Medal Earner of the Week – Quinoa
Quinoa is a lesser known Medal Earner but that is changing fast. Quinoa is an edible seed, not a grain and is one of the healthiest foods of all time, a true superfood, usually grown organically. It originates from the Andes and was historically grown in the Lake Titicaca region, an area of great genetic diversity and variation. Quinoa has been in use for thousands of years, since pre-Columbian days, and was a staple food believed to be sacred until replaced by cereals, when the Spanish arrived. It is a great wheat free alternative to starchy grains and contains no gluten. Pronounced Keen-wa there are three varieties: black, red and creamy white. They are slightly bitter when cooked and open up as they soften during cooking. It is considered to be a favourable comparison to bulgar wheat, barley, couscous and rice and can be used as a substitute for these foods or can be added to them to improve their nutritional value. It is as easy to prepare as rice and can be added to soups and vegetable dishes or sprinkled on salads.
Quinoa has no gluten,so is perfect for people with gluten intolerances. In USA about one third of people are trying to minimize or avoid gluten. A gluten free diet can be healthy as long as it includes foods naturally gluten free like quinoa, and not highly processed, refined, starches claiming to be gluten-free, which are used in the manufacture of some junk foods. Choosing quinoa as a gluten free ingredient radically enriches the antioxidant and nutrient value of the diet.
Quinoa is rich in manganese, a powerful antioxidant that protects red blood cells and helps prevent damage of the mitochondria during energy production.
Quinoa contains more than double the amount of fibre as other grains in its uncooked state, slightly less when cooked. The fibre content is mainly insoluble and aids digestion but a useful proportion is soluble which helps reduce blood sugar and lower cholesterol. This helps prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. It is also considered to have a high satiety value which makes it a helpful constituent of a weight loss diet.
Quinoa is rich in iron, which is needed to carry oxygen to our muscles. Iron reduces the symptoms of anaemia. Iron is also important for healthy function of the brain as the brain uses as much as 20% of the oxygen in our blood. Iron also has many other functions; not least it aids enzyme activity and the metabolism of energy. Many people believe that adding quinoa to their diet gives greater endurance and energy during workouts.
Quinoa is high in protein, 8 grams in one cup of cooked quinoa. It is an excellent food for vegetarians, including vegans, because unlike other plant foods it contains all the essential amino acids necessary to build proteins. Many other plant proteins lack at least one of the essential amino acids particularly lysine, which is essential for growth and repair of tissues. Quinoa is rich in all the essential amino acids.
Quinoa is rich in Magnesium and other minerals such as iron, zinc and potassium that are often lacking in the diet. Magnesium can help maintain healthy glucose levels in the blood and can therefore reduce type 2 diabetes. Magnesium helps relax blood vessels and can relieve migraines. Magnesium is also important in the formation of healthy bones and teeth, in the production of energy and in the transmission of nerve impulses.
Quinoa is rich in Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin). This is important for healthy energy metabolism within the cells and also within the brain.
Quinoa also contains Vitamin E and selenium, is a good source of zinc, and contains some Omega 3 fatty acids, all of which help to control weight, reduce the risk of heart disease and lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Quinoa is high in antioxidants, substances that neutralise free radicals. Antioxidants are believed to be of great value in fighting ageing and many associated diseases. The antioxidant qualities increase even more if the seeds are sprouted.
Quinoa has a low GI index. The GI Index indicates how quickly a food can raise blood sugar levels. Foods high on the GI index list are linked to diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease and also promote weight gain. Quinoa has a GI Index of around 53 but it is still high in carbohydrates so not a good choice when following a low carb diet, especially in large amounts.
Is there any downside to this superfood?
Not much- but Quinoa does contains phytic acid, which can hinder absorption of some minerals. Soaking or sprouting the quinoa before use makes the minerals more readily absorbed by the body. Quinoa also contains oxylates which reduce the absorption of calcium so may not be a recommended food for people suffering from recurring kidney stones.
Quinoa is very easy to incorporate into the diet. It is tasty and complements many other foods. It is available in health food stores and many supermarkets. Some brands have been pre-rinsed to remove saponins, which are in the outer layer and can taste bitter. If not ready pre rinsed, simply wash well in water. Quinoa can be ready to eat in 15 to 20 minutes.
Method of Cooking:
1. Put 2 cups of water in a pot bring to the boil,
2. Add I cup of raw quinoa and add a pinch of salt.
3. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes.
Strain – its ready to eat.
The UN FAO in recognition of the high nutritional value of this grain declared 2013 International Quinoa Year.