The Health Benefits of Quinoa

The Health Benefits of Quinoa

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If you want a healthier and wheat-free alternative to bread, pasta, rice, and other starchy foods, then Quinoa is the perfect food for you. High in nutrients, proteins, and fibre, quinoa can benefit your body in more ways than one.

For one, it may help reduce blood sugar levels, blood cholesterol levels, and subsequent heart disease risk. Because of its gluten-free nature, the quinoa plant may help minimize Celiac disease symptoms.

Quinoa is rich in antioxidants. It may help fight disease-causing free radicals and may also help promote weight loss!

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa is a type of grain grown in the areas of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. It has been cultivated since 5,000 BC. As for the Andeans, quinoa is deemed as the sacred ‘mother of all grains’ in the region. In fact, its edible seeds have long been eaten by the ancient Incans – a tradition they have carried over to their modern descendants.

Much like the South Americans, the rest of the world considers quinoa as a superfood – a nutrient-rich food that confers many health benefits to the person. 

Quinoa is also called the ‘golden grain’, as it is resistant to drought, cold, and salt. In fact, NASA has expressed its desire to grow this in space stations as it can help provide high nutritional value to astronauts on long-term missions.

This pseudo-cereal is so beneficial on earth (and in space) that the United Nations made 2013 the “International Year of the Quinoa.” After all, the UN recognises quinoa’s potential to provide food security in most parts of the globe.

Types of Quinoa

Quinoa seeds come in several types. They are usually denoted by their colours. 

White Quinoa

Despite its name, white quinoa is actually tan in colour. As such, it is also called tan quinoa, blond quinoa, yellow quinoa, or golden quinoa.

As the most common quinoa in the market, it is popularly known for its delicate taste. Given its light texture, it easily becomes fluffy after cooking.

Red Quinoa

This type of quinoa appears red when raw, but turns to a brownish shade when cooked. It is known for its rich, nutty taste and chewy texture. Because it can hold its shape well, red quinoa is preferred for cold recipes such as salads.

Black Quinoa

Black quinoa, compared to other types, is born in North America – Colorado to be exact. It is the result of the cross-breeding between the traditional quinoa and the lamb’s quarter.

Black quinoa takes its colour from the anthocyanins, which help protect the plant from oxidation and UV damage. 

It is well-known for its strong flavour, crunchy texture, and high fibre content. Compared to other quinoa grains, black quinoa is not widely available in the market.

Purple Quinoa

Purple quinoa is said to have a sweet taste. This light yet filling quinoa is rare so you probably would not find it in your neighbourhood supermarket.

Orange Quinoa

Orange quinoa is another hard-to-find grain. On the off chance that you get your hands on some, you can enjoy its slightly milder taste (in comparison to red quinoa).

Tri-Colour Quinoa

If you want to have a rainbow of quinoa colours on your plate, then this quinoa blend is perfect for you. This is made from the three main types of quinoa: red, white, and black.

Other Forms of Quinoa

Apart from seeds, quinoa is also used to make flour and flakes.

Quinoa Flour

Quinoa flour, which takes an ivory white or creamy yellow hue, is made from ground quinoa seeds.  It can be quite expensive, so a better alternative is to buy the seeds and ground them with the use of a food processor or a flour mill.

With quinoa flour, you can make gluten-free bread, pancakes, muffins, and other baked goods. You can also use this to thicken sauces and soups. If you want, you can even combine your quinoa flour with other flour products.

To maintain its freshness, make sure to store your quinoa flour in an airtight container. You can also put this inside a fridge or freezer to prolong its storage life.

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Quinoa Flakes

Quinoa flakes are pressed quinoa seeds. They are rolled flat – just what you would do to make rolled oats. Because of its appearance, these flakes can be cooked rather quickly. With that being said, they make for good ingredients for porridges, cookies, or brownies. You can even use these flakes to bread chicken.

Quinoa Nutrients

Quinoa Nutrients

Each cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, 39 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, and 5 grams of fibre.

Is Quinoa a Good Source of Protein?

