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Is Quinoa The World’s Healthiest Food?

These days, it appears that Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is growing in popularity. Wherever we turn, there are quinoa salads, Quinoa fried rice, and now even quinoa protein shakes.

Produced in South America thousands of years ago, Quinoa is called “the mother grain” by the Inca. Today, it is deemed a “superfood,” especially after the United Nations proclaimed 2013 as the “International Year of Quinoa.”

But when and why did Quinoa become so big? What is it that makes this low-carb rice alternative so invaluable in the world of nutrition?

Quinoa has since kept buzz as one of the most famous health-food trends. But now, you might be wondering what it is.

We’re here to explain.

What is Quinoa?

According to the Whole Grains Council, Quinoa is a gluten-free, whole-grain carbohydrate. It is also considered as a whole protein since it holds all nine essential amino acids.

Most of this data is well known. But when it gets to whether Quinoa is whole grain or not, many people get bewildered. So, let’s clear this up.

Technically, the Quinoa we all know and enjoy is a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant. So no, it is not a grain. Whole grains (or cereal grains), like oats and barley, are described as seeds obtained from grasses — not plants.

But the way we eat Quinoa does match a whole grain. Because of this, the nutrition world views it as a whole grain. This explains why it is labeled as “pseudo-cereal.” That’s because it is prepared and consumed as a whole grain but are botanical outliers from grasses.

History

Quinoa has an abundant, incredible, and long history in the cuisines of South America.

It grew in the arid and semi-arid regions of the Andes Mountains. Developed as early as 5000 B.C., Quinoa has become a staple of the “Andean” cuisine.

In relation to this, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador are the top Quinoa producing countries globally. Altogether, they produce 250,000 metric tons every year.

Within the U.S., the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Rockies has seen Quinoa’s successful large-scale production since the 1980s. Since then, U.S. industrial production of Quinoa has grown to incorporate acreage in Southern and Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Still, Quinoa imported from South America presently accounts for most of the Quinoa that is loved within the U.S.

Nutritional Facts

Overall, Quinoa has a wonderful nutrition base.

Compared with other refined grains, whole grains like Quinoa are rated as better sources of fiber, protein, B vitamins, and iron. Nonetheless, Quinoa is famous for its protein level.

Protein builds up 15 percent of the grain, as stated by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. This makes Quinoa a high-protein, low-fat grain alternative. It’s also naturally gluten-free, high in fiber, and gives many vital vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B and magnesium.

Because it is so nutrient-rich, Quinoa is an excellent choice for people on a gluten-free diet. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a cup of cooked Quinoa amounts to:

  • 222 calories
  • 39 grams (g) of carbs
  • 8g of protein
  • 6g of fat
  • 5g of fiber
  • 1g of sugar

Different Types of Quinoa

Surprisingly, there are over 120 different varieties of Quinoa. Though the grain itself is available in various colors, the most popular quinoa colors found across American grocers are white, red, and black.

Interestingly enough, all three of these quinoa varieties cook and taste differently.

While white Quinoa has a fuzzy post-cook texture, red and black Quinoa retain more of their shape and color after cooking. Red Quinoa also has a heartier flavor and chewier texture than the muted, bitter taste of white Quinoa. Meanwhile, black Quinoa tastes slightly crunchy and sweeter than the two.

After its popularity spike in 2014, Quinoa was primarily sold in its original seed form. But since then, many other modifications of the product have also started to rise.

You can now get Quinoa flour for alternative baking, while Quinoa flakes are available in almost every supermarket. There’s also quinoa chips, quinoa pasta, and quinoa chocolate.

How to Select and Store

Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may buy in the bulk section, make sure that the bins bearing the Quinoa are covered. It would also help that the store has a good product turnover to secure its maximal freshness.

Whether buying Quinoa in bulk or a packaged container, ensure that there’s no sign of moisture. When choosing the amount to purchase, remember that Quinoa typically increases in size during the cooking process.

You are very likely to get Quinoa in your local supermarket. Otherwise, you can check the Natural Food section in a nearby grocery.

White Quinoa is the most typical type you will find in most stores, although red and black Quinoa is becoming more widely accessible. We have even seen tri-color mixtures of Quinoa being marketed in both prepackaged form and bulk bins.

Store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep for a longer time, about three to six months, if stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

If you are trying to cook Quinoa and want to sweeten it, you can rinse the seeds lightly and do it again to remove some of the components that make it bitter. A fine-meshed colander makes the process simple to carry out. So much so that you will find colanders being advertised as “quinoa strainers.”

Incorporated among these elements are phytonutrients called saponins. It plays an essential role in protecting the quinoa plant, but which have also been proved to provide us with potential health benefits. 

