This UFO lookalike seed deserves the name of a super grain because it is an impressive healing food. It is a food source high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. All that in a small grain of a simple quinoa. Although quinoa may be unfamiliar to North Americans, it was a staple food for the Incas and was growing in the Andes for more than 5,000 years. Technically, quinoa is a “pseudo cereal,” often considered as a grain, but it is more closely related to beets and spinach. Unlike wheat and other grains, it is gluten- free, and you can use it as a substitute for grain in most recipes. Learning a little about the attributes of this impressive grain will give you a sense of just how amazing it is.
Quinoa looks a lot like very tiny grains – almost like amaranth, or like small little-dried beads. You typically buy it dried. By adding water to the quinoa and boiling it, you will find that the grain soaks up the water and vastly increases its size — much more than other grains. This means you do not need a lot of dry quinoa to make a very large quinoa meal. The unique shape of quinoa is also fascinating. The grain has an outer edge that looks something like a UFO. It is almost as if the grain is wearing a hula-hoop. This outer edge can come off when the grain is boiled, or it may stay attached — looking something like a tiny pigtail, (this is actually the germ of the quinoa grain). This structure is unique for a grain: it is not something you see in wheat or rice.
In most grains, the germ is typically a very tiny structure found on the end of the grain. However, in the case of Quinoa, the germ circles the entire grain. Remember that in every grain, the germ is very high in protein. With the germ being so large in the quinoa grain, it explains why quinoa as a whole has the highest protein content of any grain. It is the protein king of the plant world.
Quinoa Super Grain: A Complete Protein
Quinoa is not only high in protein in terms of grams per serving; it is also high in the amino acids that create a complete protein. The eight essential amino acids you will find in quinoa are the ones your body must acquire through foods in order to live. You cannot synthesize these amino acids; you have to get them from your diet.
Some would say that you could get these amino acids from eating meat or other plants. The trouble is, many plants do not provide complete proteins, or they are very low in amino acids such as lysine. Quinoa is high in lysine, and it is a complete protein as well. Vegetarians, for example, do very well on quinoa.
A Great Source of Minerals, Vitamin B, and Fiber
Quinoa is also very high in calcium. In fact, a cup of cooked quinoa has more calcium than a cup of milk. Quinoa also contains other minerals like magnesium (also typically deficient in the western diet), zinc, potassium, and iron. Beyond the minerals, it has a high B-vitamin content — another important nutrient that most western diets are lacking. Quinoa also contains a healthy serving of fiber, found in the germ itself.
Quinoa Suppresses Appetite and Helps Lose Weight
The amount of water quinoa absorbs while cooking is rather remarkable. You can take a cup of quinoa, boil it, and end up with a couple of bowls of boiled quinoa cereal, ready to eat. This does not sound like a big deal, but let me explain why it is in terms of appetite and weight control.
Many people overeat because the foods they eat take up very little space in their stomach. This kind of foods are very high in calories and pack many calories into a small space. Those foods often include cheese, pizza, potato chips, French fries, candy bars, snack crackers (almost anything that contains a lot of fat or refined sugars).
The important thing to note in all this is that our feeling of hunger has nothing to do with the number of calories we are eating. In fact, it depends on the amount of physical space foods take up in your stomach.
Because of this, quinoa can be very beneficial in suppressing your appetite and, therefore, helping you lose body fat. How? Quinoa takes up a lot of space in your stomach without giving you a lot of calories. In other words, you can eat a very large bowl of quinoa and you can feel like you are completely stuffed. Yet you may have only eaten 300 to 400 calories.
You can see there is a huge difference. For people who are attempting to moderate their intake of calories, who want to lose weight, who are battling diabetes or obesity, quinoa can be a very helpful dietary tool. You get the nutrition you need and yet you will not feel hungry. With quinoa, you will be losing weight even while feeling full.
“Eat” Your Water
You could say, “Drink Your Water” but we used the word “Eat Your Water” on purpose because, with quinoa, you are actually eating the water. During the digestion process, your body will extract the water out of the quinoa grain, leaving our body to use the fiber and nutritional content. You can think of the quinoa as little water beads.
Most people are in a state of chronic dehydration, which causes hypertension, asthma, constipation, immune system suppression, and a long list of other symptoms and diseases. Therefore, quinoa can actually be a good water source. After you eat it, your body pulls the water out and puts it to good use.
