Quinoa is one of the world’s most popular health foods. Quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. The good news is that Quinoa is non-GMO, and usually grown organically. Even though technically not a grain, it still counts as a whole grain food. It is also high in fiber, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.
Here are some health benefits of quinoa:
Quinoa is a grain crop that is grown for its edible seeds. It is pronounced KEEN-wah. It technically isn’t a cereal grain, but a pseudo-cereal. In other words, it is basically a “seed” which is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain.
Quinoa was an important crop for the Inca Empire back in the day. They referred to it as the “mother of all grains” and believed it to be sacred. It has been consumed for thousands of years in South America, although it only became trendy and reached “superfood status” a few years ago.
These days, you can find quinoa and products made with it all over the world, especially in health food stores and restaurants that emphasize natural foods.
There are three main types: red, white and black.
This is the nutrient content in 1 cup (185 grams). This applies to cooked quinoa:
Protein: 8 grams.
Fiber: 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 is coming with 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.
NASA scientists have been looking at it as a suitable crop to be grown in outer space, mostly based on its high nutrient content, ease of use and how easy it is to grow. The year 2013 was actually called “The International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations (UN), based on its high nutrient value and potential to contribute to food security worldwide.
Very high in fiber, much higher than most grains
Another important benefit of quinoa is that it is high in fiber. One study that looked at 4 varieties of quinoa found a range of between 10 and 16 grams of fiber, per every 100 grams.
This equals 17-27 grams per cup, which is very high, more than twice as high as most grains. Boiled quinoa contains much less fiber, gram for gram, because it absorbs so much water.
Unfortunately, most of the fiber is insoluble fiber, which doesn’t appear to have the same health benefits as soluble fiber. That being said, the soluble fiber content is about 2.5 grams per cup (or 1.5 grams per 100 grams), which is still decent.
There are numerous studies showing that soluble fiber can help reduce blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, increase fullness and help with weight loss.
Gluten-free and perfect for people with gluten intolerance
According to a 2013 survey, about a third of people in the U.S. are currently trying to minimize or avoid gluten. A gluten-free diet can be healthy, as long as it is based on foods that are naturally gluten free. The problems arise when people eat “gluten free” foods made with refined starches instead. These foods are no better than their gluten-containing counterparts, because gluten free junk food is still junk food.
Many researchers have been looking at quinoa as a suitable ingredient in gluten-free diets, for people who don’t want to give up staples like breads and pasta. Studies have shown that by using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free ingredients like refined tapioca, potato, corn and rice flour, it can dramatically increase the nutrient and antioxidant value of the diet.
Very high in protein, with all the essential amino acids
Protein is made out of amino acids. Some of them are termed “essential” because we can not produce them and need to get them from the diet. If a food contains all the essential amino acids, it is seen as a “complete” protein.
The problem is that many plant foods are deficient in certain essential amino acids, such as lysine. However, quinoa is an exception to this, because it contains all the essential amino acids. For this reason, it is an excellent source of protein. It has both more and better protein than most grains.
With 8 grams of quality protein per cup, quinoa is an excellent plant-based protein source for vegetarians and vegans.
Has a low glycemic index, which is good for blood sugar control
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels. It is known that eating foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and contribute to obesity. Such foods have also been linked to many of the chronic, Western diseases that are so common today, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is considered low. However, it’s important to keep in mind that it is still pretty high in carbs, so it is not a good choice for a low-carb diet.
At the end of the day, quinoa is one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet. That is why adding quinoa to your daily diet is essential if you want to improve your health.