What is quinoa?
Quinoa, pronounced ‘keen-wa’, is a gluten-free alternative to starchy grains. Although it often occupies a similar role to grains in dishes, quinoa is actually a seed from the same family as beets, chard and spinach. It is high in protein and an important plant source of all nine essential amino acids. Grown in South America (Peru, Chile and Bolivia) for thousands of years, quinoa formed the staple diet of the Incas and their descendants. In recent years, foodies have heralded it as a superior alternative to bulgur wheat, couscous and rice.
Watch our video guide for the best way to cook quinoa:
Nutritional benefits of quinoa
A 100g serving of cooked quinoa provides:
- 120 Kcal/503KJ
- 4.4g protein
- 1.9g fat
- 19.4g carbohydrate
- 2.8g fibre
- 17mg calcium
- 64mg magnesium
For those following a vegan or plant-based diet, quinoa makes a valuable dietary inclusion. Like buckwheat, quinoa has an excellent amino acid profile, containing all nine essential amino acids.
What are the 5 top health benefits of quinoa?
1. May lower the risk of chronic disease
Quinoa is high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which make it potentially beneficial for human health in the prevention and treatment of disease. Quinoa contains small amounts of the heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and, in comparison to common cereals, has a higher content of monounsaturated fat.
2. May help you lose weight
High in fibre and with more protein of rice or barley, quinoa may be beneficial for those looking to manage their weight. One explanation for this is the filling nature of protein and fibre which helps us manage our appetite. Quinoa also has a low glycaemic index (GI) so its slower energy release makes it less likely to trigger cravings and stimulate hunger.
3. May help balance blood sugar
Although more research is needed, a small number of studies suggest quinoa may improve triglyceride levels and improve blood sugar management.
4. Suitable for those with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance
Naturally gluten free and nutritionally dense, quinoa makes an ideal option for those unable to eat gluten grains, such as those with coeliac disease. Being high in fibre, quinoa is a better choice for gut and digestive health than refined gluten alternatives like rice or potato flour.
5. May improve gut health
Studies suggest quinoa may improve gut health by enhancing the diversity of beneficial gut bacteria and reducing the inflammatory symptoms of conditions like colitis. Acting as a prebiotic, quinoa supplies the fuel for beneficial gut bacteria, allowing them to thrive.
Is quinoa safe for everyone?
Quinoa is among the least allergenic of ‘grains’ with allergic reactions to it being rare. However, natural compounds coating the seeds called saponins may be the cause of some adverse reactions. It is possible to remove these compounds by thoroughly rinsing or pre-soaking quinoa before use.
This article was reviewed on 4 February 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
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