Meet Quinoa…

...the latest health food on the block


Native grain to South America, quinoa [pronounced as keen-wah] with its high protein content, is rapidly gaining popularity in India. Quinoa being light, fluffy, slightly crunchy and flavoursome, cooks and tastes just like any grain. It is an excellent substitute for grains that are difficult to digest. Being a whole grain, it’s highly nutritious and wholesome.

Top 8 reasons to eat quinoa

It is a complete protein: Most plants provide incomplete protein, thus they need to be consumed in combination with other foods to make it a complete and a higher quality protein. Unlike other grains, quinoa provides us with nine essential amino acids. Our body needs these amino acids to build up tissues and perform vital functions. An alternative to milk, meat and eggs, quinoa is a delightful choice for vegetarians and vegans. Dull hair, brittle nails, loose skin, sluggishness are the things of past when you have your very own saviour quinoa.

It’s gluten-free: Those who are gluten intolerant could make quinoa their companion as it is an alternative to wheat, barley and oats. It can be a part of your meal if you are on a coeliac diet.

Pumps up your iron: Quinoa is the richest source of iron among grains. A fine choice for those who are iron deficient, it fills up 37 per cent of your daily iron intake. Getting enough iron is crucial especially for athletes, pregnant women and vegetarians as low levels may cause fatigue and decreased immune system function.

Provides tummy friendly fibre: It contains almost twice as much fibre as most other grains making it a healthy choice. It keeps your guts happy and acts as a natural laxative. The fibre in quinoa may have promising results in the management of type 2 diabetes. It keeps you feeling satiated for longer periods of time which may help in weight loss. Keep in mind, regular quinoa intake is directly proportional to regular bowel movements.

Packed with calcium and potassium: Being easily digestible, it is a good choice for seniors who need calcium based foods for healthy bones and teeth. It’s also good for vegans, since they consume plant foods only. Calcium plays a central role in controlling blood pressure and easing premenstrual symptoms. New studies indicate that unused dietary calcium may help to prevent colon cancer.

This staple food of Incan culture, has an abundant amount of potassium. From balancing the pH of your body, to proper muscle growth, healthy nervous system and optimal brain function, potassium does wonders for you. Post a stressful workout, replenishing your potassium stores is essential. All the banana haters, you have a substitute now.

B vitamin is in: Vitamin B and folic acid is adequately needed especially among women of child-bearing age to reduce the risk of birth defects. Quinoa provides a bountiful supply of folic acid which is crucial to both children and adults to produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anaemia. It also improves memory.

Kinds of quinoa

There are over 120 species of quinoa but only three main varieties are cultivated; white or ivory, black and red. The white quinoa tastes similar to white rice, while red quinoa is more nuttier and crunchier. The black one has a bit earthy and sweet flavour. This magical seed is also available commercially in the form of flour, breakfast flakes, pasta and salad leaves.

Quinoa is notably visible in the health food section of various supermarkets or a local health food store. Due to its high oil content, quinoa should be stored in the fridge or freezer in an airtight container to avoid becoming rancid.

Hailed by nutritionists, this health giving grain also acts as a pre-biotic, meaning it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in our intestines. More the healthy bacteria, more the chances we have to combat dreadful diseases and infections.

Protein packed quinoa salad

You will need

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, well rinsed
  • ⅓ cup diced onions
  • 1 cup cooked black beans, rinsed if canned
  • ½ cup cooked corn
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • ½ cup chopped fresh cucumber
  • ½ cup chopped tomatoes
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

How to prepare

Put the rinsed quinoa, salt and water into a pan and bring it to boil. Cover and simmer for about 10 –15 minutes until the quinoa absorbs all the water. Remove from heat and let it sit for five minutes. Mix the cooked black beans, corn kernels, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, walnuts and oil into a large bowl. When the quinoa has cooled, mix it into the bean mixture. Dress it up with lime juice, salt, ground pepper and chopped fresh parsley. Serve at room temperature.

Keen to eat Keen-Wah?

Incorporating quinoa is never troublesome. Here are some brilliant ways to include it in your diet.

Breakfast basket: Opt for cooked quinoa as your morning breakfast cereal, mixed with fresh fruits or dried fruits along with skimmed milk. To add some zing, mix in some crunchy nuts and seeds.

Pick-o-pasta: Gluten free pasta is a delightful choice for vegans. Quinoa pasta with added veggies delivers fine texture and flavour, and is just as satisfying and tasty as traditional wheat pasta.

Shipping through dessert: An alternate to rice pudding, quinoa can be blended with milk, nuts and fruits to make it a complete energy rich treat!

Happy sprouting: Sprouting increases nutrient quality of the food and makes it easy to digest. Sprouting quinoa takes just 2 – 4 hours in comparison to 8 – 12 hours required for other grains. Quinoa sprouts can be added to salads, sandwiches, wraps or could be relished by itself.

Go baking: Quinoa flour can be used to prepare healthy cookies, muffins and cakes. Its slightly sweet and nutty flavour, it tastes great and also adds lightness to baked goods without using white flour.

Add it to your next shopping list and get ready to plunge into the deep ocean of good health.

Did you know?

‘Quinoa’ was considered sacred and was gifted the name ‘Mother Grain’ by the Incas civilisation 5000 years ago in the mountain plateaus of Peru,
Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador. It was considered so vital to them that the Inca emperor organised an annual ritual in which he would break the soil with a sacred golden spade to plant the first quinoa seed. Commonly considered as a grain, quinoa actually is a relative of green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard.

Qui-ck-Noa Tips

Raw ‘Quinoa’ is coated with a bitter resin like coating called saponin. Though, it is rinsed before it’s packaged and sold commercially, it’s best to rinse at home before use to remove any of the powdery residue that may remain on the seeds. Saponin which is removed from the quinoa can be used as detergent for washing clothes and as an antiseptic to promote healing of skin injuries.

This was first published in the February 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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