What is quinoa?
Quinoa has become the quintessential health food in the past decade. But most people don't know why it's healthy.
Quinoa is a powerhouse whole grain packed with nutrients. When used effectively, it can serve as the soil from which a healthy diet grows.
You typically find quinoa (pronounced keen·waa) alongside rice and oats at the grocery store, though it's not in the same family as grains.
Quinoa is generally considered a whole grain, but it's an edible seed from the quinoa plant, from the same family as amaranth.
The year of quinoa
You may have noticed that quinoa started popping up everywhere in the 2010s. Its popularity exploded in 2013, but quinoa dates back almost 7 thousand years.
A brief history of quinoa
Quinoa originated in the Andes region of South America. It was cultivated for thousands of years until colonizers from Spain arrived in the 15th century.
Quinoa was a sacred food to the Inca civilizations. The Spanish colonizers replaced quinoa with other grains. Still, quinoa stayed popular in local communities in South America.
Varieties of quinoa
Quinoa is more than a healthy alternative to other grains. It can grow in conditions that many crops can't, making quinoa a valuable, nutrient-rich food.
Quinoa plants can grow in areas with:
- Low temperatures and frosty climate
- Water with high salt content
- Not much water
- Soil with few nutrients
Quinoa's ability to adapt is desirable in a crop, but it has led to many varieties of quinoa. There are around 120 different types of quinoa that vary in their:
- Nutritional value
The most common varieties of quinoa colors are white, black, red, and yellow. White and yellow quinoa are more common on supermarket shelves and have a milder flavor.
Darker quinoa variants tend to have a robust earthy flavor. Their texture is more firm compared to the lighter colors.
The nutritional power of quinoa
Quinoa comes out on top when comparing its health benefits to alternatives like rice. The type of quinoa may affect some of the nutrient contents. For example, research shows that quinoa grown in Korea has more effective antioxidants than quinoa produced in the U.S. and Peru.
But, you can expect most quinoa to have the following health benefits.
Protein is a building block for all the parts of your body like your skeleton, muscles, skin—everything. By supporting various chemical reactions and the circulation of oxygen in your bloodstream, proteins keep you in tip-top shape.
One unique characteristic of quinoa is the amount of protein it contains. A 1-cup serving of quinoa has around 8 grams of protein, more than an extra-large egg!
Proteins are made of amino acids. Quinoa contains the nine essential amino acids that only come from food, which means it's a complete plant protein.
As a complete protein, it's in the company of animal-based proteins like meat, fish, and dairy. Quinoa can be an excellent source of protein for a vegan diet, but it's a great addition to any diet.
Quinoa has fewer carbs than comparable grains like brown rice. It contains around 39 grams of carbohydrates.
Quinoa's carbs are divided into starch, fiber, and sugar. The majority of quinoa's carbs are starch:
- Starch: 32.6 grams
- Sugar: 1.6 grams
- Fiber: 5.2 grams
Compared to brown rice, quinoa still has less starch and sugar. It has more fiber, making its carbs generally better than brown rice.
Fiber regulates your sugar levels, makes you feel full longer, and supports healthy bowel movements.
A diet with enough fiber helps prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and constipation. Fiber can reduce inflammatory symptoms if the conditions already exist.
Quinoa is slightly higher in fat than other grains. It has about 3.5 grams of fat per 1-cup serving, whereas brown rice has about 2 grams.
But the fats in quinoa are good. Around 88% of the fats in quinoa are unsaturated fatty acids.
The other type of fat, saturated fats, is what you typically have to look out for. You can find saturated fats in red meat, whole dairy, and fast food.
Unsaturated fatty acids improve cholesterol levels, reduce inflammation, prevent cardiovascular diseases, and more.
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that have various functions in your body. Your body doesn't produce micronutrients, so they must come from food.
Vitamins are organic. Quinoa is higher in thiamine, riboflavin, and folic acid compared to other whole grains.
Minerals are inorganic and combined into a group called ash. Brown rice contains 0.89 grams of ash, while quinoa has 1.4 grams. Quinoa is a significant source of:
Most people get their necessary vitamins and minerals from a well-rounded diet. Quinoa is a great option to ensure that you're getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet.
How to eat quinoa
You don't need fancy recipes to start eating quinoa. You can replace everyday ingredients with quinoa to incorporate it into your diet.
Instead of oats, make oatmeal using quinoa. Add in sweet flavors like fresh fruit or peanut butter. You could make a hearty, savory breakfast with eggs and fresh vegetables.
Any time you would use rice, use quinoa instead. Whether you're making a stir-fry or Tex-Mex rice bowls, you can prepare quinoa to suit your flavors.
You can add a small portion of quinoa to a salad to provide a protein and carb boost. Quinoa is an easy way to make your lunch salad hearty and to help you through your day.
Recipes that call for pasta can use quinoa instead. For example, you can use quinoa instead of pasta in a pasta-based soup. You could get pasta that's made with quinoa instead of other grains.
Is quinoa the world's healthiest food?
Quinoa is only part of a well-rounded diet. It needs other healthy ingredients to make its health benefits shine.
But quinoa is undoubtedly healthy. It's brimming with nutrients and provides a unique flavor to any dish.
Get cooking, and enjoy the power of quinoa!
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Foods: "Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): An Overview of the Potentials of the "Golden Grain" and Socio-Economic and Environmental Aspects of Its Cultivation and Marketization."
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Fiber." "Protein," "Quinoa," "Types of Fat," "Vitamins and Minerals."
National Center for Complementary Integrative Health: Vitamins and Minerals."
Preventative Nutrition and Food Science: "Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Activities of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) Seeds Cultivated in Korea."
USDA: "Quinoa, cooked."
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