Being in constant search of the most wholesome food in the world, it would be almost impossible to miss one of the best protein foods: quinoa.
Quinoa is a plant that originated about 7000 years ago in the mountainous regions of South America. Although it is commonly known as the “ancient grain”, quinoa is technically not a grain, but a seed, and therefore does not contain gluten.
After quinoa cereal was called superfood and climbed the podium among healthy foods, the UN recognized its potential factor in “eradicating hunger, malnutrition, and poverty”. Since it has a rich nutritional profile and is easy and inexpensive to grow, the UN declared 2013 the Year of Quinoa.
Regardless of whether you are looking for high-quality gluten-free carbohydrates or just wondering why quinoa cereal is the subject of such hype, and what its beneficial properties are, you will be delighted with what benefits it can give to the human body.
In the article we will consider the scientific facts about what is quinoa, its beneficial properties for the body, calorie content and composition of nutrients, the preparation of quinoa. Also, a little touch on the possible harm of quinoa.
What is quinoa
From a botanical point of view, quinoa is a seed, not a seed. The tiny granules that you know as quinoa are seeds of the Chenopodium quinoa plant of the genus Marevaya (Chenopodium) of the Amaranthaceae family. Despite the fact that in the last decade the product has become increasingly popular, the history of its cultivation dates back thousands of years in South America.
Unlike grains, such as wheat and barley, which grow in spikelets, quinoa grows on the stem of the plant and is its seed. Because of this, the Chenopodium quinoa plant is considered a pseudo-grain crop and is used in nutrition as cereals, mainly in the form of cereals.
Known since the time of the Incas, cereal was called “golden grain” or “mother grain”. Quinoa was used in ancient religious ceremonies, as well as in home kitchens. The beneficial properties of quinoa cereal are so impressive that even NASA wants to use it for long-term space flights as a healthy, easily growing crop.
With the advent of the Paleo diet and a healthy lifestyle that help eliminate gluten, complex, gluten-free carbohydrates are essential for energy. However, the true beauty of consuming quinoa is that it contains protein and other extremely beneficial nutrients.
Nutrition Facts and Nutrients in Quinoa
The cereal’s nutrient profile is impressive in itself, but some of the best compounds in it will not be apparent on its store label. Therefore, we will reveal them in our article.
For example, quinoa is a rare plant food that is actually the richest source of protein. And although not every product that you eat should be protein, for plant foods it is a rather rare occurrence when all 20 amino acids are included, including 10 essential acids that our body does not produce on its own.
Quinoa is certainly not an equal competitor for beef in protein, but for a herbal product, which is often used as a base or part of a side dish in recipes, 8 grams of protein is still an amazing amount, especially for people following a vegetarian diet. For adults of average build, one cup of cereal (200 grams) covers more than 17% of the recommended protein intake per day.
Quinoa cereal contains 442 mg of l-lysine, one of the most well-documented essential amino acids. This is more than a fifth of what you need every day – and ensuring that you get enough l-lysine is crucial for a variety of health goals, from preventing cancer to reducing anxiety.
Finally, among all cereal and pseudo-grain products, quinoa has the best ratio of protein to carbohydrates. This is due to the fact that the embryo accounts for almost 60% of the total grain, comparing this to the wheat germ, which is less than 3% ( 1 ).
In one cup of cooked quinoa cereal (about 180 grams) contains nutrients:
Calories : 222 kcal
Fat : 4 gr.
Sodium : 13 mg
Carbohydrate : 39 gr.
Fiber : 5 gr.
Protein : 8 gr.
Manganese : 1.2 mg (58%)
Magnesium : 118 mg (30%)
Phosphorus : 281 mg (28%)
Folic acid : 77.7 mcg (19%)
Copper : 0.4 mg (18%)
Iron : 2 8 mg (15%)
Thiamine : 0.2 mg (13%)
Zinc : 2 mg (13%)
Riboflavin : 0.2 mg (12%)
Vitamin B6 : 0.2 mg (11%)
Potassium : 318 mg (9%)
Selenium : 5.2 mcg (7%)
Vitamin E : 1.2 mg (6%)
Types of Quinoa
While most of us are accustomed to seeing more common white quinoa, in fact there are about 120 varieties worldwide. However, only 3 varieties of quinoa are grown for sale: red, white, and black groats.
Chefs generally appreciate the subtle differences between the three types, but the average consumer is likely to be equally satisfied with any choice.
White is the most widely sold variety and takes less time to prepare. It is sometimes called ivory quinoa.
Red – when cooking, it retains its texture better and therefore cooks prefer to use this type of quinoa in cold salads or other recipes, where the texture of a single grain is preferred.
Black – the taste of black quinoa is very different from the white and red varieties, possessing an earthy, sweet aroma. Cooking time for black quinoa is the longest – it takes about 15-20 minutes.
Useful properties of quinoa groats
Let us consider in more detail the eight beneficial properties of quinoa cereals, which are currently proven by scientists.
