Quinoa which pronounced "Keen-Wah" is one of the world's most popular and healthiest whole grains you can eat for good health.
This is how quinoa earned its name "the super grain".
It’s naturally gluten-free and full of much-needed nutrients like fiber, which helps you lower cholesterol and promote regularity.
Quinoa is also a complete protein source, containing all of the nine essential amino acids, which is unusual for plant proteins (1).
This makes it an excellent protein source for vegetarians and vegans alike.
Besides fiber and protein, quinoa hosts a list of other vitamins and minerals such as B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin E.
Needless to say, it is a nutritious "super-food" with an abundance of health benefits.
This article will explain "what quinoa is", its nutrition, and health benefits. Even some tips on "how to cook quinoa".
So if you're interested in adding quinoa to your diet, read on to see why it's considered a better grain alternative.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a grain-like crop native to Peru and Bolivia in the area around Lake Titicaca (2).
But it's in-fact not a grain. It's a "seed" that grows from a plant in the goosefoot family, the same family that produces editable vegetables such as chard and spinach.
Which is why quinoa is gluten-free.
And while it shares the best characteristics of grains—it's not considered a grain. It just gets prepared and eaten similarly to a grain. And it comes with similar nutritional values as grains.
History of Quinoa
Quinoa was a popular and a staple food in the diet in many of "South American" countries.
In fact, the history of quinoa can trace back to thousands of years to the Inca people living near Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake on earth (2).
Quinoa was considered the "mother grains" of the Incas (3).
And it was fed to their warriors to fortify them with energy and prepare them for the battle.
When the Spanish conquered Central & South America, they forbade the cultivation of the seed which almost saw it become extinct.
But luckily, quinoa cultivation was restored and it is now thriving all over the world.
Although quinoa has been consumed for thousands of years in South America, it's only become trendy and reached "superfood status" in recent years.
With the newly acquired star of the health status, quinoa is now seen and can be bought pretty much at every grocery store across the state, including Whole Foods, Safeway, Fred Meyer and Costco.
It is also widely available at restaurants, especially ones catering to vegetarians and vegan communities as quinoa is their rare prime protein source.
Luckily for us, quinoa's accessibility makes it relatively easy to integrate it into our daily diet.
The Quinoa Plant
Quinoa plant grows about 1-2 m tall and has broad, powdery and alternating arranged leaves.
The color of the plant ranges from purple, green, to red.
And their seeds also come in wide varieties including red, white and black.
Approximately 120 quinoa varieties have so far been accounted, according to the Whole Grains Council (4). Amongst them, the most common ones are red, black, and white quinoa with white being most popular and accessible.
While white quinoa is often seen in a salad, red variety is used in soups and such as it holds its shape well after cooking.
Black quinoa is versatile and has more distinct earthier flavor than other varieties.
But for the majority of quinoa recipes, those different varieties can be used interchangeably.
Quinoa Nutrition and Facts
Quinoa is incredibly tasty and nutritious. One cup of cooked quinoa has 222 calories, 21% of your daily recommended dietary fiber, and 16% of your protein intake according to nutriondata.self.com (5).
Below is the complete nutritional profile of quinoa.
Nutrition Facts: 1 Cup (185) Cooked Quinoa
|Quinoa||AMOUNT Per Cup||Daily Value %|
Though its nutritional values are incredibly high, quinoa remains one healthy food you want to eat in moderation due to its high-calorie content.
Protein in Quinoa
One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8g of protein, which is equivalent to 16% of the recommended daily value. While it may not seem amazingly high, it's actually quite remarkable for a plant-based food.
Quinoa is one of the richest plant-based protein sources available next to soy.
It provides a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids.
This is especially valuable since most other plant proteins are considered incomplete proteins as they lack some of the essential amino acids.
This most often forces people on a plant-based diet like vegans to combine grains with beans or legumes to make complete proteins to ensure they get all the essential amino acids necessary for a healthy body.
This protein supplementation is typically seen in dishes that contain rice and beans like chili.
One limiting factor in cereal grains as proteins is usually the amino acid lysine.
And quinoa is rich in lysine containing 651 mg of it in ever half a cup (6).
This makes it a great alternative for those on a plant-based diet.
Carbs in Quinoa
Every cup of cooked quinoa's carbohydrate content is about 21%, comparable to rice and barley.
Of those carbs, 83% are starches. The rest is mostly of fiber and a small percentage, about 4% is sugar.
