Quinoa isn’t the first grain that comes to mind when you think of staples in the kitchen. That said, the benefits of keeping the pantry stocked with it are numerous. When cooked, its golden color and fluffy texture make it a great foundation for all sorts of meals, and its slightly nutty, savory flavor compliments any legume or vegetables you might have lying around. Not to mention that the health benefits of quinoa are some of the finest you’ll find in any staple grain – they are absolutely brimming with goodies for the body to absorb.
Incorporate quinoa regularly into the diet to experience all the health benefits it has to offer.
Quinoa History and Culture
Although the quinoa in your cupboard looks and feels like grain, it’s actually more closely related to swiss chard and beets, being part of the Chenopod family. Quinoa is a large, leafy green plant that produces lots of seed, which is the “grain” that you eat. Seeds are calorically denser than the actual plant itself, and they can be dried and stored, making them a more suitable staple food.
Quinoa has been cultivated for at least 5,000 years, originating in the South American countries of Peru and Bolivia. The Incas referred to quinoa as “the mother of all grains,” holding it in a sacred light for its nutritional gifts. When Spanish conquistadors discovered quinoa in the region, they actively tried to suppress it, deeming it a lower food source due to its use in non-Christian religious rituals. This culminated in the outright ban of quinoa cultivation, where the indigenous tribes were forced to grow wheat instead. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the US rediscovered the nutritional qualities of quinoa, and began to actively cultivate and distribute it in the state of Colorado.
Today, quinoa makes up a small fraction of the world’s grain production. Most production is still based in South America, namely Peru and Bolivia. Total production was listed at 58,000 metric tons worldwide in 2005. By comparison, in 2008, 690 million metric tons of wheat was produced worldwide.
Quinoa Health Benefits
The most notable nutritional quality of quinoa is its protein content. At 8 grams per cup, quinoa is extremely high for a grain. What makes this protein even more unique, though, is that this protein is a complete protein – all nine amino acids present – which is rare for a grain. Corn, for example, must be paired with a legume in order for its protein to become complete in the body, but not with quinoa. It’s all packed up and ready to go!
Also unique to quinoa is its antioxidant content. Quinoa has extremely high levels of manganese and high levels of cooper, which both function to assist in creating enzymes that help protect cells from damage done by free radicals. Ultimately, this helps fight off all sorts of diseases, ranging from heart disease to cancer prevention of all sorts.
The high level of manganese in quinoa goes a step further by helping to relax blood vessels throughout the body. This can help reduce blood pressure, which helps prevent against various forms of heart disease, as well as improves the overall function of the cardiovascular system. The 21%DV of dietary fiber found in quinoa also helps protect the heart by lowering cholesterol. Dietary fiber neutralizes bile acids in the stomach. Bile acids are utilized by the liver to assist in detoxifying the body. When insufficient levels of bile acids are found in the stomach, the liver draws off of cholesterol in the heart, reducing overall cholesterol, especially LDL’s (the bad kind).
Regular consumption of whole grains, like quinoa, can go a long way in fighting Type 2 diabetes, as well. Studies show that this can reduce your risk by 31%. Whole grains have also been shown to protect against stroke, obesity, and early mortality in general.
Eating More Quinoa
Keep your pantry well stocked with quinoa. It is cooked like rice, boiling and then simmering it for about 20 minutes, depending on the amount cooked. Quinoa cooks more quickly than most other grains. Instead of cooking it in water, try boiling it in vegetable broth and spices to give it more flavor. You can also start the pan with olive oil and garlic, and then add the quinoa and vegetable broth on top of this, resulting in a flavor explosion. Quinoa can serve as the foundation for most vegetables and legumes and can be used in casseroles, as well. If you’re already eating other whole grains regularly, try to work quinoa into your diet at least once or twice a week. Replacing low nutritional grains like white rice, can increase your overall health.
Quinoa can be found at any grocery store. It is found in prepackaged bags, but can also be found in bulk. It’s a relatively inexpensive food, maximizing your calorie to dollar potential, so keep some handy. It makes for a quick and healthy meal!