered some from Bob’s Red Mill and made a simple dal. It didn’t raise my blood sugar. Thank you again so much!

    • David Mendosa September 1, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      Thanks for adding your voice in defense of chana dal, Tricia.

  • Madeline September 1, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Hello David, my husband and I use channa dhal flour (from Indian grocery) to make pancakes, waffles and crepes/blinis. It works very well and they can be prepared either sweet or savory. We are not diabetic, so we don’t know the GI for the other usual ingredients in pancakes, like baking powder, etc. It works less well in baking, alas, because it is too granular, although I made a so-so angel food cake with it, that we ate but did not absolutely love, if you know what I mean. And we eat regular chana dhal cooked in our pressure cooker to a mush as an accompaniment for juicy dishes where mashed potatoes would be the norm.

  • peturbed August 31, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Never a dhal moment.
    Hey, how come I just received this newsletter tonight, and I see others have posted responses as far back as mid-August? Am I on the B-list or somethin’?

    • David Mendosa August 31, 2015 at 7:46 pm

      Steven, you received the newsletter the same day as everyone else. What you didn’t notice is that I wrote and posted the articles in the previous month, this article on August 17. There’s no way that I would ever think of slighting you!

  • ana August 17, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    apologies, i did mean split peas. unfortunately, you can’t see the product till it arrives. Any reliable updated resources?

    • David Mendosa August 17, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      Yes, the 24 Mantra brand is the one that I buy and is the real thing. It is also organic. I get it through Amazon, although its site is http://www.24mantra.com/

  • ana August 17, 2015 at 8:51 am

    I think one of your older posts mentioned some sites sell garbanzo rather than chana…is there a way to be sure you are getting low low GI version?

    • David Mendosa August 17, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      Thanks for writing, Ana. Actually the confusion is much more about yellow split peas and chana dal. Recently I learned from another correspondent that the difference is that chana dal is rather wrinkled and yellow split peas aren’t. Garbanzo beans (chick peas) are considerably bigger and are whole rather than split.