quinoa

Quinoa is a perennial flowering plant from South American origin and grown as a grain crop. It was originally raised as a cattle feed. Peru and Bolivia are the major producers of the grain in the world.

It is now widely cultivated in the United States and Europe.

It is cultivated for the edible seeds produced by it. The seed coat is bitter, hence the seeds are used after removing the outer shell. The nutrients in it are similar to wheat and rice, but it is a gluten free grain. Essentially it is considered a seed and not a grain. It is a tiny granular seed and it is cooked the way rice or wheat is cooked, it is generally referred to as a grain.

Varieties

Though there are about 120 varieties of quinoa, only three varieties namely black, white and red are commercially known. Of the three varieties, only white is widely sold more because it is easily cooked in lesser time in comparison with the other two varieties.

Nutrition facts

100gm of raw uncooked grain provides 368 calories of energy, 64.2gm carbohydrates, 7gm dietary fiber, 6.1gm fat, and 14.1gm protein. 

Vitamins present in the same quantity of grain are, thiamine 31% of RDA, Riboflavin 27% of RDA, Vitamin B6 at 38% of RDA, Folate 46% of RDA, vitamin E 16% of RDA and smaller quantities of vitamin A, choline and Niacin.

Minerals present are Manganese 2mg (95% RDA), Iron 4.6mg (35% RDA), Magnesium 197mg (55% RDA), phosphorous 457mg (65% RDA), Potassium 563 mg (12% RDA), Zinc 3.1 mg (33% RDA), calcium 47mg (5% RDA) and Sodium 5 mg.

Health benefits of Quinoa

Besides providing the required energy to the body like rice or wheat, quinoa provides a number of other health benefits

Rich source of protein and amino acids

It is a high protein food from plant origin. It contains nine essential amino acids required by body. Quinoa is a super food because it contains all amino acids which the body cannot produce on its own like other acids. It is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians. It is very difficult to find protein rich natural diets as far as vegetarians are concerned. Quinoa is one of very few protein foods naturally available. Moreover it is a rare combination of high protein and nine amino acids.

Dietary fiber

High quantity of dietary fiber is present in it. In a cup of serving (100gm), one fifth of required daily amount of fiber is obtained. It enhances the performance of the digestive system. In addition to facilitating easy bowel movement constipation is prevented. When constipation is prevented other health conditions like erratic blood pressure and disorders in the cardiovascular system are also reduced.

Moreover, the fiber reduces blood sugar level and cholesterol formation. All these functions lead to reduce the risk of developing hemorrhoids besides helping management of body weight at the desired level.

Aids weight loss

The fiber resists overeating as it takes a longer time to get digested. It keeps the stomach full for relatively longer time thereby reducing overall intake of food preventing overweight. It addresses the twin problems of indigestion and overeating proving the benefits of fat shedding and weight loss. People on a weight loss program must switch over to quinoa as regular diet replacing rice and wheat.

Reduces LDL (bad cholesterol)

The soluble fiber present in quinoa protects the heart by interacting with the bile acids from liver. Hence excretes excess cholesterol from the body. Moreover, liver draws cholesterol from the blood as the storage of cholesterol is depleted by the activity of soluble fiber in the grain. In addition to this mono saturated fatty acid, it reduces the harmful LDL cholesterol from the blood thereby facilitating maintenance of a healthy total cholesterol ratio.

Improves hemoglobin levels

Significant amount of iron present in the grain helps in improving the hemoglobin level in the blood which is very vital to combat anemic conditions. Iron present in it is further helpful in carrying oxygen to muscles and in increasing the functions of the brain. Iron is also helpful in regulating the body temperature, activating the enzymes and metabolism.

Rich source of magnesium

High magnesium content of quinoa help in relaxing the blood vessels which in turn reduces migraine headache. Magnesium is a vital mineral required for the overall health of the body. More than fifty percent of magnesium required by a person per day is available in a cup of quinoa.  Magnesium presence is also helpful in preventing cardiovascular disorders and high blood pressure. In addition to magnesium, riboflavin present in the grain also provides relief from migraines. Vitamin B-2 in the grain is responsible for reducing migraines, treating skin rashes and irritation of the eyes.

