Recently, the superfood quinoa has received a lot of attention, so I decided to look into the benefits of quinoa and try it myself.
What is quinoa?
Quinoa, though popularly thought of as a grain or legume, is actually a seed. There are two varieties – red and white, which I will compare later. Quinoa comes from the goosefoot plant, which is native to South America where it has been used by the Incas in the Andes for centuries. To the Incas, quinoa is known as the “mother grain” and is treated as sacred.
http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch36.html has a very extensive description of the history of quinoa.
What are the benefits of eating quinoa?
- High in protein
Quinoa is 12-18% protein – much higher than other grains such as wheat and barley and up to three times as much as brown rice!
It can safely be consumed by people with a gluten intolerance, unlike many other grains.
- High in magnesium
1/2 cup of quinoa contains 59g of magnesium. Magnesium is a co-factor for over 300 different enzymes!
- Complete source of protein
Like meat, quinoa contains all 20 amino acids including the 6 which the body can’t make.
- High in fibre
1/2 cup of quinoa contains 2.6g of dietary fibre. Fibre is important for healthy bowels and can contribute to weight loss. It can also prevent blood sugar spikes after eating as well as lower blood cholesterol.
- High in vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B2 is important for building glycogen from glucose. It aids fat metabolism and amino acid production. It is also important for maintenance of mucous membranes like the lining of the respiratory tract.
- Rich in other minerals
1/2 cup of quinoa also contains 15g calcium, 140mg phosphorus, 159mg potassium as well as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium. Quinoa also contains vitamins A and E and several B group vitamins.
- High in iron
1/2 cup of quinoa contains 20% of your daily iron intake.
- Lower in fat than many other protein sources
1/2 cup of cooked quinoa contains only 2g of fat. It’s a great alternative to meat and legumes.
All these nutritional benefits can lead to the following observable health benefits:
- Better sleep – due to the presence of the amino acid tryptophan which in large amounts can cause sleepiness. Be aware, however, that although many claim quinoa provides better sleep there is no scientific evidence to support this.
- Prevention of atherosclerosis – the low fat, high fibre content of quinoa lowers LDL blood cholesterol and raises HDL cholesterol.
- Prevention of cancer – high fibre diets have been shown to reduce the incidence of bowel and other cancers.
- Balanced blood sugar – the high fibre content of quinoa buffers blood sugar spikes, leading to reduced insulin resistance and incidence of Type II diabetes.
Is red or white quinoa best?
While red quinoa contains marginally less fat and slightly more fibre than white quinoa, they are both very low-fat, high-fibre foods. Also, though both are equally good sources of protein, white quinoa contains approximately double the amount of iron found in red quinoa. Therefore white quinoa appears to be slightly more nutritious than red quinoa, but not by much so it probably doesn’t matter which you choose to eat. You can decide based on personal preference and availability. A mix of the two can make dishes look more colourful and appetizing too!
How do I incorporate quinoa into my diet?
Quinoa makes an excellent substitute for other grains, due to its fluffy, slightly crunchy texture and subtle “grainy” or nutty flavour. It can easily be incorporated into all sorts of meals, and not just lunches and dinners either:
- Breakfast: cook with unsweetened milk substitutes such as almond milk to make a healthy porridge. You can also toast quinoa after it has been boiled as an alternative to toasted muesli or granola.
- Snacks: incorporate into cookies and breads, snack bars or muffins.
- Salads: Cooked quinoa can be added to salads to bulk them up, or you could sprout quinoa before adding it to salads. Sprouted quinoa has a higher protein content than boiled quinoa.
- Rice dishes: the flavour and texture of quinoa makes it an excellent substitute for rice.
- Soups: add to soups to increase the protein and fibre content.
- Desserts: Quinoa can be added to cookies and muffins, used to create parfait or as a substitute for rice in rice pudding.
The possibilites are endless. There are many great sources for quinoa recipes on the web. Once you start cooking with it you’ll find uses everywhere!
How do I cook quinoa?
Quinoa is naturally coated with saponins, a bitter and soapy residue which naturally protects the seeds from birds and insects while growing, so make sure you rinse it thoroughly before cooking.
Use 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 12-15 minutes until the husks snap open and the quinoa becomes translucent.
Quinoa can be cooked with spices for added flavour, or can also be cooked with unsweetened milk substitutes like almond milk for a healthy porridge.
Quinoa for raw-food diets
Although quinoa is mostly used cooked, it can be incorporated into raw-food diet as well to ensure you are receiving a complete source of protein.
Quinoa can be sprouted by the following method:
Use a jar, a piece of straining mesh and a sealing ring to fit the jar.
- Fill the jar with quinoa to 1/3, then top up the rest of the jar with water.
- Fit the wire mesh over the top of the jar and secure with the sealing ring.
- Strain the quinoa and then rinse 2-3 times.
- Fill the jar with water and soak the quinoa for about 6 hours.
- Rinse, strain and then leave the jar inverted so that excess water can continue to drain off.
- Rinse the quinoa at least once every 8 hours.
- The quinoa will begin to sprout within 24 hours. Sprouting is best halted between 24-30 hours, but may be left for up to 48 hours. Apparently the sprouts begin to develop a bitter lemony taste after about 30 hours.
Refrigerate and serve over salads, or use them to make veggie burgers.
Use sprouted quinoa as soon as possible after sprouting.
Other blogs and websites with good information:
http://www.livestrong.com/article/512356-what-are-benefits-and-nutritional-value-of-quinoa/ (and other quinoa-related articles on their website)