For this reason, thorough rinsing of Quinoa is something of a judgment call. If you find the taste of unrinsed Quinoa unacceptable, it makes good sense to rinse it before making a delightful quinoa dish. 

If you don’t mind or even favor the taste of unrinsed Quinoa, you can very gently rinse or even forego the rinsing process. That said, some pre packaged quinoa has been pre-rinsed during production. Thus, seeds of some quinoa classes (especially white varieties) can be moderately sweet in their natural form.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Quinoa

To cook the Quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is taken to a boil, lessen the heat to simmer and cover.

One cup of Quinoa cooked in this process usually takes 15 minutes to prepare.

Once done, you will notice that the grains have become transparent, and the white germ has partially separated itself. Thus, it appears like a white-spiraled tail.

If you want the Quinoa to have a nuttier taste, you can dry roast it before cooking. To do that, put it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir continually for five minutes.

There were recent studies on whether boiling or steaming Quinoa cooks the B vitamin folate. Fortunately, it is retained regardless of the cooking method.

Quinoa flour is another form of Quinoa that is becoming more broadly accessible in supermarkets. While it is possible to produce baked goods and pasta out of 100% quinoa flour, you can achieve a lighter texture by mixing quinoa flour with other flour types. If you are preparing baked products at home, you can experiment to learn the quinoa flour approach you like best.

Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the world’s most famous health foods.

Quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein, and one of the few plant foods that hold adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in magnesium, fiber, iron, B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin E, and various antioxidants.

Here are the health benefits of Quinoa:

Very Nutritious

Quinoa is a grain crop grown for its nutritious seeds, and it’s pronounced as KEEN-wah.

It technically isn’t a cereal grain but a pseudo-cereal.

In other words, it is a seed, which is cooked and eaten similarly to a grain.

Quinoa was an essential crop for the Inca Empire. They attributed to it as the “mother of all grains” and believed it to be divine.

It has been consumed for thousands of years in South America and only recently became a food trend, even reaching superfood standing.

These days, you can get quinoa and quinoa products worldwide, particularly in health food stores and restaurants that emphasize natural foods.

There are three main varieties: white, red, and black.

Quinoa is non-GMO, gluten-free, and commonly grown organically. Even though technically not a cereal grain, it still scores as a whole-grain food.

NASA scientists have been looking at it as a fitting crop to be grown in outer space. This is due to its high nutrient content, the comfort of use, and simplicity of producing it.

Contains Quercetin and Kaempferol

The health impacts of real foods go past the vitamins and minerals with which you may be familiar.

There are thousands of track nutrients, some of which are remarkably healthy.

This incorporates plant antioxidants called flavonoids, which were proven to provide various health benefits.

Two flavonoids that have been primarily well studied are quercetin and kaempferol, both found in high amounts in Quinoa. The quercetin content of Quinoa is even higher than normal high-quercetin foods like cranberries.

These significant molecules have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer, and antidepressant outcomes in animal studies.

By adding Quinoa to your diet, you will significantly improve your total intake of these (and other) essential nutrients.

Very High in Fiber

Another main advantage of Quinoa is its high fiber content.

One analysis that looked at four varieties of Quinoa found a scale of 10–16 grams of fiber per every 100 grams.

This equals 17–27 grams per cup, which is essential — more than twice as high as most grains. Boiled Quinoa holds much less fiber, gram for gram, because it absorbs so much water.

Unfortunately, most of the fiber is insoluble, which doesn’t seem to have the same health benefits as soluble fiber.

That being said, the soluble fiber content in Quinoa is still quite adequate, with about 2.5 grams per cup or 1.5 grams per 100 grams.

Various studies show that soluble fiber can help reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol. It also encourages satiety, which can aid in weight loss.

Gluten-Free

According to a 2013 study, about one-third of people in the U.S. are trying to reduce or avoid gluten.

A gluten-free diet can be healthy, as long as it’s based on directly gluten-free foods.

Problems occur when people eat gluten-free foods prepared with refined starches.

These foods are no better than their gluten-containing counterparts, as gluten-free junk food is still junk food.

Many researchers have been looking at Quinoa as a fitting ingredient in gluten-free diets. Researchers revealed that using Quinoa instead of typical gluten-free ingredients like refined tapioca, potato, corn, and rice flour can dramatically boost your diet’s nutrient and antioxidant value.

High in Protein and Essential Amino Acids

Protein consists of amino acids, nine of which are called essential, as your body cannot create them and take them through your diet.

If a food holds all nine essential amino acids, it’s referred to as a full protein.

The problem is that many plant foods are lacking in certain essential amino acids, such as lysine.

However, Quinoa is an exception because it holds adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids. For this reason, it’s a great source of protein. It has both more and better protein than most grains.

