What is Quinoa?
Quinoa [pronounced KEEN-wa] is a gluten-free, high-protein superfood. It is an edible seed that comes from the plant Chenopodium quinoa. Although quinoa is actually a seed, it is considered a whole grain.
In terms of appearance, quinoa seeds are small and round. The color varies between black, red, yellow, and white. At harvest, seeds are coated in natural chemicals called saponins, which act like bitter-tasting pesticides. The seeds are then processed to remove this coating. When it comes to taste, the grain is firm in texture and has a nutty flavor.
Quinoa originated amongst populations of the Andean region in South America. Traditionally grown on hillside terraces to feed farming families, quinoa cultivation practices changed when the tractor was introduced to the Andes in the 1970s. Because tractors could not fit on the terraces, farmers began growing the grain in flat areas. In the 1980s, quinoa exportation to the US began. Since then, improving technologies and increasing demand have caused an increase in quinoa production and exportation. The United Nations called 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa.”
Quinoa’s popularity stems from its high nutritional value and its ability to grow under harsh conditions. It also suits a variety of diets, including gluten-free and plant-based diets.
Why should I eat quinoa?
Quinoa is not only a great source of protein, it is also a complete protein. In other words, it provides all nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own. This quality makes quinoa a great protein option for individuals on plant-based diets. It also makes for a good post-workout snack. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein, in turn, builds body tissues, like muscle. Protein-rich foods like quinoa are great to eat after a workout because protein supports muscle growth and recovery.
In addition to being a great source of protein, quinoa is a good source of fiber. Fiber is an important contributor to gut health. Not only that, it is also full of minerals. Compared to most other grains, quinoa is a better source of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc.
Quinoa is a good food option if you are trying to manage your blood sugar. On the glycemic index (GI), quinoa has a score of 53. GI measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating. Because quinoa’s GI is relatively low, the grain is unlikely to cause a swift rise in blood sugar after you eat it. Foods with a low GI have also been shown to reduce hunger and overeating.
When it comes to gluten-free grains, rice and quinoa have similar benefits. Both can be part of a healthy diet. However, quinoa has the advantage when it comes to fiber and protein. Here is the comparison:
|Quinoa (1 cup, cooked)||Brown Rice (1 cup, cooked)||White Rice (1 cup, cooked)|
How can I incorporate quinoa into my diet?
Quinoa is easy to make and can be added to a variety of dishes. You can also use quinoa as a substitute for other grains. Here are some examples:
- Cook quinoa ahead of time and mix 1-3 Tablespoons to your oatmeal in the morning.
- Add it to your stir fry.
- Add it to your soup.
- Use it as a substitute in rice or pasta dishes.
- Make a quinoa bowl.
If you’re looking to try this powerhouse grain in a recipe, here is an option for a yummy, healthy quinoa dish. The dish is versatile, and it can be served as either an appetizer or a meal.
Protein-Packed Quinoa Halved Peppers
Serves 6. A great appetizer or meal. Easy to pack for a meal on the go!
1 cup of uncooked quinoa
1 3/4 cup of water or organic vegetable broth
2 Teaspoons of chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch of salt
1 cup of cooked corn or unsalted can of organic corn (optional)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can of black beans or beans of your choice.
1 -2 cups of Pico de Gallo or make your own salsa mixture
6 Bell peppers (use a colorful variety)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
- In a medium-sized pan or Instant Pot, combine water or broth, quinoa, chili powder, cumin, chopped onions, and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool for about 5-8 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add drained beans, pico de gallo as you like, and corn.
*Using a rice cooker: Add all ingredients and let the rice cooker take care of everything. Fluff the quinoa in the rice cooker after it cools a bit.
- While quinoa is cooking in the rice cooker or simmering in a pan, prepare your bell peppers. Slice bell peppers in half and remove seeds.
- Place peppers on a baking sheet. It’s best to line with parchment paper. Fill each pepper with the quinoa mixture and bake for 20 minutes. Serve topped with cilantro and avocado. YUM!
You can drizzle with a homemade vegan cashew cream sauce if desired.
Whether you are training or looking to eat healthier, quinoa is a nutritious addition to any diet. It is a simple, tasty add-on to many of the dishes you already make. It’s also packed with the essential amino acids that other grains are lacking. Next time you’re craving bread or pasta, consider eating quinoa instead.
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Joy Grout, the owner of Personalized Fitness For You, has more than 30 years of fitness and health experience, supported by a Bachelor of Science degree in Therapeutic recreation. She has worked with a variety of populations in clinical and community-based settings, and she possesses various certifications from national fitness organizations. Her diverse set of experiences allows her to focus on your individual needs and design a program specifically for you. Joy offers effective virtual training sessions as well as in-person training sessions in Winona Lake, Indiana. Joy meets women wherever they are in their journey or stage of life, and she helps them dig deep to find their inner strengths and skills.
Harvard T.H. Chan “Quinoa”
Healthline “Quinoa 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits”
National Center for Biotechnology Information “Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): An Overview of the Potentials of the ‘Golden Grain’ and Socio-Economic and Environmental Aspects of Its Cultivation and Marketization”
Verywell Fit “Quinoa vs. Rice: What’s the Healthier Grain?”