Food Focus: Quinoa
When I first became a vegan I was struggling to get enough protein. My hunky husband read an article in a health magazine about a "new" grain gaining headway in the exercise field because of it's high protein content. I was really excited about trying something new, but couldn't even find it in stores! I had to special order online. 9 years later? I think you've probably heard of it.
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), is a nutritional powerhouse with ancient origins. It was originally cultivated by the Incas more than 5,000 years ago. They referred to it as the “mother of all grains.” It contains ALL essential amino acids, making it a great source of protein for vegetarians. Quinoa is also high in magnesium, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, copper, manganese, riboflavin and zinc. While quinoa is widely considered a grain, it’s actually the seed of a plant called Chenopodium or Goosefoot, related to chard and spinach!
Quinoa is a gluten-free grain and has a similar effect as other whole grains in helping to stabilize blood sugar. It has a waxy protective coating called saponin which can leave a bitter taste. For best results, rinse quinoa before you cook it or even soak it for a few hours or overnight. When cooked, it has a fluffy, slightly crunchy texture. Try it in soups, salads, as a breakfast porridge or as its own side dish. For quinoa, and whole grains in general, the majority of digestion occurs in the mouth through chewing and exposure to saliva. For optimal nutrition and assimilation, it is vital to chew your grains well and with awareness.
Heard of prebitiocs? As Dr. Axe explains, "In a 2016 study, quinoa and amaranth were assessed for their function as prebiotics. Prebiotics are undigestible fiber compounds that work with probiotic enzymes to become “fuel” for the beneficial bacteria living in your gut, and are associated with lowered disease risk, lowered inflammation levels and a better functioning immune system. Scientists found that both of these pseudocereals (which they referred to as common superfoods) have prebiotic potential and can serve to improve gastrointestinal health by balancing the levels of good bacteria functioning there."
There are a few types to choose from:
White Quinoa – This is the most widely sold variety of quinoa, and takes the least amount of time to cook. It’s sometimes referred to as ivory quinoa.
Red Quinoa – Because it doesn’t easily lose its shape, cooks prefer using this type of quinoa in cold salads or other recipes where the texture of a distinct grain is preferred.
Black Quinoa – The taste of black quinoa is more different than the white and red varieties, with an earthy, sweet flavor profile. It takes the longest to cook, needing about 15–20 minutes to be completely done.
I love the tri-color bag at Trader Joe's for a little of each.
Convinced to give it a try or get more quinoa if your diet? Here are some great recipes to try!
Want an even healthier way to consume this superfood? Check out this article about sprouting!
Sources and Additional Reading:
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, 2012