In a quest to find the world’s healthiest foods, it would be nearly impossible to miss out on one of the best complete protein foods available: quinoa. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and other ancient grains, such as amaranth, barley, and farro are rapidly growing in popularity because of their wide array of health benefits.
Quinoa was known to the Incas as “the mother of all grains” and was first cultivated over 5,000 years ago grown in South America (Peru, Chile and Bolivia). While it is commonly known as an “ancient grain,” quinoa is technically not a grain or cereal grain, but a seed, and does not contain gluten.
Quinoa is botanically considered a seed rather than a grain. The tiny granules you know as quinoa are seeds of the Chenopodium quinoa plant, a broadleaf plant that produces seeds rather than fruit. Quinoa plants grow edible seeds. Because of this process, Chenopodium quinoa’s official label is that of a “pseudocereal,” a seed used in nutrition the same way a cereal grain such as barley would be.
Quinoa seeds can be black, red, white, purple, pink, yellow, gray, orange, green or yellow. In the United States, white (traditional) and red (Incan) quinoa are commonly available. While the white variety is more flavorful, the red contains more nutrients. All types are slightly bitter when cooked and open up to release little white curls (like a tail) as they soften.
Whether you’re searching for a quality gluten-free carbohydrate, or just interested in why quinoa is the subject of so much hype, you’ll be excited to see what it can do for you. However, the real beauty of quinoa nutrition lies in its protein content and other extremely beneficial nutrients.
Like I said, quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. It is also high in fiber, magnesium, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants.
From beneath the earth to outer space, quinoa nutrition is so impressive that NASA even wants to use it for long-term space missions as a healthy, easily growable crop.
Quinoa is often considered a whole grain as the whole grain seed is eaten without any parts being removed. Botanically, quinoa is not classified as a grain. It is a pseudo-cereal. This means it is a non-grassy plant used in much the same way as cereals and grains with a similar nutritional profile. The seeds of pseudo-cereals can be milled and ground into flour just as other grains and cereals.
However, nutritionally, quinoa is considered a whole grain. Whole grains include the entire intact grain seed without removing any of its parts. In contrast, when grains are milled or refined like white bread, white rice, and white pasta, they have been processed to create a finer, lighter texture. This process removes most of the fiber and important nutrients.
Whole grains, such as quinoa, provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These help regulate the digestive system and keep you fuller and more satisfied. In contrast, pasta, white rice, and white bread provide simple carbohydrates that are quickly digested but little else in the way of nutritional value.
Quinoa has a high protein-to-carbohydrate ratio when compared with other grain products. It was proposed by NASA to be an ideal food for long duration space flights.
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free. One cup of cooked quinoa, weighing 185 grams (g), contains:
• 222 calories
• 8.14 g of protein
• 5.2 g of fiber
• 3.55 g of fat, of which 0.42 g is saturated
• 39.4 g of carbohydrate
• Magnesium – 30 percent recommended daily allowance (RDA)
• Manganese – 30 percent RDA
• Folate – 19 percent RDA
• Phosphorous – 28 percent RDA
• Copper – 18 percent RDA
• Iron – 15 percent RDA
• Zinc – 13 percent RDA
• Potassium – 9 percent RDA
One cup also contains more than 10 percent of the RDA of the vitamins B-1, B-2, and B-6, and traces of vitamin E, B3, and calcium. Additionally, quinoa contains a healthy dose of fatty acids. About 25 percent of quinoa’s fatty acids come in the form of oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, and about 8 percent comes in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the omega-3 fatty acid most commonly found in plants.
Quinoa is a grain crop that is grown for its edible seeds. It is pronounced KEEN-wah. In other words, it is basically a “seed” which is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain.
It has been consumed for thousands of years, but became trendy and reached “superfood status” a few years ago. These days, you can find quinoa and products made with it all over the world, especially in health food stores and restaurants that emphasize natural foods.
This is coming with a total of 222 calories, with 39 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fat. It also contains a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Quinoa is non-GMO, gluten-free and usually grown organically. Even though technically not a grain, it still counts as a whole grain food.