Organic quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) was once called “the gold of the Incas” for increasing the stamina of Incan warriors.
It is grown at 10,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level, and in the past it was known for being the main source of food for the altiplano Indians which allowed them to thrive in the harsh living conditions that prevail at such altitudes. To these Indian natives of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, quinoa seeds have been more valuable than gold.
As a growing child we ate quinoa several times a week. My grandmother treasured it as the “mother of all grains,” because of its high nutritious content. It has a protein value that is extremely high (12-18%) and the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. Because of this, it takes less quinoa protein to meet one’s protein need than wheat protein. Quinoa is easy to digest and naturally contains no gluten. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium, and iron. As an adult I prepared quinoa for all my children as one of their first foods (after 7 mths) because of its nutritional qualities and because it is known as a brain food. It mixes great with homemade spinach and peas puree. We also use it in soups and we bake with the quinoa flour.
Historically, cooked and ground quinoa was used as a compress to draw out pain and discoloration from bruises. It was also used as a diuretic. The Indians included quinoa in their treatment of a number of ills, such as urinary tract problems, tuberculosis, appendicitis, liver problems, altitude sickness, and motion sickness.
Today it is commonly used for altitude sickness. Because of its high calcium content, it is considered beneficial in treating bone problems. Natives of the Andes claim it helps strengthen women during pregnancy and postpartum, and promotes healthier milk in nursing mothers.
Andean advice to heal broken bones is to eat plenty of quinoa and apply a plaster made of quinoa flour and water. For infections, they also prescribe the quinoa plaster.
Because quinoa is high in protein and complex carbohydrates, low in fat, and richer in vitamins and minerals than other grains, the Andean people consider it an endurance food and include it as a daily staple.
So next time you are at your local health food store, grab a bag of quinoa. It’s really easy to cook and is ready in about 15 minutes. It can be mixed in with chicken dishes, beef dishes, vegetables stews, soups or eaten alone. And if you really want a double punch of nutrition then get sprouted quinoa.
If the above article did not convince you on why you should be eating quinoa, then let me leave you with some more interesting nutrition facts about Quinoa.
Called a supergrain, quinoa is highly nutritious and can supply us with all of the body’s requirements: carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Quinoa is gluten free and considered an ideal food for those prone to food allergies. Common allergens include grains from the grass family such as corn and wheat. Quinoa, a leafy grain, is not in the grass family, making it beneficial for people who cannot tolerate common grains like wheat, corn, rye, barley, and oats.
Nutritional data on quinoa can vary from one variety to another, from one method of saponin removal to another, and from variations in growing conditions. Therefore, the data offers a wide spread in its figures. For instance, its protein content can range from 7.5% to 22.1%. Compared to common wheat at 14%, rye at 12%, and brown rice at 7.5%, quinoa’s figures are impressive.
Most grains are deficient in the amino acid, lysine. Because quinoa has an adequate quantity of lysine, it is considered to contain all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. According to the Alternative Field Crops Manual of the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, “Quinoa is a highly nutritious food. The nutritional quality of this crop has been compared to that of dried whole milk by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The protein quality and quantity in quinoa seed is often superior to those of more common cereal grains. Quinoa is higher in lysine than wheat, and the amino acid content of quinoa seed is considered well-balanced for human and animal nutrition, similar to that of casein [milk protein].”
Quinoa possesses larger quantities of calcium, fat, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins than many other grains. One-half cup of cooked quinoa contains 15.5 mg of calcium, compared to 8.5 mg in the same quantity of cooked whole-wheat cereal. The protein content is a whopping 4.1g for that one-half cup of cooked quinoa. Potassium is impressively high with 159 mg. as is zinc with 1 mg. Other impressive figures include 1.38 mg of iron, and 59 mg. magnesium. In the category of fiber quinoa rates top scores with 2.6 grams for one-half cup cooked grain.
