Qinoa, sometimes called a whole grain, is actually the seed of a green leafy plant that is still cultivated in South America. Revered by the ancient aztecs as a source of energy for their fearless warriors, chefs and home cooks now admire it for its mild taste and creamy texture.
If you’ve ever tasted quinoa, you know it’s delicious. But what’s so special about quinoa when it comes to health? Quinoa is…
- a complete protein, and has all 9 essential amino acids, great for a vegetarian diet.
- very high in manganese that helps keep bones strong and healthy and maintain normal blood sugar levels.
- high in fiber and contains niacin, both of which have been proven to lower and control high cholesterol.
- easy to prepare, and can be used in any recipe or meal that calls for white rice.
- gluten-free and easy to digest.
Apart from the health benefits already mentioned, quinoa happens to have a low glycemic index compared to other whole grains. The glycemic index – or GI – rates food based on how much they make your blood sugar rise. Keeping your blood sugar steady and balanced can help you to maintain weight and improve cholesterol – that’s why whole unprocessed foods that are low in sugar and high in fiber (like whole grains) are touted for their health benefits. Calorie-wise, quinoa comes in about 50 calories less per serving compared to brown rice.
How to Enjoy Quinoa
Cooking quinoa is as easy as cooking rice, only faster. Rinse it first, under cold water to help remove a natural compound that can make it bitter. Some brands of quinoa are “pre-washed” so check the label before rinsing.
Quinoa is the perfect breakfast food – sugar free, low in fat, high in fiber and cooks in 15 minutes. Cook according to the package instructions and just add a teaspoon of butter or trans-fat free margarine, a tablespoon of slivered almonds, and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a filling, healthy start into the day. Since quinoa is high in iron, stirring in chopped spinach and making a Quinoa Risotto can be an iron-rich meal for a vegetarian.
Mushrooms add rich flavor to creamy quinoa and they both happen to be high in niacin. Niacin improves immune system function and in larger doses has been studied to improve lipid levels by the pharmaceutical industry.
Just 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa can deliver 25% of the niacin you need per day and since it cooks quickly, it makes a fast dish without much work. Just sautee a cup of sliced mushrooms in a little olive oil and mix into pre-cooked quinoa.
Want to get your kids to try something new while adding mineral-rich grains to their diet? Try quinoa crusted chicken fingers. Grown-ups love them too so make double and make it a family meal!
- Joy Bauer’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Total Nutrition
- On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee
- The World’s Healthiest Foods by George Mateljan
First posted October 2008