On glycemic index which measures the speed of blood sugar rising after a meal, quinoa scores 53, a relatively low score indicating a lower risk of such spike (7).
Which generally means it's an acceptable food for people with diabetes with a need to keep their blood sugar under control.
But you should always check with your doctor.
Fiber in Quinoa
Quinoa is an excellent source of fiber containing almost double the amount you'd find in most other grains.
High fiber foods such as quinoa are less "energy dense," which means it has fewer calories for the same volume of food. They also take a longer time to chew and digest than other foods with less fiber content. Because of that, it makes you feel fuller for longer.
This is particularly good for people who want to lose weight and maintain it. If that's you, consider adding quinoa to your diet.
To give you quinoa fiber facts, 5.2 grams of fiber are found in every cup of cooked quinoa, which is equivalent to 21% of the daily recommended value.
About 80-90% of the fiber found in quinoa consists of insoluble fibers (10).
Insoluble fiber is a type of fiber that assists the material to pass through your digestive system and adds bulk to your stool.
It's been associated with reduced risk of all types of metabolic diseases including obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Quinoa is relatively low in fat, containing about 3.4 grams per cooked cup.
Quinoa's fat content is comparable to other types of grain and composed of linoleic, oleic, and palmitic acids.
Minerals and Vitamins In Quinoa
Quinoa is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants providing more fiber, iron, zinc, and magnesium than many many other types of grains.
There are several important and essential minerals and vitamins found in quinoa. Here's a list below and their benefits to the body.
Manganese: This trace mineral is essential for regulating metabolism, as well for calcium absorption, and blood sugar regulation. It's also necessary for proper brain and nerve function (11).
Phosphorus: One of the most important minerals in the body, phosphorus and calcium work together to build bones and teeth. About 85% of the body's phosphorus is found in your bones and teeth, but there's also trace amount in cells and tissues throughout the body (12).
Copper: It's a mineral found in the brain, liver, kidneys, and skeletal muscle is important for the heart health and crucial for survival. Copper also aids the body produce collagen, absorb iron, and create energy (13, 14).
Folate: It's an essential B vitamin for tissue growth and cell function. It's also one important vitamin for women during pregnancy (15).
Iron: It's a mineral that helps the formation of hemoglobin (red blood cells). It's also a key player in carrying oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the tissues. Lack of iron in the body can lead to a condition called anemia (16).
Magnesium: A mineral often deficient in the modern Western diet. It's essential for bone health and the body's over 300 chemical reactions including the functioning of the heart, producing energy, relaxing, and sustaining blood vessels (17).
Zinc: An important mineral for overall health, supporting the immune system and fighting off viruses and bacteria. It's found in cells across the body and also needed for the formation of proteins and DNA (18).
Quinoa Gluten Free
One major benefit of quinoa for me is that it's gluten-free.
Plus, I like its nutty flavor.
Quinoa is completely void of gluten, proteins found in wheat that form a glue-like consistency and chewy texture when combined with water.
Quinoa being gluten-free is particularly great news for those with gluten sensitivities or severe intolerance such as celiac disease (19).
This is because quinoa carries far more nutritional values than any of those starch heavy alternatives.
Quinoa is undoubtedly a better alternative.
Its nutritional components also make it even friendly to those who want to lose weight.
May Help You Lose Weight
Quinoa is considered one of the best foods to eat when trying to lose weight.
It's higher in nutrients like protein and fiber, both known for an impressive effect on suppressing hunger and increasing satiety.
Protein, in particular, is essential for weight loss since it takes a greater amount of energy in the form of calories to digest protein than other types of foods and nutrients (22).
Studies have shown that a higher protein intake often leads to a reduction in food and calorie intake, which leads to a greater weight loss (23).
Quinoa is also high in fiber, containing a higher dose of it than most other whole grain foods.
This adds to quinoa's weight loss friendliness as fiber helps you eat fewer calories by increasing satiety after eating (24).
Another benefit of quinoa, as opposed to other grains, is its low glycemic value, which suggests less chance of causing a major spike in your blood sugar.
Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Quinoa can be a great alternative to other types of grains and refined carbs for a diabetic diet. Because it has higher nutritional values and a low glycemic index score than its counterparts.
A score above 55 is normally considered a high glycemic index (GI) score. Quinoa in comparison to two other gluten-free grains is far lower in glycemic index, signaling its suitability for a diet for diabetes (27).
