The Goodness of Quinoa
Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, or goosefoot) is an ancient grain crop originating from the Andean region of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. It is believed that it was domesticated for human consumption around 3,000 to 4,000 years ago by the Andean peoples.
Technically it’s a “pseudo-grain”. This means that while quinoa can be used in cooking like a grain and has similar properties to other whole grain cereals, it is actually a gluten-free seed related to spinach, chard and beets. The leaves of the plant are also edible. Quinoa grows in an array of colours, with the most common being the white, red and black variety. Each quinoa seed is naturally coated in bitter tasting saponins which are soaked and washed away before cooking. Packaged quinoa usually comes pre-washed. To ensure a pleasant taste, pour quinoa in a mesh strainer and run water over it until you see no more white foamy bubbles forming and the water runs clear. As a side note, these saponins keep the plant relatively free of unwanted pests while growing and thus reduce the need for pesticide use.
The addition of quinoa to your diet provides you with many health benefits. Read on!
A Complex Carbohydrate
Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate. Once digested, both simple and complex carbs turn into glucose; a primary fuel for our bodies. Complex carbs digest slower and therefore cause the pancreas to gradually produce insulin instead of causing a spike in its production like the digestion of a simple carb would (ex: refined sugar). The low glycemic index of quinoa makes it an ideal food for individuals with diabetes and for general prevention of type II diabetes. The slow release of glucose into the bloodstream leaves you with a steady supply of energy and keeps your day free of lethargic slumps.
Fiber, Digestion & Heart Health
Being a complex carb, quinoa is a good source of dietary fiber; both soluble and insoluble. Different varieties of the seed range in fiber content slightly. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and turns into a gel helping reduce blood sugar and bad blood (LDL) cholesterol. Insoluble fibre soaks up some water but does not dissolve in the body and this is why it helps aid digestion. It adds needed bulk to bowels keeping you regular and your digestive tract clean. Quinoa’s fibre content also keeps you feeling fuller for a longer period of time after your meal, thus reducing cravings and helping you with weight management.
Antioxidant & Anti-inflammatory Benefits
Fighting inflammation goes hand in hand with the consumption of antioxidants. Quinoa has been found to have significant amounts of both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. The little seeds contain the antioxidant flavonoids Quercetin and Kaempferol. The long list of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients include: “polysaccharides like arabinans and rhamnogalacturonans; hydroxycinnamic and hydroxybenzoic acids; flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol; and saponins including molecules derived from oleanic acid, hederagenin and serjanic acid. Small amounts of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), are also provided by quinoa.” source
The presence of inflammation is what makes most disease perceptible to an individual. source
Health issues caused by or in certain cases made worse by inflammation in the body include but are not limited to: food sensitivities, arthritis, obesity, skin issues, GERD, asthma, lupus, and an array of heart problems.
A Complete Protein
Quinoa is complete plant based protein (about 14%, by weight) containing all nine essential amino acids: isoleucine, leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, methionine, threonine, histidine, tryptophan, valine. These are acids that cannot be produced by the body and must be derived from food. Why do we need them? Amino acids are the building “materials” of protein. To most, protein equals big muscle gains, but in reality it is responsible for so much more. We couldn’t possibly do without it. Examples of the vital roles of amino acids in the body include the regulating of mood, sleep, blood sugar, muscle metabolism, aiding tissue repair, and they play a vital role in hormone, antibody and enzyme production.
Nutritional Profile of Quinoa
As published in the USDA Agricultural Research Service
Every 100g of cooked quinoa contains:
- 120 kcal Energy
- 4.40 g Protein
- 21.30 g Carbohydrates
- 2.8 g Fiber
- 0.232 g Saturated
- 0.528 g Monounsaturated
- 1.078 Polyunsaturated
- 0 mg Cholesterol
- 17 mg Calcium
- 152 mg Phosphorus
- 172 mg Potassium
- 64 mg magnesium -
- 1.49 mg iron -
- 1.09 mg zinc
- 42 μg Folate
- 0.107 mg Thiamin
- 0.110 mg Riboflavin
- 0.412 mg Niacin
- 0.123 mg Vitamin B-6
- 5 IU Vitamin A
- 0.63 mg Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
COOKING – Create with quinoa today!
Quinoa cooks similarly like rice, with a ratio of 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water. The red and black seed varieties take a little bit longer to cook and tend to keep their shape more. They also keep a slight crunch while the white variety cooks up softer and fluffier. This makes the darker seeds ideal for use in dishes like salads and the white seeds are more popular in dishes where you would normally use rice. You can also eat the seeds raw, but you have to sprout them first for optimal digestion and nutrition. The darker the color of the seed, the more rich and complex is its nutty and earthy taste.
Since quinoa is naturally gluten-free, it is a great alternative for individuals with gluten sensitivities. Quinoa is used to make breads, cookies, cakes, pastas, cereals and even makes a delicious pizza base! There’s no reason why you have to miss out! There is a lot of gluten-free products in the market containing quinoa, but learning to make your own is a much more satisfying experience. The easiest way to start substituting quinoa in your recipes is by cooking it first and using the seeds whole or blending it into a paste first. For the more experimental types, you can bake with quinoa in the form of flour. If you choose to use quinoa flour, keep in mind that depending on the food you’re trying to replicate (or invent!) you will need to add in another gluten-free flour into the mix to avoid a gummy and dense texture.
To get you started cooking with quinoa, try out these Rich Carob Quinoa Cakes with Peppermint Frosting. They bake up superbly fluffy.