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Quinoa: Use this Complete Protein to Create Healthful Vegetarian Dishes

Thursday, March 19, 2009 by: Barbara L. Minton
Tags: quinoa, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Quinoa is one of the most impressive foods to hit the grocer's shelves in many years. It is the live seed of a dark green leafy plant that has the taste, texture and versatility of grain. Quinoa (pronounced keen wa) is both nutritious and delicious. It is the only grain-like food that offers a complete protein, a feature that makes it a favorite with those avoiding animal products. Quinoa has a delicate nutty flavor when cooked and can be a nutrient packed substitution in many traditional recipes. Best of all, it is quick and easy to prepare, requiring no more effort than cooking rice.

Quinoa was revered by the Incas

Quinoa was an important food in the Andean region of South America 6,000 years ago. The Incas considered it a sacred food and referred to it as the mother seed and gold of the Incas. During the European conquest of South America and the effort to extinguish the Indian culture, quinoa fields were destroyed. Growing quinoa was made illegal with punishment that included death. Quinoa came close to complete extinction. In recent years two Americans with great business sense began cultivating the plant in Colorado and its rebirth began. Quinoa is now a favorite wherever the health minded shop.

Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse

Quinoa is again regaining the place of nutritional importance it had during pre-Columbian Andean diet. It is now appreciated for its high protein content which ranges from 12 to 18 percent. One 3.5 ounce serving provides 14 grams of protein. This is complete protein, containing all of the amino acids necessary for the construction of proteins used by humans. Unlike other grains, quinoa has an ample supply of lysine. Quinoa is an excellent source of dietary fiber, containing both soluble and non-soluble fiber. It is high in a variety of vitamins and minerals, especially manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus. It is gluten-free and easy to digest. Quinoa is very low on the glycemic index, meaning that it will not cause blood sugar levels to spike, and it provides a sustained feeling of fullness.

In their natural state, quinoa seeds are covered with a coating of bitter-tasting saponins that makes it unappealing to birds. There have been attempts to lower the saponin content through selective breeding, but the new plants were rejected by growers because birds devoured the entire crop after the first season.

Preparing quinoa is a snap

Boxed quinoa is usually found alongside pasta and other dried grain products. It has been rinsed of saponins and is ready to prepare. Quinoa sold in bulk bins is usually pre-rinsed. To make sure the saponins are gone, pour quinoa into a strainer and rinse under running water. If a soapy film appears, the quinoa has not been pre-rinsed, so rinse it until the soapiness disappears. If no soapy film appears, the product has been pre-rinsed.

The basic cooking recipe for quinoa is the same as for rice. Two cups of water and one cup of quinoa are brought to a strong boil, covered and slowly simmered for about 12 to 15 minutes. It is done when it looks translucent and the germ of the seed makes a white ring around the outside of the grain. Quinoa should be served al dente, like pasta. Vegetables and seasonings can be added to the cooking water for extra flavor. Chicken or vegetable stock can be substituted for the water. Since most prepared stock contains MSG, make it at home or buy prepared stock from health minded grocers. Even then, read the box because several of their brands contain MSG.

Prepared quinoa can be kept in a tightly closed glass jar in the refrigerator for a week, and added to dishes as ideas strike. It makes a super nutritious replacement for rice, couscous, and pasta. It can be added to soups, salads, pilafs, vegetable dishes, and veggie burgers or veggie meatloaves.

Quinoa is popular as a high protein breakfast food that starts the day with a bang. It can be mixed with honey, nuts or fruit. Prepared cereal foods made with quinoa are available at health conscious grocers. These grocers also carry dried pasta and noodle products made of quinoa.

Flour made from quinoa is available to use in gluten-free baking. A recipe for a baking mix featured on in Wikipedia is three parts quinoa flour, three parts sorghum flour, two parts potato starch, and one part tapioca starch.

Sprouted quinoa offers the ultimate in nutrition

Raw quinoa can be sprouted to activate its natural enzymes and boost its vitamin content. It only takes about 4 hours to sprout quinoa. Just place the grains in a glass of clean water. After 4 hours the enzymes will be released. The sprouting process softens the grains, making them suitable to be added directly to salads and other foods without having to be cooked. Sprouted quinoa is best eaten in 2 to 3 days.

Quinoa has super impressive health credentials

Quinoa was called gold of the Incas because its high level of complete protein increased the stamina of Inca warriors. Its mineral profile makes it valuable for anyone with migraine headaches, and its low score on the glycemic index makes it ideal for people with diabetes.

The substantial level of magnesium in quinoa relaxes blood vessels and decreases hypertension and the risk of stroke. Eating quinoa slows the progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows, and lessens progression of stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.

The high levels of manganese and copper in quinoa serve as cofactors for the production of superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the powerful antioxidants produced by the body. SOD protects the mitochondria of the cells from free radical damage.

Quinoa's high fiber content makes it protective of breast health. Researchers looked at how much fiber participants in the UK Women's Cohort Study consumed. After analyzing data from 35,972 women, they found that a diet rich in fiber from whole grains such as quinoa offered significant protection for pre-menopausal women. Women eating the most fiber, more than 30 grams daily, halved their risk of developing breast cancer compared to women who ate the lowest amount. This study was reported in the April, 2007 International Journal of Epidemiology.

There is an abundance of lignans in quinoa that are converted to mammalian lignans in the intestinal tract. One of these is enterolactone, a lignan believed to be protective against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. Lignans act like weak estrogens in the body and fit into estrogen receptors in the breast and other hormonally sensitive areas of the body. When lignans are locked into receptors, excessive estrogen that results from hormone imbalance is not able to fill those receptors and stimulate undesirable cell growth.

Eating grains such as quinoa can help reduce the incidence of wheezing and other symptoms of asthma. A study quoted in a W H Foods article on quinoa found that in children with a low intake of fish and whole grains the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low levels of grain and fish consumption also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma, 16.7%, compared to only 2.8% for children with a high intake of grains and fish.

Spring and summer salads containing quinoa are delicious and make you feel great

As the seasons move into spring and summer, dishes that are easy to prepare, easy on the budget, and full of good taste are in demand. This is the season when people want lighter foods and foods that can be eaten chilled. Quinoa is a salad star. Its fresh, light taste and high protein content make it an excellent foundation for many salad recipes. Here are two that are particularly delicious.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons minced scallions
1 1/2 cups cooked black beans
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
2 teaspoons minced fresh green chilies
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste

Add quinoa to 2 cups of water. Cover and simmer about 10-15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Set aside to cool. Combine lime juice, cumin, coriander, cilantro, scallions, beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and chilies. Drizzle with olive oil. Add cooled quinoa, salt and pepper to taste. Toss. Serves 2-3.

Tabouli is a mid-eastern salad. Make it with quinoa for a delightful new taste.

2 cups quinoa, cooked 1/2 tsp basil
1 cup chopped parsley 1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped scallions 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 TBL fresh mint or 1 TBL dried mint salt and pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, pressed lettuce leaves, whole
1/4 cup olives, sliced

Place all ingredients except lettuce and olives in a mixing bowl and toss together lightly. Chill for 1 hour or more to allow flavors to blend. Wash and dry lettuce leaves and use them to line a salad bowl. Add tabouli and garnish with olives. Serves 4.

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About the author

Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.

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