As so many people ask me the question “what is quinoa and how do I use it?”, I decided to write a post on the health benefits and nutritional profile of this (what is considered to be) superfood.
Quinoa is presumed by most to be a grain, but it is actually a seed from a flowering plant in the amaranth family. The fact that it’s a seed makes it much healthier and more digestible for us to eat, AND also given the fact that it can easily be used in place of your normal higher carb, lower nutrient grains, this makes it a wonderfully healthful and fat burning food.
Quinoa is an ancient super food!
This awesome seed has been used since ancient times, and was eaten by the Inca’s and the Egyptians who powered themselves on it whilst building the pyramids – which would have certainly been no mean feat and would have required lots of muscle power which they derived mainly from quinoa. So take heed muscle builders of the world!
A wheat and gluten free alternative to other grains-
The great thing about quinoa is you can use it as an alternative to many of your usual carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, couscous, bulgar wheat and white potatoes. It is super versatile, has a neutral flavour, and easily soaks up the flavours of other foods making it perfect to add to soups, casseroles, or pretty much anything you fancy.
The most common types of quinoa come in the white, red or black variety. The white tends to go well as a replacement for rice, and more easily absorbs flavours, but the others hold their texture and shape well and are better in cold salads or dishes where you need some texture and bite. However, I often mix them up together to get the whole range of nutrients and textures and that works just as well.
Quinoa’s carbohydrate content comes in at about mid range, but this is no reason to exclude it from a general low carb diet. This is because it offers lots of other benefits that other carbohydrates don’t, such as a high protein content and LOTS of nutrients such as fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, lysine, iron, and a range of B vitamins.
1 CUP COOKED QUINOA (185G) CONTAINS:
- Manganese – 58% RDA
- Magnesium – 30% RDA
- Phosphorus – 28% RDA
- Folate – 19% RDA
- Copper – 18% RDA
- Iron – 15% RDA
- Zinc – 13% RDA
- Potassium – 9% RDA
- PROTEIN – 8 GRAMS
- FIBER– 5 GRAMS
- OMEGA 3 FATTY ACID’S
QUINOA HEALTH BENEFITS – 5 AMAZING QUINOA FACTS THAT MAKE IT A TRUE SUPER FOOD!
1. COMPLETE AMINO ACID PROFILE
Quinoa is high in protein, and the only known plant food to contain ALL essential amino acids which are the building blocks of protein and crucial to good health. This makes it not only perfect for vegetarians and vegans, but also a fantastic food for those in training wishing to build lean muscle mass without the use of too many acid forming animal proteins.
Read more on the highest sources of plant protein in my post ‘Highest Plant Based Proteins’. Quinoa is on the list along with many others which all have their own set of unique nutrients.
2. GLUTEN FREE
Using quinoa instead of the usual gluten free products such as potato, corn, rice, and tapioca flour is a lot healthier as it has a FAR superior antioxidant and nutrient content. Obviously the others have their place if not just for variety, but try to add quinoa as much as possible if you want to have superior health and strength.
And don’t forget that a good deal of gluten free products are actually far from healthy, especially things like breads, biscuits, cakes etc as they are often laden with sugar and unhealthy fats, plus chemicals and additives to help aid with texture and taste. Yuck!
3. CONTAINS PLANT FLAVENOLS
There are literally thousands of trace nutrients in quinoa, consisting of many that we are not familiar with or have even heard of. The two particular antioxidants that quinoa is abundant in are quercetin and kaempferol – these have been widely studied in animals and have been found to be anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer AND anti-depressant.
This is interesting because the main ways to alleviate depression and anxiety is to eat a low GI diet, high in antioxidants and omega 3’s, and quinoa happens to have ALL of these benefits rolled into one, so for me this is a no brainer if you want to feel happier, calmer and more zen!
4. SOURCE OF FIBER
Quinoa has more fiber than other grains, making it super healthful as fiber is needed to lower a foods GI and ensure a slow release of energy. It also lowers cholesterol, fills you up, and stops you from snacking between meals, meaning extra help with weight loss and weight maintenance.
5. LOW GLYCEMIC INDEX
All of these extra nutrients and protein help to slow down the rate in which quinoa’s carbs hit the bloodstream, thus making it a low GI food. GI (glycemic index) is the measurement of how fast the sugars in food hit the bloodstream – the lower the better.
High GI foods cause a much stronger insulin response from the pancreas, which in turn can lead to those sugars be stored away as dangerous belly fat, whereas low GI foods offer a slow release of sugars that will be more readily burnt off as energy. This is definitely something to consider when choosing your carbohydrates for your meals.
For more on low GI foods and the other nasty effects of high GI foods in the body please refer to this ‘Low GI foods List’ and see how the low GI way eating can super boost your health and fat burning efforts.
Other low GI Carbs that can help with weight loss:
Instead of eating bread, rice, pasta, couscous, white potatoes, and other high carb foods you should try to use not only quinoa, but also lentils, beans, chickpeas, pulses, amaranth, and buckwheat. These are all lower GI complex carbohydrates that will leave you feeling less bloated with more energy, plus they are far more nutritionally superior.
For more information about a healthy plant based diet in general, and all the benefits it can offer you in terms of ultimate in health, vitality, and maybe even disease prevention please take a look at my ‘Beginners Guide to Plant Based Eating’.
HOW TO PREPARE QUINOA:
You can usually just boil quinoa in a little salted water if you want it plain or straight up – personally I prefer to cook it with a stock cube for flavour. If you decide to do this then only use as much water as it needs to cook in and no more. You can then add more in if needed as you go along, this way you won’t throw away any water at the end and lose the flavours you have added. Alternately you could add spices afterwards of your choice.
Quinoa should be either soaked for a few hours first to get rid of impurities, or washed thoroughly before use. Here are some other ways in this video to prepare quinoa.