An important component of any grain is the germ, that portion of the grain that is capable of sprouting and becoming a whole plant. The germ of each quinoa grain is larger than that of any other grain and encircles the outer surface, explaining its exceptionally high protein content. “If I had to choose one food to survive on, quinoa would be the best,” said Dr. Duane Johnson, New Crops Agronomist at Colorado State University.
Some have thought that because quinoa has adapted to growing in such a difficult environment, one with little cultivation and harsh elements and has developed such an impressive nutritional profile, bringing the grain into our own diets may enable us to better adapt to today’s compromised environmental conditions. We may further benefit by adopting quinoa into our family of familiar grains and bringing more diversity to our table.
Below is some more amazing facts on Quinoa from wholegrainscouncil.org:
Quinoa Offers Antioxidants for Gluten-Free Diets
Researchers suggest that adding quinoa or buckwheat to gluten-free products significantly increases their polyphenol content, as compared to typical gluten-free products made with rice, corn, and potato flour. Products made with quinoa or buckwheat contained more antioxidants compared with both wheat products and the control gluten-free products. Also of note: antioxidant activity increased with sprouting, and decreased with breadmaking.
Food Chemistry, March 2010; 119 (2): 770-778.
Quinoa’s Excellent Nutritional and Functional Properties
Lillian Abugoch James of the University of Chile reported on the composition, chemistry, nutritional and functional properties of quinoa. She cited the pseudocereal’s “remarkable nutritional qualities” including its high protein content (15%), “great amino acid balance,” and “notable Vitamin E content.” Beyond its nutritional profile, Abugoch recommends quinoa to food manufacturers because of its useful functional properties, such as viscosity and freeze stability.
Advances in Food and Nutrition Research, October 2009; 58:1-31
More Protein, Minerals, Fiber in Quinoa
Anne Lee and colleagues 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 (20.6g vs 11g) iron (18.4mg vs 1.4mg, calcium (182mg vs 0mg) and fiber (12.7g vs 5g
Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, August 2009; 22(4):359-63. Epub 2009 Jun 10.
Quinoa Possible Dietary Aid Against Diabetes
Scientists at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil studied ten traditional Peruvian grains and legumes for their potential in managing the early stages of Type 2 diabetes. They found that quinoa was especially rich in an antioxidant called quercetin and that quinoa had the highest overall antioxidant activity (86%) of all ten foods studied. Coming in a close second in antioxidant activity was quinoa’s cousin, kañiwa. This in vitro study led the researchers to conclude that quinoa, kañiwa, and other traditional crops from the Peruvian Andes have potential in developing effective dietary strategies for managing type 2 diabetes and associated hypertension.
Journal of Medicinal Food, August 2009; 12 (4):704-13.
Quinoa, Oats, and Buckwheat: More Satiating
A University of Milan study compared buckwheat, oats, and, quinoa to see if any of them showed promise in helping with appetite control. In three experiments – one for each grain – subjects’ satisfaction and subsequent calorie consumption were compared, after eating the study grain and after eating wheat or rice. All three study grains had a higher Satiating Efficiency Index (SEI) than wheat or rice; white bread was in fact lowest in appetite satisfaction. Unfortunately, even after feeling fuller from eating the study grains, the subjects did not cut their calories at the next meal!
British Journal of Nutrition, November 2005; 94 (5):850-8.
Better Lipid Effects from Quinoa
Also at the University of Milan, researchers compared the digestibility of various gluten-free foods in the lab (in vitro) and then with a group of healthy volunteers (in vivo). Their goal was to gauge the effect of the different foods on postprandial glucose and insulin response, as well as to measure triglycerides and free fatty acids after eating. Quinoa stood out in the study, for producing lower free fatty acid levels and triglyceride concentrations than other GF pastas and breads studied.
European Journal of Nutrition, August 2004; 43 (4):198-204. Epub 2004 Jan 6.
Alternative Field Crops Manual. University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/index.html