Quinoa has been growing in popularity, but exactly what is quinoa and what are its health benefits?
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has been grown for thousands of years in the Andes mountains in South America. It was a very important part of the Incan diet, and it's still sometimes referred to as "the gold of the Incas."
Quinoa is often thought of as a grain, but it's actually the seed of a leafy green plant called Chenopodium (also known as goosefoot), which is related to Swiss chard and spinach.
Quinoa has a structure similar to wheat or rice. Like grains, it can be eaten whole or ground into floor to make bread, cereal or pasta. But unlike a lot of grains, quinoa is not stripped of it's bran and germ when it's processed as a food source. When grains are refined to make white flour, white rice etc., the fiber-rich bran and vitamin-rich germ are removed, leaving only the endosperm behind. Quinoa always contains it's bran and germ.
When cooked, quinoa is light, fluffy, slightly crunchy and subtly flavored. It actually cooks and tastes like a grain. Quinoa cooks up in about 15 minutes and can be prepared on the stovetop, in the microwave, or in a rice cooker.
Here are the primary health benefits of quinoa:
Quinoa contains essential amino acids.
Quinoa is one of the few plant-based foods that contains all nine essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that the body needs to function properly, but the body can only produce 11 of them. The other nine, which are called essential amino acids, must come from food or supplements.
Quinoa digests slowly.
Quinoa is a complex carbohydrate that digests slowly and will not cause blood sugar levels and insulin levels to spike. It's also an excellent source of energy.
Quinoa is high in fiber.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains five grams of fiber. Fiber helps keeps the body regular, reduces the risk for certain types of cancer (especially colon and breast cancer), and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Quinoa is high in vitamins and minerals.
Quinoa is higher in calcium, B vitamins, vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese and zinc than most grains.
Quinoa contains phytonutrients.
Quinoa contains phytonutrients (also known as phytochemicals), which are chemical compounds that help reduce the risk of heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Quinoa is gluten free.
Quinoa is safe for those with gluten intolerance.
What is quinoa? The bottom line is that quinoa is a fantastic food that anyone interested in good health should think about adding to their diet.