Protects heart health

Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids with rich protein and carbohydrates coupled with anti-oxidant property present in quinoa has the potential to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Contains plenty of manganese

It is really amazing that 95% of required daily amount of manganese is present in just 100gm of quinoa.  Manganese is an anti-oxidant which helps neutralizing the harmful free radicals produced in the body during metabolism. Manganese is helpful in enhancing the performance of metabolic system and appropriate function of numerous enzymes in the body. The fact that deficiency in manganese lead to a number of health issues like hearing impairment, unusually high blood pressure, increased blood cholesterol and even neurological complications, make one understand how important it is to include quinoa in the diet.

Prevents cancer

Flavonoids are anti-oxidants required to eradicate waste from the body. Two important anti-oxidants called quercetin and kaempferol which are flavonoids in quinoa prevents formation of cancer cells by eliminating free radicals.

Good source of potassium

The good amount of the electrolyte Potassium in quinoa is beneficial in optimizing the functioning of the brain. It also regulates the production of acids in the body and maintains the blood pressure. It must also be understood here that a dietary source of potassium is much superior for the overall wellbeing of the body than a potassium supplement. Both shortfall and excess of potassium in the body is prone to developing many disorders. Quinoa being a dietary substitute for rice or wheat provides a high amount of Potassium and should be included in one’s diet regularly.

Improves happiness and well-being

Lysine is an amino acid which is present in quinoa. In addition to its rich protein content, lysine in quinoa facilitates protein synthesis. It also help improving the serotonin levels. Serotonin is present in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract and platelets. This property of lysine is not available from other grains. It enhances the overall happiness level and well-being of the person.

Lysine is also essential for growth of tissues and for rejuvenation of tissues. Lysine, methionine and tryptophan are some of the nine amino acids present in the grain which are not normally available in other food grains.

Protects and improves bone strength

Potassium present in the grain along with calcium and magnesium strengthens the bones and improve bone density.  In contrast, it also maintains the potassium level in the body and protect the kidneys from formation of kidney stones.

Presence of substantial quantities of protein, magnesium and manganese in quinoa strengthens the bones and prevent occurrence of osteoporosis caused by reduced bone density.

Natural anti-inflammatory

Saponins present in the grain are anti-inflammatory which make it a super food.  Inflammation is characterized by destruction of tissues by various chemical reactions in the body. Inflammation leads to excess heat, pain, swellings, rashes and even reduced activity in the body. Quinoa being anti-inflammatory with its lysine content can prevent inflammation and also repair the damaged tissues. Saponins are also useful as antiseptic. Saponins separated from the grain are also used in detergents.

Gluten-free

Quinoa is a gluten free grain. People who are intolerant to gluten can include this grain like potatoes, tapioca and corn. People who are affected by celiac disease due to which the small intestine is affected because of genetic disposition need to consume only gluten free food. Quinoa is one such gluten free food with high nutrient value.

Provides healthy skin

With its rich vitamin B contents, quinoa helps to maintain a healthy skin. B12 present in it enhances the complexion of the skin in interaction with other vitamins. B12 is also in helpful in maintaining healthy skin. Niacinamide in the grain provides remedy for acne. It helps in preventing pigmentation and keep the skin clean. Moreover with its ability to fight free radicals quinoa is of great help in slowing down aging. Face pack with the powder of the grain is helpful in maintaining the youthfulness of the skin by preventing wrinkles.

Eliminates dandruff in hair

Tyrosine in quinoa protects the color of the hair. Application of the grain powder as a bathing powder eliminates and prevents dandruff in addition to strengthening the hair follicles. High protein content of the grain also make the hair strong and healthy.

Where to buy Quinoa?

Quinoa is available in supermarkets and in online stores in the form of processed grains, flakes and flour. All the forms can be cooked and consumed to derive the same health benefits. Grains can be cooked and consumed as substitute diet while flakes and flour can be prepared as gruel and consumed as health tonics or intervening food. The products can also be used in the preparation of cookies and bars.

While you cook…

Quinoa is cooked in water which gives a bland taste. It is added to recipes to taste as per requirement. Lack of flavor make it suitable for a variety of food dishes. Saponins which form a foam while cooking the grain give a bitter taste. Hence before cooking, the processed grain need to be water washed thoroughly. The grain expands many times on cooking. Accordingly water ratio has to be decided.

 

Kripa Sivasubramanian, MBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. After a long stint in the Technology sector, she took up courses in natural medicine and yoga. Ms. Kripa is certified in Ayurvedic yoga for Dosha. She is also certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.