The improved effects of dietary chickpeas on visceral adiposity, dyslipidaemia and insulin resistance were examined. Rats were fed a normal-fat diet (NFD), a high-fat diet (HFD) or a high-fat plus chickpea diet (HFD+CP) for 8 months. The epididymal fat pad weight v. total body weight of rats was higher in the HFD group (0·032 (sd 0·0042) g/g) than in the NFD group (0·015 (sd 0·0064) g/g) and smaller in the HFD+CP group (0·023 (sd 0·0072) g/g) compared with the HFD group (P < 0·05). Chickpea treatment also induced a favourable plasma lipid profile reflecting decreased TAG, LDL-cholesterol (LDL-C) and LDL-C:HDL-cholesterol levels (P < 0·05). HFD-fed rats had higher TAG concentration in muscle and liver, whereas the addition of chickpeas to the HFD drastically lowered TAG concentration (muscle, 39 %; liver, 23 %). The activities of lipoprotein lipase (LPL) in epididymal adipose tissue and hepatic TAG lipase in liver recorded a 40 and 23 % increase respectively in HFD rats compared with those in NFD rats; dietary chickpeas completely normalised the levels. Furthermore, chickpea-treated obese rats also showed a markedly lower leptin and LPL mRNA content in epididymal adipose tissue. An insulin tolerance test, oral glucose tolerance test and insulin-releasing test showed that chickpeas significantly improved insulin resistance, and prevented postprandial hyperglycaemia and hyperinsulinaemia induced by the chronic HFD. The present findings provide a rational basis for the consumption of chickpeas as a functional food ingredient, which may be beneficial for correcting dyslipidaemia and preventing diabetes.