Quinoa's Nutritional Punch

Quinoa is showing up everywhere these days – on restaurant menus, at your natural grocery store, at Costco or Trader Joe’s, or on the dinner table at your favorite foodie’s latest dinner party. 

What makes this super food suddenly so popular? 

It’s healthy, high in protein, gluten-free and extremely versatile. Quinoa can be a part of every meal, from breakfast to dessert to everything in between. 

Quinoa (pronounced keh-NO-ah or, sometimes, KEEN-wah) has been around since ancient times in Peru and is sometimes referred to as “the gold of the Incas” because of the power Incans believed it gave to their warriors. 

While it resembles a grain, it is actually a seed and is closely related to spinach, chard and beets.  It can be used much like rice, but it has a higher protein content.

Quinoa is considered a complete protein because it contains all eight essential amino acids. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 9 grams of protein – that’s more protein than an egg! 

Complete proteins are rare among plants, making quinoa an especially good source of plant protein for vegans.


Health benefits of quinoa

In addition to being a good source of protein, experts tout quinoa’s many health benefits:

It’s gluten-free.  Quinoa is naturally gluten-free, making it a good choice to replace traditional grain products for those who must avoid wheat and gluten.   Cooked and served hot, it’s a great alternative to oatmeal, and quinoa flour can be used in baking. 

It lowers diabetes risk.  Quinoa and other whole grains contain magnesium, which helps the body use insulin, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.  Plus, it’s a complex carbohydrate high in fiber with a low glycemic index, so it digests slowly and keeps you full longer.

It’s good for your heart.  Eating whole grains, like quinoa, has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack. 

  • A study found that men who ate a bowl of whole (not refined) grains each morning lowered their heart disease risk by 29%. 
  • Quinoa’s magnesium helps relax blood vessels, which may help ease a number of conditions, from hypertension to migraines, according to whfoods.com.
  • A study found that post-menopausal women who ate at least six servings of whole grains each week lessened the narrowing of their arteries and slowed the development of arterial plaque. 

It may cut your cancer risk.  The antioxidants contained in quinoa, in addition to its fiber content, may help reduce the risk of colon cancer, breast cancer, and other diseases.

It helps in healing.  Quinoa is high in the amino acid lysine, which is important for tissue growth and repair.

It’s a nutrient powerhouse.  One cup of cooked quinoa provides 30% of your daily magnesium, 18% of your copper, 58% of your manganese, and 15% of your iron, among other nutrients.

It benefits your brain.  One cup of cooked quinoa provides 15% of your RDA of iron to help deliver oxygen to the blood plus vitamin B to help maintain brain volume.

It can help prevent gallstones.  Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as quinoa, helps food move through the intestines and reduces the secretion of excess bile acids.


Ways to use quinoa

Quinoa is easy to incorporate in place of other grain products when you cook. 

Substitute quinoa for couscous in tabouleh or other salads or for rice with your stir fry or curry. 

Cook quinoa as you would rice or barley, for about 15 minutes once it boils, or until you can see a white thread start to separate from the grains. 

Uncooked quinoa can be ground to make a high-protein, gluten-free flour.  

While the quinoa you’ll usually find at your market is an off-white color, quinoa comes in a rainbow of colors – red, black, purple, green, yellow making it a fun way to dress up a recipe.

The quinoa you find in your market has probably already been washed, but make sure to rinse it well, because quinoa grows with a bitter protective coating.


Recipes

Quinoa Pancakes

Baked Quinoa with Spinach and Cheese

Zucchini Quinoa Bread


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