1. Helps to lose weight
Due to its high content of insoluble fiber, quinoa can increase satiety after eating. Whole grains and pseudo-grains have been shown to enhance the feeling of fullness of the stomach after eating compared to refined grains ( 2 ). Quinoa is also believed to influence hormones that play a role in appetite, such as ghrelin, YY peptide, and insulin ( 3 ).
If you look at studies that study the effect of quinoa on the human body over time, you will find that quinoa intake is associated with weight loss, as well as an improvement in blood cholesterol ( 4 ). Regular inclusion of cereals in your diet can be one way to prevent obesity.
In an animal study conducted in 2014, scientists from Paris (France) found that quinoa consumption led to higher energy expenditures (people moved more), improved glucose processing, and reduced fat intake ( 5 ).
Another reason quinoa helps you lose weight is because it contains more than 50% of the manganese your body needs every day. Manganese acts on hormones and digestive enzymes, which makes it easier for your body to digest and use food.
2. Gluten free
Quinoa is good for people on a gluten-free diet, providing nutrients that the body lacks after excluding traditional grains from the diet. A 2009 study analyzed nutritional data for celiac patients who followed a gluten-free diet, finding that most subjects relied heavily on rice as their main source of grain, making their diet inadequate in terms of nutrition. However, changing their primary source of grain to quinoa, the subjects were able to satisfy their needs for proteins, iron, calcium and fiber ( 6) Thus, using quinoa as the primary grain instead of other gluten-free alternatives can help provide a more balanced diet for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
3. Can help fight cancer
Since quinoa is an excellent source of antioxidants, it is not surprising that it has anti-cancer properties. However, the degree of research can shock you – quinoa as a separate food and the three specific nutrients found in its seeds are some of the most revolutionary research topics in the field of cancer prevention or treatment ( 7 ).
The first of these nutrients, saponin, is the most controversial. Saponins, naturally, are found in different types of plants and have a soft “washing” quality – therefore, when you rinse the quinoa, you will notice a soft white like foam. Saponin in it sometimes acts as an antitumor agent, and in some products it can negatively affect the internal walls of the intestine and even cause harm, exacerbating irritable bowel syndrome, and also destroy some healthy red blood cells.
Nevertheless, saponins showed promising results when tested for cancer cells – saponins caused cell death in glioblastoma (aggressive brain cancer), leukemia and lymphomas in the laboratory ( 8 ). Their permeability (which means their ability to travel through various organs) is actually one of the factors of their potential strength against cancer ( 9 ).
The second “super-nutrient” in quinoa croup, providing its beneficial properties, is known as lunasin. The subject of scientific research since 1996, lunasin is a peptide with a number of potential health benefits, primarily its ability to bind and destroy cancer cells ( 10 ). Lunasin is a particularly important component because in in vitro and animal tests it kills only cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact ( 11 ). Lunasin is considered biologically active, which simply means that consuming quinoa is a useful way to actively use this nutrient in your body.
Finally, quinoa also contains an antioxidant known as quercetin, which has significant success in preventing the spread of lung cancer, as well as other types of cancer. Quercetin works by combating the radical damage associated with a large number of diseases. This is one of the reasons why cereal, which contains one of the highest levels of quercetin, is a product with anti-inflammatory benefits.
4. Supports a healthy heart
Quinoa’s anti-inflammatory nutrients also make it a great addition to a hearty diet. Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death worldwide, but the causes are often related to nutrition and lifestyle problems that are easy to fix.
One of the benefits of consuming quinoa is a high level of healthy fats for the heart. Croup contains about 4 grams of fat per cup and does not contain trans fats. About 25% of the fat contained in it is oleic acid (healthy monounsaturated fat) and 8% is alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) has been proven to reduce the risk of death from heart attacks.
A high ALA diet also helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Researchers agree that getting ALA by eating foods high in ALA has a more effective effect on the body than getting it in the form of a dietary supplement ( 12 ).
Three other nutrients found in cereals also support heart health: butyrate, potassium, and magnesium.
Butyrate is a fatty acid that you can get from certain foods and supplements. Its use slows down or even stops the spread of atherosclerosis, a general and dangerous condition characterized by hardening and narrowing of arteries and impaired blood flow ( 13 ).
One serving of quinoa gives you almost one tenth of the potassium you need every day. The main cause of heart disease in Western culture is the tendency to eat foods high in sodium and not to consume enough potassium. Potassium reduces the risk of stroke and, naturally, lowers blood pressure.
Eating foods with a high concentration of magnesium reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack ( 14 ).
5. Contains antioxidants to fight disease
A certain type of antioxidant called bioflavonoid, or flavonoid, is found in large quantities in quinoa. This group of antioxidants aroused interest in the mid-90s for their prevention of diseases. One particular class of flavonoids, polyphenols, can play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and diabetes.
Quinoa also has a high content of other antioxidants, quercetin (mentioned above), kempferol, vanillic acid and ferulic acid, which are important for reducing inflammation, a risk factor for chronic diseases.
In 2016, researchers discovered the presence of beta-carotene in quinoa ( 15 ). When beta-carotene is obtained by the body with food (not supplements), it and other carotenoids benefit the body by removing free radicals that cause premature aging and various diseases.
