Over the past few years, quinoa has become one the trendiest health foods, making its way to nearly all kitchens. Quinoa is technically a seed but is cooked and consumed as a grain. Aside from its impressive background, it has become so popular thanks to the multitude of health benefits it provides. Pronounced “keen-wah”, quinoa has been a staple in South American diets since roughly 1200 AD beginning with the Incas. The plant in which quinoa grows is a relative of spinach, beets, and chard. There are over 120 different types of quinoa, with the most common being white, red, and black. These plants grow high in the Andes of South America, mainly Ecuador, Columbia, and Peru, where the rain is scare and soil is sandy. Since the demand for quinoa has nearly quadrupled over the course of 5 years, you can find quinoa being grown in the United State and Canada around the Rocky Mountains at elevations of 7,000 to 10,000 feet.
The most prominent and well known health benefit from quinoa is its protein density. The seed is one the very few plant sources of complete proteins (meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids), making it an essential component of a vegetarian diet. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 9 grams of protein, which is equal to 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. Quinoa can be considered a source of lean protein, due to the unhealthy nutrients it’s lacking. It does not contain any cholesterol and only has a trace amount of fat (thanks to it being a seed). All of this makes quinoa a great option for those who want to lose or maintain their weight in addition to those who abide by a vegetarian or vegan diet. Weight loss and Muscle growth – while overall helpful to increasing metabolism – can counteract weight loss efforts if our diet includes proteins accompanied by a high amount of fat to help muscles recover. Quinoa is a great solution to this problem, by providing a healthy source of lean protein.
In addition to the protein, quinoa is an excellent source of manganese (58% of the recommended daily amount for each cup) and magnesium (30% of RDA for each cup). Although the names are similar, the benefits they bring are not quite the same. Manganese acts as a detoxifying agent in the body, and magnesium helps relax your muscles and blood vessels, which in turn can reduce blood pressure. The reduction in blood pressure is also beneficial to preventing blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks. Magnesium also works within the body for body temperature regulation, energy production, and formation of bones and teeth.
As mentioned, quinoa is a seed and not actually grain. Therefore it is does not contain any gluten or wheat, making it a great option for those who have celiac disease or are gluten intolerance. Quinoa can be made into flour, and used to make breads and pastas, increasing the nutritional value of the dish compared to other gluten free options (often make with rice or tapioca flour).
Although quinoa does not contain gluten or wheat, it is still a great source of fiber! Quinoa contains twice as much fiber as other grains – 12 grams of fiber per cup of quinoa, but only 6.3 grams per cup whole wheat spaghetti. Consuming fiber on a regular basis helps to keep our bowels regular. This regularity helps to prevent many chronic illnesses, including diabetes and hypertension, because toxins are being removed from our body, preventing build-up. Fiber also helps to give us the feeling of “full” without adding calories. This makes quinoa an excellent addition to a healthy weight loss and maintenance routine.
Quinoa is also a great source of antioxidants. Specifically, it contains high concentrations of quercetin and kaemperol. These antioxidants ward off naturally occurring cancer cells in our bodies, which could otherwise lead to serious health problems overtime. Generally, antioxidants and their quantities associated with red, purple, and blue fruits as well as vegetables, however, antioxidants are found in many other sources.
Being a seed make quinoa’s health benefits are comprehensive and unique. An excellent supply of antioxidants, with a source of fiber and protein without any added sugar, makes it pretty clear how quinoa is considered a super food!
More foods with health benefits from antioxidants.
Food Story INC. (03-10-2014). Quinoa for any meal of the day. http://blog.yourfoodstory.com/2014/03/10/quinoa-for-any-meal-of-the-day/)
Whole Grains Council.(n.d.) Growing Quinoa. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/growing-quinoa
Organic Facts. (n.d.) Health benefits of avocados. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-avocado.html
Wilcox, Julie. (06-26-2012). 7 Benefits of Quinoa. http://www.forbes.com/sites/juliewilcox/2012/06/26/7-benefits-of-quinoa-the-supergrain-of-the-future/