- Brown rice: 55
- White rice: 64
- Quinoa: 40
It's not only a better option for people with diabetes whose bodies are not able to effectively use insulin, but also a great preventative food for those diagnosed of pre-diabetes.
Conversely, eating foods higher on GI score can cause the blood sugar levels spike, and when this occurs frequently and consistently enough, it poses many health threats such as insulin resistance.
Many studies have already confirmed this correlation that refined carbohydrates can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other related diseases, which results out of insulin dysfunctions (28, 29).
Quinoa is one grain-like food linked to decreasing risk of these metabolic diseases (30).
In essence, it's reversal to those common diseases other grain foods are known to foster.
In fact, one animal study reported that when rats on a high sugar diet were given quinoa, they saw a reduction in negative effects sugar causes. Precisely, 26% reduction in blood cholesterol and about 10% decrease in both triglycerides and blood sugar were recorded (31).
There is also a human study that looked at the comparisons between effects caused by quinoa and other common gluten-free foods.
They discovered quinoa's ability to lower both free fatty acids and triglycerides. It's also been reported that the impacts it leaves on blood sugar levels are smaller than those of traditional choices (32).
Quinoa on many accounts is a great addition to a diabetic diet as compared to other whole grains.
Cooking With Quinoa
You just learned everything you need to know about super grain, quinoa from its abundant list of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to its suitability for a weight loss and diabetes diet.
But none of that matters if you don't know how to add quinoa to your diet. You won't and can't benefit from it.
Luckily, cooking quinoa is relatively easy, and you don't have to be a top chef to prep these wonderful and delicious "quinoa recipes".
Below I will share some cooking tips, and how to prepare quinoa. At the end, you'll also see my favorite go-to quinoa recipes you can make in 30 mins or less.
How to Cook Quinoa?
Quinoa's cooking approach is a bit different than other grains, but it's still pretty simple.
Rinse it well to get rid of the bitter coating on the tiny seed.
If you don't, it's going to leave the bitter taste.
When rinsing, make sure to use a fine-mesh strainer. You don't want those tiny quinoa seeds to disappear down the drain.
If the packaging suggests it's pre-washed, skip the step above.
- 1 cup of quinoa
- 2 cups of water or broth
In a medium pot, combine the 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups of water or broth. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until liquid has evaporated (about 15-minutes). Let it stand for 5 minutes, then fluff with a spoon or fork. Season it with salt and pepper.
If you'd like to add some more flavor, you can also add a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of herbs like parsley for an extra taste.
When cooked, the quinoa will become a little translucent. Use as an indicator of its doneness.
You can also cook quinoa in a rice cooker following the same directions. It's a hands-free way of cooking, obviously far easier and more convenient than the stove version above.
Combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups of water or broth. Add spices or herbs of your choice along with pinches of salt and pepper.
Cooking time can vary by rice cooker, but it should be around 25-40 minutes depending on the heat and power of your cooker.
There are tons of dishes you can make using quinoa or quinoa flour.
Some of my favorite quinoa recipes include "black bean quinoa burger", quinoa salad and breakfast muffin.
One of the most popular quinoa dishes is quinoa salads.
It's a simple, fast, and nutritious way to eat quinoa, and it's quite refreshing.
Options are practically endless, but the simplistic way is to toss sliced vegetables like cucumber, red onion, corn, and tomato with some cooked quinoa.
It makes a great protein-packed power salad and also a healthy carb for dinner.
For dressing, combine fresh herbs like parsley and mint with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and lemon juice. Then top with some fresh avocado.
Think outside the box for more culinary uses for this delicious and nutritious superfood.
But just be mindful that quinoa still contains high enough calories and carbs that can break your daily calorie and carb budget.
As I mentioned earlier, there are 222 calories and 39 grams of carbs in every cup of quinoa.
Eat this superfood in moderation for its health and nutritional benefits.
Quinoa is among the top-rated superfoods you can eat for better health.
It's very high in several key nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including fiber, irons, magnesium, and B-vitamins. It even contains calcium.
In fact, quinoa is even higher in antioxidants than cranberries-making it an excellent source for getting more antioxidants into your diet.
Quinoa is gluten-free, which is great news for people who are sensitive to gluten or have celiac who don't want to give up eating grains completely. It's a smart alternative to grains, which offers far more nutritious values than its true grain counterparts.
Another gluten-free grain option is rice, but quinoa is more nutritious in comparisons to most varieties of rice.