Quinoa is a grain crop native to the Andean Mountains of South America. Although the leaves of the plant can be consumed as a leaf vegetable, quinoa is primarily grown for its seeds. These seeds, which are cooked in a similar way to rice, come in three colours (red, white and black) and are much-loved for their significant health benefits. In fact, 2013 was crowned “The International Year of Quinoa” by the United Nations due to quinoa’s high nutritional value and potential to contribute to global food security.
One of quinoa’s biggest drawcards is that it is a complete protein source which is good news, particularly for vegetarians and vegans. According to at least one source, one cup of cooked quinoa contains 16 percent of our recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein. Moreover, this protein contains all eight essential amino acids, making quinoa a rare example of a plant-based complete protein source (most plant foods are deficient in some amino acids, such as lysine). Protein, of course, aids the growth and repair of cells, supplies energy to our bodies and much more.
Packed with Fibre
One cup of cooked quinoa also contains a whopping 21 percent of our RDA of fibre, which is twice as much fibre as most other grains. Most of quinoa’s fibre is the insoluble kind that is responsible for the well-known laxative effect, but it also contains smaller amounts of insoluble fibre that forms a gel in the stomach, thereby slowing digestion, encouraging a feeling of fullness, and reducing LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Further, this well-rounded fibre profile gives quinoa a low glycaemic load of 53, making it a suitable food for diabetics and pre-diabetics.
High in Antioxidants
A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in August 2009 showed that of the 10 Andean grains analysed by the researchers (five cereals, three pseudo-cereals, and two legumes), quinoa contained the most antioxidants out of all of them. Another 2009 study published in Food Chemistry showed that allowing quinoa seeds to sprout could increase their antioxidant content further. Antioxidant-rich foods are well-known for their anti-aging properties and ability to prevent degenerative diseases such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.
Rich in Quercetin and Kaempferol
Quinoa is an excellent source of the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol, which are shown to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-cancer effects. A study published in Neuropharmacology in 2010 even found that flavonoids contained anti-depressant properties, suggesting that flavonoid-rich foods like quinoa could provide treatment for depression, anxiety and other low moods.
According to a survey published by The NPD Group in 2013, approximately one-third of the United States population are trying to minimise or avoid gluten due to health concerns. Fortunately for this growing minority, quinoa is naturally gluten-free and is a safe food for those with gluten intolerance or coeliac disease. Moreover, unlike many processed “gluten-free” foods, quinoa is a whole food that is free from additives and other undesirable ingredients.
Bursting with Nutrients
Quinoa is an excellent source of essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, copper, selenium and most B vitamins. One cup of quinoa also supplies us with an impressive 30 percent of our RDA of magnesium.
Organic quinoa is easily found online or in health food stores. It only takes between 15 and 20 minutes to cook, it has a pleasant, nutty flavour, and is easy to incorporate into both cooked and cold meals.