I’d like to introduce you to an amazing food! This ‘seed’ that looks, cooks, and tastes like a grain is an incredible addition to any food preparation repertoire. The food I’m referring to is known as quinoa! Quinoa has become a red-hot number in the food industry. It is as a jam-packed “Super Food” filled with nutritious benefits and is one of the few complete protein plant sources available. Amazing! Let’s get right to it and undress this fan-favourite to uncover all the delicious secrets it has contained in its cute little grain-like self.
The history of quinoa
Originating from the Andes Mountain region of South America, Quinoa (pronounced ‘KEEN-WAH’) is an ancient grain that was once considered to be warrior food, as it helped to sustain Incan Armies when marching for many days. They would eat a mixture of quinoa and fat, they called “war balls”. MMmmm?!
Did you know quinoa is a complete protein?
Technically, quinoa is not a grain. It is the seed of a leafy plant related to spinach and it contains 12-18% protein. According to the National Academy of Sciences, quinoa is considered to be one of the best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom. Awesome!
Also, it is considered to be a complete protein because it contains a balanced set of all the essential amino acids. Often, people think that we can only get complete protein from animal products. While animal products are a great source for complete protein, they are not the only source. Quinoa is among the foods in the plant kingdom that provide us with this complete protein benefit. One of the key essential amino acids that it contains is called Lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair and is not common in high amounts among plant foods.
Quinoa is jam-packed with nutrition! Let’s undress this seed to see what it’s wearing.
Packed with antioxidants, quinoa protects against free radical damage. One of the key antioxidants that quinoa contains is Vitamin E, which is extremely helpful at preventing oxidative stress in the body. This is a stress we definitely want to minimize!
Quinoa also contains copper and manganese. These nutrients play a big role in free radical scavenging. Actually, they are both used to make an important enzyme called superoxide dismutase enzyme which helps protect our own cells from oxidative damage that is created during energy production. Yep, that’s right folks, oxidative stress and free radical damage don’t just come from external sources. It happens naturally in our body too! The key is whether we have the necessary nutrients to counter the effects.
In addition, quinoa is a source of many other helpful nutrients including fiber, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, as well as many B vitamins. Some of the really great things that these nutrients can help with are:
- Getting rid of excess waist in the body and optimizing digesting (fiber)
- Lowering LDL (the bad) cholesterol (fiber)
- Can help prevent degenerative diseases like osteoporosis (phosphorus and manganese)
- Helping to maintain heart health because it helps to relax the blood vessels (magnesium)
- Helps with energy production within our cells (Vitamin B2) – Note: It is suspected that this is the reason that B2 has been shown to help migraine sufferers. It improves the energy metabolism within the brain and muscle cells.
We just talked about all the great things that quinoa contains. One of the things it doesn’t have is gluten. This can also be seen as a benefit for quinoa because gluten can be difficult for many people to properly digest.
Also, we seem to be in a society that is very dependent on eating wheat (one of the gluten containing grains). Quinoa provides an exciting, tasty, and healthy addition to the diet that will help you diversify your grain sources.
How to prepare and cook quinoa
Quinoa seeds are covered with a bitter tasting film called saponins, which is naturally used as a defense mechanism to repel insects and birds, but most of the resin has been removed for you. I would still recommend soaking them for 15-20 minutes, then rinsing thoroughly until the water runs clear, before cooking.
Also, quinoa is easy to cook. It is great when paired with legumes, vegetables, poultry and fish.
As another alternative, quinoa flakes are great for breakfast (try having them with some fresh berries) or substitute with quinoa flour in a gluten-free recipe for cakes, cookies or muffins.
Here is an easy recipe for basic Quinoa
- Soak a cup of Quinoa in a bowl of water for 15-20 minutes (to remove the resin)
- Warm a skillet with coconut oil on med heat
- Add fresh crushed garlic
- Add ½ of a white or yellow onion (sliced)
- Toss and lightly sauté until golden brown (for about 2-3 minutes)
- Rinse quinoa thoroughly until water runs clear
- Add quinoa and toss until they slightly pop (about 2 minutes)
- Add 2 cups of low sodium vegetable broth or broth of your choice
- Bring to a boil
- Add a bay leaf
- Cover and simmer for 15 minutes
- Remove from heat and let stand (about 5-10 minutes)
- Fluff with a fork
Voila! It’s that easy.
This recipe can be modified with vegetables of your choice, as I love adding broccoli, beets, carrots, celery, kale and fresh herbs to my Quinoa. Or another option is to add it to your spinach salad for lunch the next day. It adds a great source of protein and helps maintain blood sugar throughout the afternoon.
If you are in love with quinoa as well, let me know in the comments below and share this on twitter and facebook. Also, if you have any favourite quinoa recipes, I would love to give them a try! You can leave those in the comments section as well.