Yes. As mentioned, the quinoa protein content is 8 grams per cup. This is considering the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein, which is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.

If you weigh 60 kilograms, you can already get 1/6 of your needs from a cup of quinoa protein.

Quinoa is also rich in amino acids, which serve as the building blocks of proteins. Each amino acid plays a pivotal role in the body.

Compared to maize, rice, and wheat, quinoa has copious amounts of:

  • Isoleucine (4.9), which can help build muscle endurance and promote muscle repair.
  • Lysine (6), which may help improve calcium absorption, reduce anxiety, and promote wound healing.
  • Methionine (5.3), which can help build proteins and molecules in the body.

Quinoa also contains good amounts of leucine (6.6), phenylalanine (6.9), threonine (3.7), tryptophan (0.9), and valine (4.5).

Is Quinoa a Carb?

Yes. Despite being rich in protein, quinoa is a good and healthy source of carbohydrates as well. Quinoa carbs make for 21.3% of an entire serving.

In the long-standing debate of quinoa vs. white rice, the latter obviously wins in terms of carb content (39 grams compared to 44 grams). Rice loses when it comes to nutrients though, as the refinement process strips its vitamins and nutrients away. It can also spike up blood sugar levels rather quickly, which is why white rice has been associated with weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.

Is Quinoa Nutritious?

Yes, very much so. It contains the following vitamins and minerals – and their RDA:

  • Vitamins B1, B2, B6 – more than 10%
  • Copper – 18%
  • Folate – 19%
  • Iron – 15%
  • Magnesium – 30%
  • Manganese – 58%
  • Phosphorous – 28%
  • Potassium – 9%
  • Zinc – 13%

Apart from these nutrients, quinoa also comes with small amounts of Vitamin B3, Vitamin E, Calcium, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Is Quinoa Gluten-Free?

Yes. Quinoa is devoid of gluten, which is a protein commonly found in rye, barley, wheat, and spelt. This makes quinoa a good food source for people with gluten intolerance, as they are unable to break down this type of protein effectively.

Quinoa is also favoured by those who observe a strict gluten-free diet. According to staunch supporters, quinoa gluten-free recipes can help boost energy – as well as their overall health.

What is Quinoa Good For?

What is Quinoa Good For?

With its many nutrients, quinoa may help improve your health through the following ways:

Lowers blood cholesterol levels – and subsequent heart disease risk

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that the body needs to make Vitamin D, hormones, and other necessary substances. Like any other substance, cholesterol is best kept in moderation. After all, high levels of cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits in the blood vessels.

With that being said, eating a cholesterol-rich diet (fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, processed foods, etc.) puts you at risk of heart disease.

Fortunately, quinoa may help reverse this risk. After all, it contains phytosterols, cholesterol-like substances that come from plant cell membranes. To wit, 100 grams of quinoa contains as much as 118 milligrams of phytosterol.

According to a study, these substances may help reduce cholesterol absorption in the gut by as much as 30%. As a result, it may lower your ‘bad’ cholesterol levels (LDL) in the blood by 8-10%.

In effect, these seeds may help protect you from heart disease and its related complications.

Reduces blood sugar levels

High blood sugar levels, if left unprocessed by the body, can lead to diabetes. This happens when the body is unable to produce enough insulin – or becomes resistant to the effects of insulin itself.

With that being said, the best way to prevent diabetes is to improve your blood sugar levels. One of the best ways to do this is to eat a healthy diet – especially one that contains quinoa.

According to a study, quinoa benefits include improved glucose tolerance, especially after the first two meals (breakfast and lunch). Such effects are attributed to quinoa’s many nutrients, including Vitamin E, zinc, iron, magnesium, phytosterols, and saponins.

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With that being said, researchers recommend quinoa not only to diabetic patients – but to healthy individuals as well.

Fights disease-causing free radicals

Antioxidants are substances that help protect the cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. These molecules are usually obtained through prolonged exposure to UV radiation, smoking, and pollution. Unfortunately, these free radicals harm the body so much so that they contribute to the development of certain cancers, heart disease, premature ageing, among many other problems.