Quinoa is a medium source of oxalates, which may cause problems for those with a history of kidney stones or other conditions that require a low-oxalate diet.
The outside of raw quinoa is covered with saponins, which are traditionally used as a diuretic and laxative. To remove the saponins on the outside of quinoa seeds, wash them in a strainer, making sure to rub the seeds against each other and circulate the water through them.
One cup of cooked quinoa provides:
- 222 calories,
- 4 g carbohydrate,
- 1 g protein,
- 6 g fat,
- 2 g dietary fiber,
- 1 mg sodium,
- 281 mg phosphorus,
- 76 mg iron,
- 2 mg riboflavin.
Bringing It on Your Plate
Quinoa is available packaged or as a bulk food. Be sure to buy seeds that are dry and free from moisture or discoloration. Because of its relatively high-fat content, it keeps best in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Since quinoa does act like a grain in many recipes, you may also be able to find quinoa pasta, quinoa breakfast cereal, and quinoa flour. Use these like their more familiar counterparts, but note that since quinoa lacks gluten, baked goods made with 100% quinoa flour will not rise properly. Use a mixture of half quinoa flour and half wheat flour for best results.
Quinoa is a quick-cooking grain—it takes only about 15 minutes to prepare by boiling. Use one cup of seeds to two cups of water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the quinoa is fluffy, like rice. Quinoa more than doubles in volume during cooking.
Quinoa with Tahini, Steamed Sweet Potato, Carrots, and Peas
It is a very simple and quick recipe low in fat since no oil is required to cook the veggies or quinoa. It makes great for a light lunch or dinner that will still give your body all it needs to thrive.
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa (you can use a mix of white, red and black quinoa)
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 4 large carrots
- 1 cup peas
- 3 Tbsp. tahini
- ¼ Tsp sea salt
- ¼ Tsp black pepper
- ½ Tsp black sesame seeds
- ½ Tsp white sesame seeds
Cook the quinoa according to the package directions. Peel the sweet potatoes and carrots then steam them for 10 minutes along with the peas, or until everything is vibrantly colored and tender. Serve the vegetables on a bed of quinoa, drizzle with tahini then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the sesame seeds.
Toasted Quinoa with Prunes and Lemon
- 1 ½ cups quinoa, uncooked
- 3 cups water
- ¼ Tsp sea salt
- 1 package (12 ounces) lemon-essence prunes
- ¾ cup white grape juice
- 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick (optional)
- ½ cup plain low-fat yogurt
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add quinoa; cook 4 minutes or until fragrant and lightly toasted, stirring frequently. Add water and salt; bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered 15 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cut prunes into bite-sized pieces. In a small saucepan, combine prunes, grape juice, and, if desired, cinnamon stick. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 4 to 5 minutes or until prunes are soft and the sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove cinnamon stick if using. Transfer quinoa to shallow serving bowls; top with warm prune mixture and yogurt.
Scarlet Quinoa Salad
- 1½ cups quinoa seeds washed and drained
- 2¼ cups water
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup finely minced fresh parsley
- 1 cup grated raw beets
- ½ cup thinly sliced scallions
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into fine ribbons
- 2½ Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 or 3 lemons, juice only (about ½ cup)
- 3 cups baby salad greens
In a large saucepan, combine the quinoa, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer until fluffy, about 15 minutes. Remove quinoa from heat, fluff the grains with a fork, and stir in the grated beets.
When all the grains have turned scarlet, add the parsley, scallions, olive oil, and lemon juice. Gently toss ingredients until thoroughly combined.
Prepare a bed of baby greens and carrot ribbons on either a serving platter or individual plates. Spoon quinoa mixture on top of the greens. Serve.
You can serve the quinoa mixture warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Variation: Although making this dish with raw grated beets retains their maximum nutrition, if you prefer your beets cooked, steam whole beets in their skins for 45 minutes to an hour, until they can be pierced easily with a fork. Remove the skins before grating the beets.
You can see how quinoa helps you on many fronts. It gives you the fiber that is not found in typically processed grains. It also gives you a high level of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc and even some iron. You even get a large dose of B-vitamins. You get fiber, protein, all eight essential amino acids including lysine, plus extra water. No wonder they call this a super grain!