Though technically a seed and not a grain, quinoa is often included in lists of gluten free grains because that is how it is used. Often described as an ancient grain, quinoa cooks up into tender morsels that work well in side dishes and salads.
If you’re looking for something new to add to your gluten free food repertoire, quinoa deserves your consideration. Keep reading to learn more about this food and the health benefits it provides.
What is Quinoa, Anyway?
As we’ve already mentioned, quinoa is not technically a grain, nor is it a cereal grain. Quinoa is the seed of a broadleaf plant in the amaranth family known as Chenopodium quinoa. Also related to spinach, quinoa is a pseudocereal and it originated in the Andean region of South America. This plant was domesticated for human consumption over 3,000 years ago, though archaeological evidence suggests that it was used to feed livestock between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago.
The Basics of Quinoa Nutrition
Because it is used primarily as a gluten free carbohydrate, you may be surprised to learn that quinoa is actually a good source of complete protein – it is one of the rare plant foods that carries this label. A complete protein is simply a food that contains all 20 amino acids, including the 10 essential amino acids that your body can’t produce on its own. It may not offer quite the same protein levels as animal products like beef or chicken, but it is an excellent addition to a vegan or vegetarian diet.
In addition to being a source of complete protein, quinoa is rich in a variety of other nutrients. A one-cup serving of cooked quinoa contains about 222 calories with 4 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbohydrate, 8 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. Quinoa is low in sodium but contains a significant amount of key nutrients like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, copper, iron, thiamine, zinc, potassium, selenium, and various B vitamins.
What Are the Health Benefits of Quinoa?
Technically speaking, there are about 120 different varieties of quinoa grown throughout the world. In grocery stores, however, you’ll probably only find the top three most popular: white quinoa, red quinoa, and black quinoa. White quinoa cooks up into tender grains whereas red quinoa tends to retain its shape and grain-like texture. Black quinoa has a unique earthy flavor and takes longer to cook than the other two.
So, what kind of health benefits does quinoa have to offer?
One of the most important benefits of quinoa is that it is completely gluten free and therefore safe for people with celiac disease, wheat allergies, and gluten intolerance. Not only is it a gluten free grain alternative, but it is a nutritious one at that. Compared to rice (a staple of many gluten free diets), quinoa is much higher in protein, iron, calcium, and fiber. In fact, the fiber content of quinoa is instrumental in many of its health benefits.
The combination of insoluble fiber and protein in quinoa means that it offers increased satiety over other grains. It is also rich in manganese, a nutrient that influences hormones and digestive enzymes to help your body digest and utilize the food you eat more efficiently.
In addition to being rich in nutrients, quinoa is also an excellent source of antioxidants – this is one of the many reasons it is considered a superfood. Antioxidants protect the body against free-radical damage and may also have a protective effect against cancer. One of the nutrients that offers this anti-cancer benefit is called saponin and it has been shown to cause cell death in some of the most aggressive forms of cancer including glioblastoma, leukemia, and lymphoma. Lunasin is another anti-cancer nutrient found in quinoa and it has the power to break apart and kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Another health benefit quinoa has to offer is related to its anti-inflammatory properties. Quinoa is rich in heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory fats such as oleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA, in particular, has been shown to reduce both cholesterol and blood pressure levels and, in doing so, reduce the risk of death from heart attack. Three other nutrients found in quinoa that have been shown to support heart health are butyrate, magnesium, and potassium.
As if these health benefits weren’t enough, quinoa has also been linked to improved digestion and a healthy microbiome, increased bone strength, and a reduced risk for diabetes. Its antioxidant content has also been shown to reduce the risk for myriad chronic diseases.
How Do You Cook Quinoa?
Now that you understand the nutritional and health benefits of quinoa, you may be eager to try it for yourself. If so, we have good news – quinoa is very easy to prepare! Here is a simple recipe for making delicious, fluffy quinoa at home:
- 1 cup dry quinoa
- Olive oil, as needed
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Rinse the quinoa thoroughly in a fine mesh strainer then drain well.
- Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat then add the quinoa.
- Cook the quinoa on medium-high for a minute or so, stirring constantly, until the water evaporates and the quinoa becomes lightly toasted.
- Pour in the broth (or use water, if you prefer) and the salt.
- Bring the liquid to a boil then reduce heat and cook on the lowest setting, covered, for 15 minutes.
- Remove the saucepan from heat and let stand, covered, for another 5 minutes (don’t lift the lid).
- Uncover the quinoa and fluff it with a fork then serve as desired.
Suggestions for Serving:
The simplest way to serve quinoa is to season it with a little salt and pepper and use it as a side dish. If you want to make things a little more interesting, however, there are some other options. Try tossing quinoa with roasted vegetables for a warm salad or add some herbs for fresh flavor. Use quinoa to stuff vegetables like squash or zucchini or enjoy it for breakfast with a little maple syrup and some fresh fruit. You can also use it as a substitute for other grains in your favorite recipes.
Enjoy These Products to Try Quinoa for Yourself
If you’d like to give quinoa a try, but you aren’t quite ready to start cooking it yourself, why not start with a gluten free food made with quinoa? Schär offers a variety of gluten free products made with quinoa and other healthy ingredients – here are some you should add to your shopping list:
- Artisan Baker White Bread – Baked fresh and crafted with gluten free grains like sourdough, millet, and quinoa, this soft white bread is perfect for sandwiches.
- Artisan Baker Multigrain Bread – If you prefer something with a little more flavor, this multigrain bread combines gluten free grains with seeds and honey for a soft, sandwich-ready bread you’re sure to love.
- Artisan Baker 10 Grains & Seeds – Soft and irresistible, this delicious bread is made with assorted whole grains (gluten free, of course) as well as seeds and a touch of sweetness.
Whether you prefer to stick with the convenience of Schär gluten free products made with quinoa or you decide to add it to a gluten free meal for yourself, this ancient grain is packed with healthy nutrients and delicious flavor.
Give it a try today!