Ancient grains are referred to as such because they have remained largely unchanged for hundreds or even thousands of years. Quinoa was known to the Incas as "the mother of all grains" and was first cultivated over 5,000 years ago.
Although there are hundreds of cultivated types of quinoa, the most common versions available in stores are white, red, and black quinoa.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. We will cover the nutritional content of quinoa, along with its health benefits, and how it can easily be added to your diet.
Contents of this article:
- Quinoa is thought to help stave off a number of diseases.
- Quinoa is relatively high in antioxidants compared with other grains.
- Botanically, quinoa is not a true grain.
- It can be prepared in as a little as 15 minutes.
- Quinoa has a naturally bitter coating called saponin that acts as an insecticide.
Nutritional profile of quinoa
Quinoa is often considered a whole grain as the whole grain seed is eaten without any parts being removed.
Botanically, quinoa is not classified as a grain. It is a pseudo-cereal (a non-grassy plant used in much the same way as cereals and grains with a similar nutritional profile).
The seeds of pseudo-cereals can be milled and ground into flour just as other grains and cereals.
However, nutritionally, quinoa is considered a whole grain. Whole grains include the entire intact grain seed without removing any of its parts.
In contrast, when grains are milled or refined like white bread, white rice, and white pasta, they have been processed to create a finer, lighter texture. Unfortunately, most of the fiber and important nutrients are also removed during this process.
Whole grains like quinoa provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which help to regulate the digestive system and to keep you fuller and more satisfied. White pasta, white rice, and white bread provide simple carbohydrates that are quickly digested but little else in the way of nutritional value.
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free, and one cup of cooked quinoa (185 grams) contains:
- 8 grams protein
- 5 grams fiber
- Magnesium - 30 percent recommended daily allowance (RDA)
- Manganese - 30 percent RDA
- Folate - 19 percent RDA
- Phosphorous - 28 percent RDA
- Copper - 18 percent RDA
- Iron - 15 percent RDA
- Zinc - 13 percent RDA
- Potassium - 9 percent RDA
Quinoa has a high protein to carbohydrate ratio when compared with other grain products. It was proposed by NASA to be an ideal food for long duration space flights.
Additionally, quinoa contains a healthy dose of fatty acids:
"About 25 percent of quinoa's fatty acids come in the form of oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, and about 8 percent comes in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid most commonly found in plants."
One-fourth cup of dry quinoa contains:
- 160 calories
- 2.5 grams of fat (0 grams saturated and trans fat)
- 0 grams of cholesterol and sodium
- 27 grams of carbohydrate (3 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar)
- 6 grams of protein
10 health benefits of consuming quinoa
Below are some of the health benefits of regularly consuming quinoa:
1) It is a complete protein
It is one of only a few plant foods that are considered a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids - these are the amino acids that our bodies cannot produce and, therefore, need to consume.
This makes quinoa a great dietary choice for vegetarians and vegans.
2) High fiber
The high fiber content of quinoa may help to improve blood sugar control.
Because of Quinoa's high fiber content compared with other grains, it helps reduce the risk of a number of health conditions.
Also, diets rich in fiber tend to promote a healthy weight because fiber helps you feel fuller for longer, potentially reducing the overall intake of food.
3) Quinoa antioxidants
Quinoa provides a higher amount of antioxidants than other common grains used in a gluten-free diet. Most gluten-free products consist of corn, rice, or potato flour and lack the nutrients that products incorporating quinoa can provide.
Researchers at Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center found that the nutritional content of gluten-free diets was significantly improved by adding oats or quinoa to meals and snacks.
There are new studies emerging on a regular basis confirming the health benefits of adequate whole grain intake and their antioxidant capacity.
4) Quinoa and manganese
One cup of cooked quinoa contains almost one-third of the recommended daily allowance of manganese. Manganese is essential for development, metabolism, and the antioxidant system. This element is also vital for the proper functioning of many enzymes.
5) Quinoa iron content
Iron is necessary for a range of processes in the human body. For instance, it is an essential component of hemoglobin, the compound that carries oxygen in our blood. Maintaining adequate levels of iron is essential for health.
Lysine is important for the synthesis of proteins. Although deficiency is rare, it can cause a range of medical issues because it is so widely used in the body. Quinoa contains more lysine than any other grain.
7) B-2 in quinoa
One cup contains around 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin B-2 (riboflavin). B-2 is essential for the proper functioning of a range of enzymes.
Although rare in Western countries, B-2 deficiency can cause oily skin rashes, anemia, and itchy, red, sensitive eyes.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains almost one-third of the recommended daily allowance of magnesium. Magnesium is essential for the function of more than 300 enzymes; it is present in every cell of the body.
9) Quinoa contains quercetin and kaempferol
Quercetin and kaempferol are flavonoids that are found in relatively high levels in quinoa. These antioxidants are thought to protect against a range of chronic diseases, including cancer.
10) Prevents kidney stones
Quinoa has a potential protective effect against kidney stones. This is because quinoa helps manage potassium levels.
How to incorporate more quinoa into your diet
Quinoa is a versatile ingredient and can be used in various healthy recipes.
Quinoa has a naturally bitter coating called saponin that keeps insects away without having to use pesticides. The saponin is easily removed by rinsing quinoa with water before consuming.
Although most packaged quinoas have the saponin already removed, it is never a bad idea to give it an extra rinse.
It is easy to incorporate quinoa into your diet - just use it in place of rice in any recipe. Its small grains cook to tender in as little as 15 minutes.
Quinoa has a subtle nutty taste that makes it a versatile ingredient in the kitchen. It can be used in baking or as a breakfast grain; it also works well in hot side dishes, cold salads, and even in burgers.
Try these healthful and easy quinoa recipes:
Written by Megan Ware RDN LD