The Many Benefits of Quinoa: Why and How to Eat This Healthy Food

Quinoa, pronounced KEEN-wah, is an ancient grain that has skyrocketed to superfood status over the past few years. It continues to gain in popularity, with the Whole Grains Council noting that quinoa imports in the U.S. more than doubled from 2006 to 2008, then doubled again from 2008 to 2010. It has been endorsed by many, including nutritionists, health organizations, and even celebrities. In fact, The New York Times reports that Oprah Winfrey went on a cleansing diet in 2008 that included quinoa as one of her comfort foods.

“Even though it seems like overnight, there hasn’t been one single event that has catalyzed the popularity of quinoa,” Kevin Murphy, an assistant professor of barley and alternative crop breeding at Washington State University, told The New York Times. “When we started doing quinoa research, people would laugh. Nobody knew what it was.” One thing’s for sure: No one’s laughing at this supergrain any more. If you are ready to get on board with this good-for-you food, here are five key facts to know about quinoa.

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Quinoa is packed with protein

“While no single food can supply all the essential life sustaining nutrients, quinoa comes as close as any other in the plant or animal kingdom,” reads a 1955 article titled “Nutritive Values of Crops, Nutrient Content and Protein Quality of Quinua and Cañihua, Edible Seed Products of the Andes Mountains.” One of the main reasons quinoa is so unbelievably healthy is because it is a complete protein. The World’s Healthiest Foods states that many grains aren’t adequate total protein sources due to a lack of the amino acids lysine and isoleucine. Quinoa, however, has all nine essential amino acids, which is why it is considered to be a complete protein source.

WebMD writes that quinoa contains 7 grams of protein per ¼ cup dry, or 8 grams of protein per cooked cup. There are plenty of ways to incorporate this protein-packed grain into your meals. Shape’s recipe for Coconut Quinoa and Cherry Compote With Toasted Almonds creates a nutritious breakfast that contains 11 grams of protein. Or, if you’re looking for a delicious dinner instead, consider making Eating Well’s Toasted Quinoa Salad With Scallops and Snow Peas, which has 16 grams of protein.

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Quinoa isn’t a grain

Interestingly, while quinoa is referred to as a grain and prepared like one, CookThink explains it is actually a seed that sprouts a vegetable if it isn’t harvested. Grain Free Living describes quinoa, which is the seed of the Chenopodium or Goosefoot plant, as “a gluten-free super-seed, pseudo-cereal.” This is a term used to describe foods that are cooked and eaten like grains. In addition, Authority Nutrition reveals that many studies have shown that using quinoa rather than other gluten-free ingredients, such as refined tapioca, potato, corn, and rice flour, can drastically increase the nutrient and antioxidant value of your diet.

Looking for some quinoa recipes to incorporate into a gluten-free diet? AllRecipes.com recommends its Quinoa Vegetable Salad, which is bursting with fresh produce and zesty seasonings. For a dish that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, Oh She Glows has created Crispy Quinoa Cakes, which are vegan and gluten- and nut-free.

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Quinoa is easy to cook

Quinoa has a marvelous nuttiness to it and is light and fluffy when prepared correctly. In addition to being healthy, this superfood is also really easy to make. One cup of dry quinoa will yield about three cups of the cooked grain, and for every one cup you need about two cups of liquid, The Kitchn explains. In addition, if you’re making one cup, anticipate it taking about 20 minutes to cook. To ensure you end up with a perfect plate of quinoa, The Kitchn suggests cooking it in vegetable or chicken broth.

Furthermore, adding about ¼ teaspoon salt, in addition to other superb spices, including rosemary, garlic, and pepper, will add vibrant flavors to your quinoa. To prevent it from tasting bitter, Jennifer’s Kitchen suggests rinsing the grain, which removes the outside responsible for giving it a pungent flavor. You can also purchase pre-rinsed quinoa, which already has its outer shell removed. Keep an eye out for that at health stores if you’d like to bypass the rinsing process altogether.

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There is a wide variety of quinoa

Quinoa originated about 5,000 years ago in the Andes region and was referred to as the “mother seed” due to its nutritional content and its ability to grow in harsh climates, according to Livestrong. This good-for-you grain is amazingly adaptable: It can grow in high altitudes, arid land, and in soil that contains sand, clay, and salt. The Whole Grains Council notes there are over 120 different species of quinoa, with the most common being white, red, and black quinoa.

Those 120 species can be even further classified into 1,800 different varieties, which are organized by their preferred climate, per Livestrong. Depending on its climate and where it’s grown, quinoa seeds can be many different colors, including black, red, gray, pink, yellow, purple, green, or orange, Livestrong writes.

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Quinoa is packed with nutrients

Quinoa is loaded with fiber, and contains almost twice as much as other grains. Forbes explains that fiber helps to prevent heart disease by reducing high blood pressure and diabetes, and may contribute to weight loss. This heart-healthy grain is also packed with iron, which keeps our red blood cells healthy, supplies oxygen to our muscles, and increases brain function, reports Forbes.

Magnesium, a mineral that relaxes blood vessels and increases their elasticity, is also found in quinoa. FitDay says that magnesium can decrease migraines and heart disease, while a deficiency can cause hypertension, valve disease, and an irregular heartbeat. Quinoa also contains riboflavin, otherwise referred to as vitamin B2, which can help boost your energy. FitDay warns that a riboflavin deficiency can cause fatigue, depression, and anemia.

Finally, quinoa contains 65 percent of the recommended daily amount of phosphorous, which promotes the growth and development of healthy bones and teeth, according to FitDay. This is something that is particularly beneficial for vegetarians, since phosphorous is often found in meat.

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