Quinoa (keen-wah) is an ancient grain that was first discovered over 5,000 years ago. Lately, it has become quite popular because of its numerous health benefits. But what exactly is Quinoa, and how can you incorporate it into your own diet?
The nutrition profile of quinoa is that of a whole grain, meaning the entire seed is intact without any of its parts removed. This is quite different than refined or milled grains, which are used for white bread, rice and pasta. The refinement process creates a fine, light texture, but it also removes valuable nutrients and fiber during the process.
Essential minerals, fiber and vitamins in whole grains help regulate our digestive systems and make us feel more full and satisfied after eating. Refined pasta, bread and rice deliver simple carbohydrates that get digested quickly and provide virtually no nutritional value.
While there are hundreds of different types of quinoa, most stores carry the white, black and red varieties. Some other attributes of quinoa include:
- Naturally gluten-free
- Contains B-vitamins, iron, calcium, vitamin E, fiber and potassium
- Considered a complete protein with essential amino acids
- Relatively high ratio of protein to carbohydrates
- Considered “ideal” by NASA for long duration space flights
Roughly 25% of quinoa’s fatty acids come from monounsaturated fat, which is considered heart-healthy. There are 160 calories, 0 grams of cholesterol, 0 grams of sodium, 0 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of protein in ¼ cup of dry quinoa. The bitter-tasting natural coating on quinoa – called saponin – repels insects without the use of pesticides. Saponin is removed from most packaged quinoa, but you can rinse any quinoa with water to remove the saponin yourself.
An easy way to incorporate quinoa into your diet is to simply use it in place of rice in recipes. The grains are quite small and cook in as little as 15 minutes. It’s a versatile ingredient that delivers a subtle, nutty flavor. Consider quinoa for baking, breakfast recipes, cold salads, burgers, or as a hot side dish.