With 8 grams of quality protein per cup (185 grams), Quinoa is an excellent plant-based protein source for vegetarians and vegans.

Has a Low Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods raise your blood sugar levels.

Eating foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and contribute to obesity.

Such foods have also been linked to many common, chronic, Western diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is considered low.

However, it’s essential to keep in mind that it’s still relatively high in carbs. Therefore, it’s not a good choice if you’re following a low-carb diet.

High in Important Minerals

Many people don’t get enough of certain vital nutrients.

This is particularly true of some minerals, especially magnesium, potassium, zinc, and (for women) iron.

Quinoa is very high in all four minerals, particularly magnesium, with one cup (185 grams) providing about 30% of the RDA.

The problem is that it also contains a substance called phytic acid, which can bind these minerals and reduce their absorption. However, soaking or sprouting the Quinoa before cooking can reduce the phytic acid content and make these minerals more bioavailable.

Quinoa is also pretty high in oxalates, which reduce the absorption of calcium. This can cause problems for specific individuals with recurring kidney stones.

Metabolic Health Benefits

Given its high beneficial nutrient content, it makes sense that Quinoa could improve metabolic health.

To date, two studies, in humans and rats, examined the effects of Quinoa on metabolic health.

The human-based study found that using Quinoa instead of typical gluten-free bread and pasta significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin, and triglyceride levels.

Research in rats showed that adding Quinoa to a high fructose diet almost wholly inhibited its adverse effects. However, more research is needed to understand the impact of Quinoa on metabolic health.

Very High in Antioxidants

Quinoa is very high in antioxidants. These are substances that neutralize free radicals and are believed to help fight aging and many diseases.

In a study researching antioxidant levels in five bowls of cereal, three pseudo-cereals, and two legumes found that Quinoa had the highest antioxidant content of all.

Allowing the seeds to sprout seems to increase the antioxidant content even further.

May Help You Lose Weight

To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you burn.

Specific food properties can promote weight loss, either by boosting metabolism or reducing appetite.

Interestingly, Quinoa has several such properties.

It’s high in protein, which can both increase metabolism and reduce appetite significantly.

The high amount of fiber may increase feelings of fullness, making you eat fewer calories overall.

Quinoa’s low glycemic index is another important feature, as choosing such foods has been linked to reduced calorie intake.

Although there is currently no study on Quinoa’s effects on body weight, it seems intuitive that it could be a useful part of a healthy weight loss diet.

Easy to Incorporate Into Your Diet

While not directly a health benefit, the fact that Quinoa is straightforward to incorporate into your diet is nonetheless essential.

It’s also tasty and goes well with many foods.

Depending on the type of Quinoa, it can be necessary to rinse it with water before cooking. This is to get rid of saponins found on the outer layer and have a bitter flavor.

However, some brands have already been rinsed, making this step unnecessary.

You can buy Quinoa in most health food stores and many supermarkets.

It can be ready to eat in as little as 15–20 minutes:

  • Put 2 cups (240 ml) of water in a pot, turn up the heat.
  • Add 1 cup (170 grams) of raw Quinoa, with a dash of salt.
  • Boil for 15–20 minutes.
  • Enjoy.

It should now have absorbed most of the water and gotten a fluffy look. If done right, it should have a mild, nutty flavor and a satisfying crunch.

You can easily find many healthy and diverse recipes for Quinoa online, including breakfast bowls, lunches, and dinners.

Can Eating Quinoa Help You Lose Weight?

Potentially.

Packed with protein and fiber, Quinoa can certainly promote feelings of fullness. It is a low-glycemic-index carbohydrate since it’s very rich in fiber and protein. This means you’ll feel fuller longer after consuming it, which may help you eat less over time.

But while Quinoa has plenty of nutritional benefits, it is hardly considered a low-calorie food source. So yes, in small quantities, Quinoa can help you lose weight, but that is contingent on your portion consumption.

Are There any Side Effects to Eating Quinoa?

Quinoa, as it seems, really is as healthy as we hear, primarily when you practice portion control. And it is also incredibly safe to eat consistently.

The only likely side effect is just some stomach irritation due to the saponin (the natural coating) on the outside of the grains.

Even so, this can be easily prevented before eating. To reduce the likelihood of irritation, you’ll want to make sure to rinse the Quinoa well before use.

Final Thoughts

Rich in fiber, minerals, antioxidants, and all nine essential amino acids, Quinoa is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.

It may improve your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and even aid weight loss. What’s more, it’s naturally gluten-free, delicious, versatile, and incredibly easy to prepare.

So, if you want to transition to a healthier, consider adding Quinoa to your meal plan.