Humans have been consuming quinoa for thousand of years, but just recently, this superfood is becoming one of the planet’s most popular superfoods. Its cultivation dates back over 5,000 years ago. The Incas called it “the mother of all grains.”
It contains a tremendous amount of fiber and protein with all nine essential amino acids, which is unusual for plant-based protein sources. It is a major source of minerals and vitamins and it also contain compounds like polyphenols, phytosterols, and flavonoids.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations has declared the year 2013 as ‘The International Year of the Quinoa.’
Even NASA ranked quinoa as a good crop in the research program, whose results would allow promotion and sustainability of human life during long space flights.
Botanically speaking, quinoa is not a true grain; it is a seed and a relative of spinach and beets. The leaves are also edible, but the part we usually eat are the seeds which you can sprout for added benefits. You can prepare quinoa in as a little as 15 minutes.
1. A True SuperFood : Very Rich in Nutrients
Quinoa is very rich in minerals, vitamins, phytonutrients and contains all nine amino acids including lysine. Lysine is mandatory for tissue growth and repair. Quinoa has various beneficial antioxidants and flavonoids. This grain is a terrific source of fiber and protein.
It is also high in magnesium, B-vitamins (especially folate and riboflavin), iron, copper, potassium, zinc, and phosphorus. It has very high content of manganese with one cup (185 grams) containing 59% of RDA. Quinoa also contains significant amounts of certain tocopherols (vitamin E) mostly missing in other grains.
This superfood also contains heart-healthy fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid and oleic acid. These various nutrient benefits give it uniqueness amidst grain-related foods.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
To reduce inflammation, a risk factor for many chronic diseases, we need to eat food with anti-inflammatory properties. Quinoas is one of these foods. One research in rats revealed the ability of quinoa to lower the levels of inflammation in their intestine and fat tissue.
Quinoa is quite rich in phytonutrients with anti-inflammatory properties. These agents are polysaccharides, flavonoids, phenolic acids and gamma-tocopherol (vitamin E). Another anti-inflammatory benefit comes from smaller amounts of omega-3 fatty acids.
Also, controversial saponins have been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Saponins are responsible for quinoa’s bitter taste, however, by washing, boiling and soaking, saponins are reduced (and so is the bitter taste).
Saponins are a plant’s natural defense against the pests. Saponins actually have many medicinal uses, but there is some research that shows potential toxicity of saponins in quinoa. They do, however, have low bioavailability and are not well absorbed in the gut and may get destroyed by certain enzymes in our bodies. The risks associated with saponins in quinoa are minimal.
There are many herbs with plenty of benefits, but some of them, in higher doses, can become toxic. So we might get some reaction from saponins, in excess. The research shows some toxicity, but when quinoa is administered intravenously (IV). The same study says that the toxicity is significantly lower when the saponin compounds are given orally. So just avoid IV unwashed quinoa 🙂 . So most plant-based saponins are not going to be a problem at all, and there are actually studies that show many health benefits.
Moreover, quinoa, as a seed contains phytic acid and this acid can bind minerals in the gut before they are absorbed. Soaking or sprouting quinoa before cooking reduces phytic acid content and make the minerals more available for your body to absorb.
In conclusion, by washing, soaking and rinsing quinoa you will:
- reduce the bitter taste
- significantly reduce saponins
- reduce phytic acid content
3. Antioxidant Properties
Antioxidants are components that neutralize free radicals and protects us against the ravages of aging and may assist in the fight against many diseases. Two potent natural antioxidants which are present in quinoa are called quercetin and kaempferol.
Other compounds responsible for this superfood’s oxidative protection are various members of the vitamin E family, saponins, and manganese. Manganese is the principal antioxidant enzyme in the mitochondria.
One research studied antioxidants in ten foods (cereals, pseudocereals, and legumes) and quinoa had the highest antioxidant content of all. Sprouting quinoa seeds increase the antioxidant content.
4. High in Powerful Flavonoids and Anti-Cancer
Quinoa is high in two powerful plant flavonoids – quercetin and kaempferol. These compounds are plant pigments that occur in several plants and foods (Capers has the highest concentration).
Both quercetin and kaempferol are potent antioxidants, lowers inflammation, are antiviral and anti-cancer, supports your heart, helps fight pain, helps with allergies and supports respiratory health. It has also shown some anti-depressant properties.
