It’s time to get familiar with quinoa, it’s nutritional value, the health benefits it can provide and the best way to integrate quinoa into a well-balanced diet.
Quinoa – nutrition’s well-kept secret
The first item to address is how to pronounce quinoa – think KEEN-wah and not kwin-oh-ah.
The correct pronounciation has been an item of confusion since 2013’s ‘International Year of the Quinoa‘ which led to the grain gaining considerable hype and causing a jump in retail prices.
What is Quinoa
Quinoa is actually more of a supergrain rather than a superfood.
It is an ancient grain that has been cultivated for more than 5000 years and was referred to as “the mother of all grains” by the Incas.
Today there are hundreds of cultivated types of quinoa but the ones you typically find in a store are white, black and red.
Botanically speaking it is not really a grain (it’s closest relatives are spinach, beets and chard), but a pseudo-cereal (a non-grassy plant used in much the same way as cereals and grains with a similar nutritional profile), however it is absolutely gluten-free.
Nutritionally, quinoa is considered a whole grain which means that most of its fiber and important nutrients are still intact at time of consumption (unlike processed grains).
Nutritional value of Quinoa
Quinoa is most famous for being a so-called complete protein which means that it contains all nine of the essential amino acids (the ones that your body cannot produce).
100g / 3.5 oz of cooked quinoa contains:
- 2g fat
- 21 g carbohydrates
- 4.4g protein
- 3g dietary fiber
- 0.9g sugars
- 120 calories
Quinoa is rich in vitamins and minerals such as:
- B-Complex Vitamins (B1, B2, B6)
- Small amounts of Calcium, B3 (Niacin) and Vitamin E
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
As we mentioned briefly above, the answer to this very important question is Yes. Quinoa is gluten free.
This comes as great news for all the coeliac and gluten intolerant out there. Especially as it is comparatively rich in iron – a mineral that many coeliacs struggle to get enough of.
For more on the topic, Is Quinoa Gluten Free? See here.
Health benefits of Quinoa
Health benefits include:
- The large amounts of potent plant antioxidants (flavonoids like Quercetin and Kaempferol) help neutralise free radicals and are believed to slow down the ageing process and fight diseases
- The high fibre content (higher than most grains) help digestive health and blood sugar regulation
- A high nutritional value and the high content of antioxidants make it a great staple food in a gluten-free diet
- High protein content and the fact that it contains all the essential amino acids that the human body needs make it a particularly great addition to any plant-based diet. And see here if you’d like some information on how to reduce the amount of meat in your diet.
- The nutritional density along with high protein and fibre content can improve metabolic health, including lowering blood sugar and triglyceride levels
- The consumption of quinoa is associated with decreased risk of inflammation-related diseases since nearly 30% of its fatty acids come in the form of oleic acid (a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat) and about 5% come in the form of alpha-linolenic acid or ALA (omega-3 fatty acid)
General studies on the consumption of whole grains have shown that consuming 2-3 servings (16g a serving) of whole grains daily can reduce the risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Colon cancer
The specific effect of the consumption of quinoa remains to be studied in a longtitudional research paper, but entities such as The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are optimistic that the grain will continue to impress us with its high nutritive value, impressive biodiversity, and the important role it can play in the achievement of food security worldwide.
Quinoa for weight loss
So far there are no studies that evaluate the effect on body weight of incorporating quinoa into your diet, but it is likely to encourage weight loss.
The high protein content of quinoa can increase metabolism while reducing appetite significantly.
Whilst the high fiber content can simultaneously make you feel full quicker which makes it a good food for anyone interested in cutting back on calories.
Ways to get daily servings of Quinoa
Before cooking quinoa for 15 to 20 minutes (just cook it like you would cook rice) give it a rinse to avoid the natural nutty flavour being dominated by bitterness.
You can serve it with your veggies, make it into a salad or you can even use quinoa flour for baking.
And if you buy it in a flake-form, you can make a gluten free, high protein porridge for breakfast. There is an abundance of good and effortless recipes using the grain online.
Expert tip: Quinoa is very high in minerals, but the phytic acid can partly prevent them from being absorbed. Note that soaking or sprouting quinoa degrades most of the phytic acid.
Gunnars, K. (2014): 11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa
Huffington Post (2013): 5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Quinoa;
Szalay, J. (2015): Quinoa: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts
The World’s Healthiest Foods (2011): What’s New and Beneficial About Quinoa;
Ware, M. (2014): What are the health benefits of quinoa?;