Despite the fact that it is not an antioxidant, manganese also plays a role in the realization of the functions of antioxidants found in quinoa. Numerous enzymes that act as antioxidants require manganese to work effectively.
6. Helps keep the intestines healthy by reducing inflammation
In a 2016 study, quinoa and amaranth were rated as prebiotics. Prebiotics are compounds of non-digestible dietary fiber that work with probiotic enzymes to become the “fuel” for beneficial bacteria that live in the intestines and are associated with a reduced risk of disease, lower levels of inflammation and a better functioning immune system.
Scientists have found that both of these pseudo-grain crops (which, by the way, are both superfoods) have prebiotic potential and can serve to improve the health of the gastrointestinal tract by balancing the levels of good bacteria that work there ( 16 ).
Butyrate in quinoa (which, as we said earlier, supports the function of the heart) can also be part of its beneficial properties of cereals to restore the intestines. Low levels of this fatty acid (or inability to absorb it) are associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. However, an increase in the level of butyrate helps to reduce inflammation in the intestines and can potentially play a role in the treatment of these diseases. Butyrate not only suppresses future inflammation, but also causes apoptosis (cell death) in excess T cells, which serve as a source of inflammation.
Succinic acid is also found in cereals, which is another anti-inflammatory nutrient that is significant for its role in maintaining intestinal health.
Keep in mind that quinoa contains a lot of phytic acid, which binds to minerals in food and reduce their absorption. Therefore, despite the fact that it does contain a significant amount of minerals, your body does not absorb them all due to the content of phytic acid. The way out of this situation is to soak the grains in water before use – this can help reduce the content of phytic acid. One glass of quinoa must be filled with two glasses of pure water with 1 tablespoon of either fresh lemon juice or goat milk yogurt and left for 12-24 hours.
7. Supports bone health
Instead of drinking processed milk for a healthy skeletal system, you can try eating more quinoa. Due to the high content of manganese, magnesium and phosphorus, eating cereals is a powerful tool to strengthen bone mass and prevent osteoporosis.)
8. Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
Eating manganese-rich foods can be one of the key factors in maintaining healthy blood sugar and reducing the risk of diabetes. In an animal study in 2013, adding manganese to the diet helped fight insulin resistance ( 17 ).
This may be due to the gluconeogenesis process in which manganese is involved – when amino acids are converted into sugar and the amount of sugar in the bloodstream is balanced.
Increased consumption of butyrate-rich foods also affects diabetes, since butyrate inhibits the inflammation associated with insulin resistance.
Using magnesium is also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and you can get about a third of your daily required magnesium in just one serving of quinoa.
In general, eating quinoa cereal seems to improve glucose tolerance. This may be part of the prevention and / or treatment of diabetes and related conditions.
How to cook quinoa
When you go to the nearest health food store, it is likely that quinoa will be easily available to buy and cook.
The best thing about cooking cereals is that they usually have a fairly simple and unremarkable taste when cooked in water. Lack of taste exponentially increases the versatility of recipes that you can create with this product.
If you are looking for a simple way to deepen the taste, you can try boiling it together with beef, chicken or vegetable broth instead of plain water. You can also experiment with black grains, as its taste is more noticeable.
Cooking quinoa can be a great alternative to traditional oatmeal for breakfast. Just boil the cereal in water or milk, add cinnamon and your aromatic dish is ready!
The standard quinoa cooking time is 10 minutes.
It is important to remember that processed foods, such as pasta or bread made from quinoa flour, do not have the same beneficial properties of quinoa cereal as regular grain. Therefore, if you want to try a more complex product, then it is better to cook it yourself. Make it pretty easy! Just take 1-2 cups of cereal, fry in a dry frying pan for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, then refrigerate. Blend in a high-speed food processor or blender until the quinoa has a good, fine texture.
Possible harm to quinoa and precautions
It is extremely rare, but allergic reactions to quinoa are possible. Common symptoms of this allergy include abdominal pain, itchy skin, and red spots. Keep in mind that you may experience an allergic reaction to saponin and not to the cereal itself. In this case, you must be sure to soak the grains before cooking for at least 30 minutes and rinse thoroughly afterwards.
Quinoa is a gluten-free food, but in some reports there may be a minimal presence of gluten, which can cause celiac disease. To avoid this, always buy the product from reliable, reputable manufacturers. Stop use if you experience any adverse symptoms.
So, we examined questions about quinoa cereal, its beneficial properties, calorie content and cooking features. To summarize:
- Quinoa is one of the healthiest foods in the world, which is why it is deservedly called superfood or superfood.
- It does not contain gluten and is therefore an excellent alternative for people with gluten intolerance.
- Unlike most other plant foods, quinoa is a rich source of protein. This makes it a valuable dietary source of protein for people on plant diets.
- The beneficial properties of quinoa cereal are due to its incredible nutrient profile. Including more than a dozen important vitamins and minerals in significant quantities.
- Nutrients in cereals have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They help the body fight and prevent diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Quinoa can help you lose weight.
- Cooking cereals is quite simple. Thanks to its natural taste, you can use it in almost any recipe.