The best way to prevent such damages is to consume antioxidant-rich foods, a good example of which is quinoa. According to a study, quinoa is rich in quercetins, which has a high extent of antioxidant activity (86%) in the body. With that being said, quinoa’s quercetins can help fight these free radicals potently – effectively protecting you from the diseases that they may bring.

Minimizes Celiac disease symptoms

This immune disorder is characterized by the inability of some people to tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. When gluten enters the system of these individuals, the immune system is activated in such a way that it damages the small intestines. This then results to diarrhoea, bloating, gas, and fatigue, among many symptoms. 

Treatment for celiac disease relies on a gluten-free diet that quinoa can safely provide. Its effectiveness was seen in a study by Zevallos et al. , where 19 patients ate 50 grams of quinoa (and other gluten-free food) daily for 6 weeks.

Results showed that quinoa helped reduce the microscopic intestinal damages caused by celiac disease. Not only did it keep celiac disease symptoms at bay, but it also helped reduce cholesterol levels – which is another health benefit to quinoa intake.

Aids in weight loss

Quinoa is a good food to consider when it comes to weight loss. After all, it is rich in fibre, which may help reduce your appetite. Fibre also makes you feel fuller for longer, which can prevent you from snacking and whatnot.

Quinoa’s minor weight loss effects were seen in a study by Li et al. Though the researchers’ primary goal is to determine quinoa’s effects on heart health, they measured body weight and body mass indices as well.

Results showed that quinoa brought about small amounts of weight loss. From an average weight of 85.9 kilograms, consumption of quinoa for 4 weeks led to a decrease to 85.8 kilograms. The BMI also decreased (from 27.7 to 27.6) as well as the body fat percentage (25.4 to 25.2).

Speaking of fat, quinoa may also help you get rid of belly fat.  According to a study, 10 grams of fibre (along with a healthy lifestyle) may help decrease visceral (belly) fat by as much as 3.6%. With each cup of quinoa containing as much as 5 grams of fibre, you only need 2 servings a day to achieve the waistline you have always wanted.

Promotes childhood growth

Child malnutrition refers to under nutrition, which manifests through wasting or stunting, inadequate intake of vitamins and minerals, and diet-related non-communicable diseases. This also covers childhood overweight/obesity problems.

Unfortunately, 21.3% of all the children worldwide show signs of stunting. On the other hand, 14 million kids are affected by severe wasting. Since food security is an issue in many parts of the globe, quinoa may help provide a good dietary source – despite the presence of frost, drought, and other crop-destroying factors.

According to a study by Ruales et al., quinoa slurry serves as a good source of protein, Vitamin E, thiamine, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Participants who were fed 2 servings of quinoa (at 100 grams each) for 15 days showed increases in insulin growth factor 1. While this is bad for adults, this protein is deemed essential for promoting bodily growth in children. 

How to Prepare Quinoa

How to Cook Quinoa

If you want to retain the protein in quinoa – as well as its many other health-boosting nutrients – then make sure to follow these important prep tips:

Check the package

When you buy a bag of quinoa, make sure to inspect it carefully. Any holes and tears can bring in moisture, which can affect the freshness of the seeds.

Wash them well

Quinoa, when boiled, can activate the saponins that coat the seeds. These compounds end up producing a foam that gives quinoa a bitter taste.

To prevent this from happening, make sure to wash the quinoa well. It is best to put them on a sieve and run them under cold water.

Cleaning your seeds comes with many benefits. One, this can help minimize the bitter taste brought about by saponins. Two, this will prevent the seeds from sticking together during the quinoa cooking process.

Toast the seeds

Do you want your quinoa recipes to taste nuttier? Then you should toast the seeds before boiling them. For every 1.5 cups of quinoa, you should use a tablespoon of a healthy oil. Place these on a skillet and toast them on low to medium heat. It will take about 6 to 8 minutes for the quinoa to turn to a golden-brown colour.