Specifically, quercetin is a promising agent for cancer prevention and shows some neuroprotection abilities as well. Quinoa is one of the largest sources of quercetin naturally occurring in foods. Usually, fruits with a blue color or dark red have the highest quercetin content, but quinoa flavonoids concentration can be greater than in typical flavonoids foods like cranberries.
The important factor is to buy organic variants because organic foods have higher flavonoid content. For example, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that organically grown tomatoes had 79% more quercetin than the conventionally grown ones.
5. High in Protein and Fiber
Another huge quinoa’s health benefit is its high fiber content. It contains almost twice as much fiber as other grains. It contains 17-27 grams of fiber per cup (185g). The fiber in quinoa is mostly insoluble and is essential to maintain a healthy digestive system.
16% protein content is quite impressive as well; 1 cup contains 8 grams. This high-quality protein contains all essential amino acids, including lysine and isoleucine. Most grains are very low in these two amino acids. This makes quinoa an excellent source of ‘complete protein’ for vegans and vegetarians.
High intake of fiber and protein is essential for regulation of blood sugar. The proteins will also reduce your appetite and boost metabolism. Insoluble fiber does not have any calories and makes us feel full. This means that eating foods high in fiber and protein can help you maintain a healthy weight and in the long run, may help to reduce body weight.
6. Benefits for Diabetics and Prevention
Quinoa has relatively low Glycemic Index, which is good for blood sugar control. As already mentioned, quinoa is an excellent source of fiber, and that is a major factor for health blood sugar regulation. In fact, high intake of protein and fiber are essential for the regulation of blood sugar.
One research found that this amazing superfood helped reduce blood sugar levels, total cholesterol level and triglyceride levels in mice fed high fructose diet. Quinoa is a good food for weight control and can aid in weight loss, and because one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes is obesity, quinoa is an excellent food to add to a diabetic diet.
Another factor for developing diabetes is chronic inflammation, and we already know, that quinoa contains several compounds that have shown high anti-inflammatory effects. Quinoa has the highest antioxidant contents of most grains, so it does have the ability to reduce inflammation, and it may help improve overall insulin response.
Another published story says that a diet with grains including quinoa can help manage type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
7. Cardiovascular Benefits
Quinoa keeps your cholesterol levels and blood pressure in check. It also helps to prevent heart disease by reducing high blood pressure. Animal studies have already proved the ability of quinoa to lower total cholesterol and contribute to maintaining levels of the good HDL-cholesterol.
The anti-inflammatory agents in quinoa should help protect human blood vessels from inflammatory damage. Protection of this kind would also provide reduced risk of many cardiovascular diseases, including atherosclerosis.
Quinoa is a valuable source of particular heart supportive fats (and no trans-fats) since it only takes about 60 calories of quinoa to provide 1 gram of fat. In total, it contains about 4g of fat per cup. About 28% of the fat found in quinoa is oleic acid, and 5% is alpha-linolenic acid. ALA helps in reducing the risk of death from heart attacks. Remember that the right balance of fats is the key to a healthy diet.
Also, the flavonoids in quinoa support heart health and the vitamins and minerals like magnesium found in this superfood are necessary to keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
8. Suitable for Celiacs and Babies
Quinoa is a great option to include on a gluten-free diet. It is naturally free of gluten. Clinical studies suggest that celiac patients can safely tolerate quinoa. Also, it has low allergy potential and high digestibility.
It is safe and desirable for children and toddlers. Some babies do not respond well to meat, and this superfood is a good source of complete protein besides simply being a nutrient rich food.
Quinoa is a great healthier alternative to most other grains, such as white rice, and is a true superfood. It is easy and fast to prepare. There are also many great recipes on cooking with quinoa, even whole books dedicated on this. You can even sprout it for added benefits (by sprouting you will reduce saponins and phytic acid content, and you will also increase quinoa’s antioxidant content).
For ancient Incas, quinoa was a sacred crop. By adding it to your diet, your body can only benefit from it. I eat quinoa almost daily, and I give it occasionaly to my dogs as well as a part of their healthy longevity diet.
Always buy organic variants since many studies confirmed that organically-grown food is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown food. Also, avoid quinoa grown in China. Luckily, more than 80% is produced in Peru and Bolivia and is NON-GMO. Moreover, if possible, prepare quinoa in filtered water.