Quinoa. Not a cereal… not a grain… but a seed filled with nutrition and good health.
In this fast-moving world where every second matters, it is essential for us to stay fit and healthy. Diet is an inherent component for healthy living. To maintain proper diet, we need to consume the right nutrients in the required level. In the present scenario, where the shelves in the supermarket are loaded with wide varieties of food like organic, natural, sugar-free, functional, etc., it is indeed critical to choose the right kind of food for the needed benefits of the body.
Each food has its own merits and demerits. Certain foods are rich in certain nutrients but lack other vital nutrients. Certain foods may cause dangerous allergies in some people, and some foods add no value to our system. A whole lot of permutation and combination has to be done to get the mix of right nutrients.
But imagine there is a complete, allergen-free food with all the essential nutrients we need for optimal health. Such a food exists, and is called Quinoa (pronounced as Keen-wah).
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is rightly called a superfood because it is packed with good quality of protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. It is neither a grain nor a cereal but a seed, and is prepared and eaten in a similar fashion to that of grains. Hence, it is called a pseudo-cereal or pseudo-grain. Although quinoa seeds are relatively new to North America, these seeds have been consumed widely in South America for a long time. Quinoa is also called ‘mother grain,’ and it comes in three different types: white, black and red.1
From building our bodies to carrying out regular functions, proteins are essential. However, it is not the quantity of the protein that matters but the quality. A protein’s quality is greatly determined by the nature and quantity of the essential amino acids present in the food. Unlike other widely consumed vegetarian foods like cereals, in which the amino acid lysine is limited, and legumes, which lack methionine, quinoa has all the essential amino acids in the right quantity, making it a good quality protein and a complete protein-rich food.1,2 According to USDA data, 1 cup (170 g) of cooked quinoa has 8 g of protein, making it a complete food for vegans and vegetarians.3
Apart from having good quality proteins, quinoa is rich in carbohydrates. Now, it’s true that many nutritionists have put carbohydrates on the ‘bad’ list because of their tendency to wreak havoc on our blood sugar. However, the carbohydrates in quinoa do not spike blood sugar levels like other carbohydrates do. Studies indicate that quinoa has a lower glycemic index compared to gluten-free bread and pasta. It also induced lower levels of free fatty acids compared to these carbohydrate-rich foods.4 Those who are strictly intolerant to gluten in their diet and who are prone to celiac and other gluten-intolerant diseases can safely consume quinoa without a second thought rather than consume gluten-free alternatives, like starch and cereals, which may raise their glucose levels.
Also, quinoa has a considerable amount of dietary fiber.2 This enables the body to maintain good metabolism and can help in shedding those extra pounds. The proteins in quinoa boost metabolism and reduce the appetite, whereas the fiber content will make you feel sated—thereby resulting in consumption of less calories.5,6
Adding to its long list of benefits, quinoa is packed with vitamins and minerals. Quinoa is rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and zinc. One cup of quinoa contains enough magnesium to provide 30% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA).3 Magnesium plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart and regulating the blood pressure. Calcium and magnesium in quinoa are also needed for strengthening the bones and teeth.7
One cup of quinoa contains 15% of the RDA of iron 3. Iron is essential for the muscles and brain and to prevent anemia.7 The zinc present in quinoa plays a vital role in maintaining proper functioning of the liver, facilitating wound healing7, and protecting skin against radiation.8 Quinoa also has potassium, which is required to maintain and regulate blood pressure. It also prevents the formation of kidney stones.7
Quinoa contains certain other chemicals called antioxidants, which play an important role in repair and regulation of our bodies and protect them from free radicals.9 These antioxidants act as soldiers on the frontline of defense against free radicals—thereby protecting our cells. In a study conducted on several cereals, pseudo-cereals, and legumes, quinoa was found to possess the maximum antioxidant content.10 Flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol are two of the potent antioxidants found in quinoa .11 The amount of quercetin found in quinoa is higher than that found in cranberries.12 These flavonoids have shown anti-inflammatory and antidepressant properties in animal studies.13,14
Consuming quinoa every day doesn’t have to be boring. Quinoa can be eaten in various forms such as whole grain, cooked, toasted, roasted, puffed, or flakes. It can be used in salads and soups. It can be processed into flour and used for making breads, cookies, muffins and other gluten-free baked products.1,2 One note of caution: quinoa has to be washed and cooked properly as it contains saponins, which gives it a bitter taste. Proper washing and cooking will also enable the removal of phytic acid—an anti-nutritional compound present in quinoa which may interfere with the absorption of minerals in the diet.1
All of these are great reasons to load your pantry shelves with quinoa products. The more you consume superfoods like quinoa, the better your nutrition and quality of life.