How to Cook Quinoa

The best way to cook quinoa is to boil it. You have the option to do so in a variety of ways:

Stovetop

If you wish to boil your quinoa on a stovetop, you should add water that is three times the amount of your seeds. For example, if you wish to use 100 grams of quinoa, you should cook it with 300 millilitres of water.

Boil the quinoa on a medium saucepan for 12 to 15 minutes. After this, simmer the seeds for another 15 minutes until they absorb all the liquid. You know you’re done when the quinoa pseudo-cereals have popped successfully.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let your covered grains cool for 10 minutes. This process is important as it will make your quinoa high protein seeds moist, fluffy, and light.

After letting the quinoa sit, you can go ahead use a fork to separate and fluff the grains.

Clay Pot

If you are looking for a simple and healthy way to cook your quinoa, you can go ahead and use a clay pot. Like cooking in a saucepan, you need to stir it for 12 to 15 minutes until there is little water in the pot.

Rice Cooker

If you want to cook quinoa and do other things along the way, then you should use a rice cooker. Use a 2:1 ratio for the liquid and quinoa. Set this to cook the usual way you do with rice. While this may take longer than usual (30 to 55 minutes), it’s good if you are not in a hurry.

How Do You Make Quinoa Taste Good?

If you want to add more flavour to your quinoa protein recipes, you can add ¼ Kosher salt to the pot. You can also boil your seeds in any of these ‘flavourful’ liquids:

  • Chicken stock
  • Vegetable stock
  • Dry white wine 

You can also cook your seeds with almond milk or oat milk to make a healthy bowl of quinoa porridge.

Can I Eat Quinoa Every Day?

Yes, of course! After all, quinoa comes with many health benefits.

According to a report, eating high-grain cereals such as quinoa daily may help reduce the risk of dying from respiratory disease by as much as 11%. At the same time, it can also lead to a 48% lesser chance of developing diabetes. Consuming grains has also been associated with a 15% reduction in cancer risk. 

What’s great about high-grain cereals like quinoa is that they can readily reduce the above-mentioned risks, even if certain factors – such as obesity, smoking, and lack of physical activity – come into play.

Take this recommendation from the researchers: “Our study indicates that intake of whole grains and cereal fibre may reduce the risk of all-cause mortality and death from chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and respiratory disease.”

Quinoa Recipes

Get the most out of healthy quinoa nutrition by using these seeds in the following recipes:

Quinoa porridge

Quinoa is commonly used in making gluten-free porridge. As mentioned, you can do this by boiling the seeds in healthier milk products. To make it more flavourful, you can also add apples, raisins, almonds, natural sweeteners or Coconut sugar, or cinnamon to your quinoa porridge.

Other good additives include banana, berries, peaches, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, honey, and maple syrup.

Quinoa salad

If you want a hearty yet filling salad, then be sure to throw in some quinoa seeds into the mix. You could add these to diced tomatoes and sliced cucumbers, and season them with lemon juice, olive oil, and minced parsley.

While quinoa protein is complete by itself, you can get some more by adding chicken breasts, parmesan cheese, onions, tomatoes, and avocadoes to your quinoa salad.

Quinoa-stuffed zucchini

Make zucchini a main dish by stuffing it with quinoa and mushrooms. You can even make it even tastier by adding cashews, garlic, and seasoning.

Conclusion

Quinoa is a seed, pseudo-cereal, and superfood that is native to South America. Also known as the “golden grain,” it is resistant to harsh conditions – which is why the UN touts this to be a solution to food security problems.

There are several types of quinoa, with the most common being red, white, and black. Quinoa also comes in other colours and forms (flour, flakes).

Quinoa should be checked well before you purchase. You also need to wash them with cold water before cooking the seeds on a saucepan, clay pot, or rice cooker.

Quinoa may also be boiled with stock or dry white wine to further improve the taste. You can also add them to recipes such as porridges, salads, and stuffed vegetables.

The healthy “mother of all grains” is chockfull of nutrients, including protein, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. As such, it can benefit your health in several ways.

With the many health benefits of Quinoa, there is no reason why you shouldn’t buy organic quinoa for you and your family today.

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Luiz Presso
Luiz Presso