What is Quinoa?
Pronounced ‘keen-wa’, Quinoa is becoming one of the world’s most popular superfoods.
Quinoa is a great wheat-free alternative to starchy grains. They appear as tiny, bead-shaped grains with a slightly bitter flavour and firmer texture. As they soften when cooked, they open up to release white curls, which are almost tail-like.
Although there are hundreds of cultivated types of quinoa, the most common versions available in stores are white, red, and black. They may look different in coloured appearance but all contain the same amount of nutrients.
It Quinoa has a delicate and subtly nutty flavour, versatile for breakfast (as a cereal), lunch (as a salad) or dinner (as a side). It can be a quick addition to any meal of the day as it can be prepared in as little as 15 minutes.
Originally, quinoa was grown in South American countries such as Peru, Chile and Bolivia for thousands of years. It was a hugely important crop for the Inca Empire as they referred to it as the “mother of all grains” and believed it to be sacred.
Only in recent years has quinoa reached superfood status in becoming trendy as an alternative to wheat, couscous and rice. However, strangely, it is in the same family as spinach, beets and chard.
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fibre, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.
This is the nutrient content in 1 cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa:
Protein: 8 grams
Fibre: 5 grams
Manganese: 58% of the RDA
Magnesium: 30% of the RDA
Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA
Folate: 19% of the RDA
Copper: 18% of the RDA
Iron: 15% of the RDA
Zinc: 13% of the RDA
Potassium: 9% of the RDA
Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6
Small amounts of calcium, B3 (niacin) and vitamin E
This all adds to a total of 222 calories, with 39 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fat. It also contains a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
The nutritional content is so valued that the year 2013 was crowned “The International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations, based on its high nutrient value and potential to contribute to food security worldwide.
Botanically, quinoa is not classified as a grain. It is a pseudo-cereal (a non-grassy plant used in much the same way as cereals and grains with a similar nutritional profile). The seeds of pseudo-cereals can be milled and ground into flour just as other grains and cereals.
However, nutritionally, quinoa is considered a whole grain.
Consuming 2-3 servings per day of whole grain foods can reduce the risk of:
• Cardiovascular disease
• Type 2 diabetes
• High blood pressure
• Colon cancer
Researchers at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Centre found that the nutritional content of gluten-free diets was significantly improved by adding oats or quinoa to meals and snacks.
Studies have also begun to show that quinoa can improve metabolic health through the high protein levels. This includes lower blood sugar and triglyceride levels. The amount of fibre it includes also increasing the feeling of fullness, which means that it has factors that could help encourage weight loss.
Tweet us your recipes of how you include this highly nutritional superfood into your diet. And don’t forget to follow our ‘All About Superfoods’ series by reading our previous posts on the health benefits of ‘Moringa’ and ‘Blueberries’.