What Is It?
A quick search on the internet reveals several facts of this grain crop which is grown primarily for its edible seeds.
Simply put, Quinoa, a species of goosefoot (Chenopodium) is a pseudo cereal (that is their seeds can be ground into flour and consumed) rather than a true cereal, as it is not a member of the true grass family.
It is also closely related to species such as beetroot, spinach and tumbleweed which have shrub like growth.
Where Does It Grow?
It originated in the Andean region of Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, where it was domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago for human consumption and found its place into the humble Indian household (albeit being an upper middle class commodity).
It gained popularity and has been cultivated away from natural distribution in places like the United States, Australia and Japan to name a few.
What are the nutritional benefits?
Essential Amino Acids
Quinoa seeds contain essential amino acids like lysine and acceptable quantities of calcium, phosphorus, and iron. A study showed that deficiency of essential amino acids leads to symptoms of nervousness, exhaustion, and dizziness to a greater or lesser extent and moderate consumption of Quinoa can help avoid such symptoms.
Quinoa consists of a unique combination of anti-inflammatory compounds that show to an extent the decreased risk of inflammation-related problems (including obesity) when animals under study are fed quinoa on a daily basis.
The list of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in quinoa is now known to include:
- Polysaccharides like arabinans and rhamnogalacturonans
- Hydroxycinnamic and hydroxybenzoic acids
- Flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol which are found in concentrated levels often higher than those of high flavonoid berries like cranberry or ligonberry
- Saponins including molecules derived from oleanic acid, hederagenin and serjanic acid.
- Small amounts of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), are also provided by quinoa.
It is high in protein and lacks gluten which is good news for those who suffer from Celiac disease which is an autoimmune disease attacking the small intestine due to the presence of gluten for which the only remedy is maintaining a gluten free diet. While scientists are yet to confirm whether oats are a gluten free food, it is safe to say that Quinoa, like amaranth, is gluten free and good for your health as it is considered easy to digest. Because of these characteristics, it is being considered a possible crop for long-duration human occupied space flights undertaken by NASA.
The nutrient composition of Quinoa is favorable compared with common cereals earning the Quinoa grain the title of being called a “super food”.
Nutritional evaluations indicate that quinoa is a source of complete protein, that is, it contains all the essential amino acids required in a human diet in correct proportions.
Other similar pseudo grains derived from seeds are similar in complete protein levels; buckwheat is 18% protein compared to 14% for Quinoa; Amaranth, a related species to Quinoa, ranges from 12 to 17.5%.
High In Protein
The protein content per 100 calories is higher than brown rice, potatoes, barley and millet, but is less than wild rice (Indian rice) and oats. In comparison to cereal grasses like wheat, quinoa is higher in fat content and can provide valuable amounts of heart-healthy fats like monounsaturated fat (in the form of oleic acid).
High In Fiber
The grain is additionally a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and is high in magnesium and iron.
Vegan Friendly and Good For Those Who Are Lactose Intolerant
It is also a source of calcium, and thus, is useful for vegans and those who are lactose intolerant.
Exactly How Does One Consume Quinoa?
The grain may be germinated in its raw form to boost its nutritional value, provided that the grains are rinsed thoroughly to remove any saponin that contains an unpalatable bitterness which in turn aids during cultivation as it wards off birds reducing the need for protecting it.
The seeds are in general cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes.
The good news is processes of boiling, simmering, and steaming quinoa do not appear to significantly compromise the quality of quinoa’s fatty acids, allowing us to enjoy its cooked texture and flavor while maintaining this nutrient benefit.
The leaves are eaten as a leaf vegetable, much like amaranth, but the commercial availability of quinoa greens is limited. In some forms the seeds are softened making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.
What Makes Quinoa Special?
While it may be called a “Pseudo-cereal” there is nothing fake about the health benefits of Quinoa. In fact, The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa.”