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Native to Bolivia, Chile, Peru and parts of Mexico, quinoa is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) whose seeds are traditionally used in soups, made into beer and ground into meal for making porridges and cakes.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been sustaining civilization in South and Central America for thousands of years. The tiny seeds of this plant were highly regarded by the Incas, and played a fundamental role in their empire. The Incas referred to quinoa as chisaya mama, or “Mother of All Grains,” and believed that the plant provided warriors with strength and stamina in battle. The Incan emperor himself traditionally sowed the first seeds of the season with a special gold implement.

Quinoa, often described as a “Superfood” or a “Supergrain,” has become popular among the health conscious, with good reason. Quinoa is packed with protein, fiber and various vitamins and minerals. It is also gluten-free and is recommended for people who are on a gluten-free diet.

Quinoa seeds can be black, red, white, purple, pink, yellow, gray, orange, green or yellow. In the United States, white (traditional) and red (Incan) quinoa are commonly available. While the white variety is more flavorful, the red contains more nutrients.

Quinoa

QUINOA IS INCREDIBLY NUTRITIOUS

“Quinoa is a good source of protein, fiber, iron, copper, thiamin and vitamin B6,” said Kelly Toups, a registered dietician with the Whole Grains Council. It’s also “an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and folate.” Toups emphasized that a “‘good source’ means that one serving provides at least 10 percent of the daily value of that nutrient, while ‘excellent source’ means that one serving provides at least 20 percent of the daily value of that nutrient.”

A 2009 article in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture stated that quinoa’s “unusual composition and exceptional balance” of protein, oil and fat, as well as its minerals, fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins, make it a highly nutritious food. The article also noted that phytohormones are found in quinoa, unlike many other plant foods. Phytohormones help regulate plant growth. Some types, called phytoestrogens, are being studied as a treatment for menopause symptoms because they sometimes behave like estrogens in the body.

QUINOA HEALTH BENEFITS

Quinoa is Very High in Protein, With All the Essential Amino Acids That we need

Essential amino acids are ones that the body cannot produce on its own, and complete proteins contain all of them in roughly equal measure. There are nine essential amino acids, listed by the National Institutes of Health as the following: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

Here is the nutrient breakdown for 1 cup of cooked quinoa, or 185 grams:

Protein: 8 grams.

Fiber: 5 grams.

Manganese: 58% of the RDA.

Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.

Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA.

Folate: 19% of the RDA.

Copper: 18% of the RDA.

Iron: 15% of the RDA.

Zinc: 13% of the RDA.

Potassium: 9% of the RDA.

Over 10% of the RDA for Vitamins B1, B2 and B6.

Small amounts of Calcium, B3 (Niacin) and Vitamin E.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Scientists are still working to understand all the implications of chronic inflammation on the body’s health. The Mayo Clinic lists autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and Chrohn’s disease as problems in which chronic inflammation plays a role. Less obvious disorders influenced by chronic inflammation may include cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Quinoa and other whole grains may help decrease the risk of this dangerous inflammation, according to Toups. They “help promote healthy gut microbes (the friendly bacteria in the gut), which is important for preventing obesity, inflammation and disease.” World’s Healthiest Foods notes that quinoa is known to contain many anti-inflammatory nutrients, including phenolic acids, cell wall polysaccharides and vitamin E family nutrients such as gamma-tocopherol.

Gluten Free

Gluten-free diets are recommended for people with Celiac disease, severe gluten intolerance. Medical News Today estimates that approximately 1.6 million follow a gluten-free diet without having been diagnosed with the disease.

People who follow gluten-free diets can have a hard time getting all of their essential nutrients. The Mayo Clinic lists iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate as nutrients especially lacking in gluten-free diets.

“Because quinoa is naturally gluten-free, this nutritionally dense grain is the perfect pick for gluten-free diets,” said Toups. She pointed to a study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics in which researchers at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center found that “the nutritional profile of gluten-free diets was improved by adding oats or quinoa to meals and snacks.

Most notable increases were protein (20.6 grams vs. 11 g) iron (18.4 milligrams vs. 1.4 mg, calcium (182 mg vs. 0 mg) and fiber (12.7 g vs. 5 g).”

Lowering Cholesterol

Quinoa’s good fiber content can aid in lowering cholesterol levels, according to Toups. Fiber aids in digestion, which requires bile acids, which are made partly with cholesterol. As your digestion improves, the liver pulls cholesterol from the blood to create more bile acid, thereby reducing the amount of LDL, the bad cholesterol. A study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that rats that had consumed a high level of fructose and were then fed a quinoa diet reduced their LDL cholesterol by 57 percent.

Heart Health

Lowering LDL cholesterol is good for your heart, but quinoa can benefit your ticker in other ways as well. A study published in the Journal of Food Lipids noted that quinoa seeds possess many of the dietary flavonoids “shown to inversely correlate with mortality from heart disease.”

Furthermore, quinoa can provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fat via its oleic acid content, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acids, according to World’s Healthiest Foods. Most foods lose their healthy fatty acids when oxidized, but quinoa’s nutrients hold up to boiling, simmering and steaming.

Quinoa Has a Low Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels.

It is known that eating foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and contribute to obesity. Such foods have also been linked to many of the chronic, Western diseases that are so common today… like diabetes and heart disease.

Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is considered low.

It’s important to keep in mind that quinoa is still pretty high in carbs, so it is not a good choice for a low-carb diet, at least not in large amounts.

Quinoa is loaded with Antioxidants

Quinoa also happens to be very high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals and are believed to help fight ageing and many diseases.

One study looked at antioxidants in 10 foods… 5 cereals, 3 pseudocereals and 2 legumes.

Quinoa had the highest antioxidant content of all 10. Allowing quinoa seeds to sprout seems to increase the antioxidant content even further.

Quinoa is a Weight Loss Friendly Food

It is high in protein, which can both increase metabolism and reduce appetite significantly. The high amount of fiber should also help to increase feelings of fullness, making us eat fewer calories overall.

The fact that quinoa has a low glycemic index is another important feature, but choosing such foods has been linked to reduced calorie intake.

Although there is currently no study that looks at the effects of quinoa on body weight, it seems intuitive that it could be a useful part of a healthy weight loss diet.

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Native to Bolivia, Chile, Peru and parts of Mexico, quinoa is a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) whose seeds are traditionally used in soups, made into beer and ground into meal for making porridges and cakes. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been sustaining civilization in South and Central America for thousands of...