Why Quinoa Qualifies as a Superfood: This ancient grain provides many health and nutrition benefits, according to Kelly Moran
Apr 30, 2014 10:10AM
● By Kelly Moran
Quinoa [KEEN-wah] is an ancient grain known as a pseudo-cereal, from the Andean region of Ecuador, Columbia, Peru and Bolivia and is now grown in small crops around the United States. From ancient to modern times, quinoa served a variety of uses such as hot cereal, flour, animal feed, medicinal purposes, worship rituals and industrial applications.
Quinoa has rightfully developed a reputation as a superfood, supplying significant quantities of essential vitamins and minerals, including manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate and copper. A cup of cooked quinoa also contains eight grams of complete protein and five grams of fiber. Quinoa is gluten-free, easy to prepare and extremely versatile. One cup of quinoa is 220 calories, which makes it a light, low-calorie dish eaten by itself or added to a meal. Quinoa also contains the phytonutrients quercitin and kaempferol, phytonutrients that aid in tissue repair, as well as fight off disease and infection. Quinoa has 2.75 mg of iron per cup and is recommended for people that suffer from anemia or eat vegetarian and vegan diets.
Quinoa has a large amount of calcium in comparison to most grains. For example, quinoa has twice the amount of calcium as whole wheat, ounce-for-ounce. In the embryo of the quinoa seed there is a high concentration of protein: up to 45 percent. Quinoa contains twice as much fiber as almost every other grain, which helps lower cholesterol, won’t raise blood sugar and can help diabetics lose weight. Quinoa is a great source of B vitamins that help with energy production for brain and muscle cells. Quinoa can be added to any type of salad, casserole or cereal.
To cook quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare. When cooking is complete, the grains become translucent and the white germ will have partially detached itself, appearing like a white-spiraled tail. For the quinoa to have a nuttier flavor, dry roast it before cooking by placing it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stirring constantly for five minutes.
Quinoa is a perfect food to include on a gluten-free diet, because it not only lacks gluten, but doesn't belong to the same plant family as wheat, oats, barley or rye. Some studies also show quinoa flour to have higher digestibility than gluten grains. While it is possible to make baked goods and pastas out of 100 percent quinoa flour, most companies combine quinoa flour with tapioca flour, rice flour or oatmeal to produce a lighter texture. Products made with 100 percent quinoa flour typically have a heavy, dense texture, sometimes referred to as "truffle-like".
For industrial use, quinoa starch has excellent stability in freeze/thaw conditions. Quinoa starch could provide a great substitute to other chemically modified starches because of the small size of its grain; for example, in aerosol production, pulps, copy paper, dessert foods, excipients in the plastics industry, talcs and anti-offset powders.
There is currently a need for high-quality foods in starving countries, and quinoa is a great source to help undernourished children and pregnant women; adding quinoa to their dishes supplements their nutritional protein needs. In 2013, the United Nations declared the “International Year of Quinoa.”
Kelly Moran is a native to Arizona majoring in nutrition communication at Arizona State University.