A Seed Like No Other
Quinoa is not the most popular grain on the block, but maybe it should be. Along with a high level of protein that includes all nine essential amino acids, quinoa contains amino lysine, which aids in tissue growth and repair, along with dietary fiber and vitamins and minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, calcium, copper, phosphorous, vitamin E and Bcomplex. In addition, quinoa is gluten-free and makes a great protein source for vegans and vegetarians. Its cooking characteristics most closely resemble a grain, but quinoa is actually a seed of the Chenopodium or “goosefoot” plant.
The seed is native to South America— specifically the Andes regions of Peru, Bolivia and Chile—and was known as “the gold of the Incas” for its legendary role in improving the stamina of Incan warriors. Quinoa was rediscovered and cultivated by two Americans in 1980, and has since grown in presence in the American dietary repertoire. Although still a new “grain” in terms of being a household name, this small, dried seed continues to gain popularity because of its exceptional nutritional value.
Health Benefits for All
Whole grains like quinoa have long been recognized for their many health benefits. Men who consume just one serving of whole grains per day can significantly reduce their chances of heart disease. Women of all ages benefit from adding whole grains to their diets.
A study of postmenopausal women conducted in the American Heart Journal shows that postmenopausal women who consumed at least six servings of whole grains per week experienced a slower progression of cardiovascular disease.
In addition, studies have shown that premenopausal women can reduce their risk of breast cancer by eating whole grains.
Adults aren’t the only people who benefit from the consumption of whole grains. Studies have shown that children with high intakes of whole grains have a reduced risk of developing asthma and allergies.
Quinoa offers all of the benefits of whole grains along with an added punch of complete protein and a laundry list of vital minerals and vitamins.
Preparing and Enjoying Quinoa
Quinoa might seem like an exotic South American ingredient that sounds great in theory but is too hard to find or too intimidating to actually prepare.
However, this is simply not the case —quinoa is found in bulk or prepackaged and can be cooked much like rice. If you can’t find it in your local supermarket, look for it at a natural foods store.
Instead of looking up quinoa-specific recipes, cooks can simply substitute quinoa for rice, pasta, oats or couscous in almost any recipe. Plus, uncooked quinoa can be conveniently stored for several months in an airtight container in the refrigerator. With its mild, nutty flavor and a pleasant, crunchy texture, quinoa is a versatile addition to any kitchen. To enjoy this grain for breakfast, simply boil it like oatmeal and add your favorite oatmeal topping (cinnamon, raisins, brown sugar or even chocolate chips).
To make a simple side dish, cook quinoa in a rice cooker or prepare in the microwave as you would traditional rice. For added flavor, throw in your favorite spice mix and substitute chicken or vegetable broth for water. Quinoa can also be used in tabouli and makes a great addition to stir fry. It can even be prepared in a pudding and served for dessert, much like rice pudding.
Quinoa meal is also available in stores and can be used as a substitute for flour. The importance of whole grains to a healthy diet is not disputed, and quinoa is one grain that packs a powerful nutritional punch. The next time your grocery list includes rice, consider purchasing quinoa instead. It’s just as easy to prepare and is bursting with health benefits for every member of your family.