Quinoa

What's New and Beneficial About Quinoa

Quinoa, cooked
0.75 cup
(185.00 grams)
Calories: 222
GI: low

NutrientDRI/DV

 manganese51%

 copper40%

 phosphorus40%

 magnesium28%

 fiber19%

 folate19%

 zinc18%

Health Benefits

Outstanding Overall Nutrient Richness from Quinoa

At WHFoods, we think about nutrient richness as including many different categories of nutrients. Among conventional nutrients, our most important categories are macronutrients (including protein, fiber, and high-quality fats like omega-3s), vitamins, and minerals. Among phytonutrients, we look especially closely at carotenoids and flavonoids, as well as other phytonutrients especially well-known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Quinoa is a food whose nutrient richness spans all of the categories above! Earlier in this profile, we noted the nearly doubled total protein quantity in quinoa versus wheat or brown rice when measured in equivalent cooked amounts. We also pointed out the outstanding amino acid composition within quinoa proteins - something that plant proteins don't always achieve. But protein is not the only macronutrient provided by this amazing plant food. The fiber content of quinoa is just over 5 grams per 3/4 cooked cup, and include substantial amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The fact that quinoa is typically consumed in whole form helps increase the fiber-like components that it provides, including insoluble fibers and nonstarch polysaccharides found in the seed coat. Quinoa also provides us with 180 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) in 3/4th of a cooked cup.

Quinoa ranks as a good source of many minerals including zinc, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. At WHFoods, quinoa actually ranks in our Top 10 foods for magnesium. It also provides nearly 3 milligrams of iron per 3/4th cooked cup, which actually puts it slightly above a 4-ounce serving of either lamb or beef. Among antioxidant-related minerals, quinoa is richest in manganese, and it ranks among our Top 25 WHFoods for this mineral. Folate qualifies as one of the key vitamins provided by quinoa, and you'll get about 20% of the Daily Value for this B-vitamin from a single 3/4th cup serving (cooked). Cooked quinoa also provides about 10-15% of most other B-complex vitamins in this same serving size.

Over 20 different phenolic phytonutrients have been identified in quinoa, including many phenolic acids and polyphenols. Virtually all of these phytonutrients have been shown to provide antioxidant benefits, and many provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well. The list of phenolic phytonutrients in quinoa includes: chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, hesperidin, isoquercetin, quercetin, kaempferol, neohesperidin, rosmarinic acid, rutin, and vanillic acid.

Betalains are a group of phytonutrients that provide red and yellow quinoa varieties with their unique colors. Betalains can actually be found varying degrees in most varieties of quinoa members and have been shown to increase the antioxidant capacity and free radical scavenging benefits provided by this food. So it makes sense to enjoy the full spectrum of quinoa color varieties in your meal plan!

One of the most unusual categories of phytonutrients in quinoa are its phytoecdysteroids. (One particular phytoecdysteroid - called 20-hydroxyecdysone (20HE) - has been shown to be especially concentrated in quinoa.) While purified ecdysterone supplements are sold as body building aids to help with development of muscle tissue, few studies exist on consumption of ecdysteroids as naturally contained within common plant foods, including quinoa. Research interest in these compounds includes speculation about their potential role in blood sugar regulation.

Potential Health Benefits from Quinoa

As might be expected from a food that serves as a good source of protein and fiber, as well as a low glycemic index (GI) value, quinoa has raised the interest of researchers with respect to better blood sugar regulation, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and other aspects of metabolism related to blood sugar. Unfortunately, most of the studies in this area have been conducted on animals and we have yet to see a large scale study on humans enjoying quinoa as part of their regular food intake. We would be surprised, however, if quinoa did not turn out to show benefits for blood sugar regulation given its chemistry and nutrient-richness.

Like blood sugar benefits, cardiovascular benefits fall into another area of health support that we would expect to be provided by quinoa. However, the research we've reviewed in this area is not extensive and comes primarily from animal studies. In these studies, the equivalent of roughly 1/2-1 cup of cooked quinoa in a person's diet per day over a period of approximately 1-2 months has been associated with decreases in blood triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol, and total cholesterol. In addition, risk of lipid peroxidation (oxygen-based damaged to blood fats) has been shown to decrease in some of these studies. The well-documented antioxidant capacity of quinoa - provided in large part by its impressive array of phenols and polyphenols - makes these animal study findings on lipid peroxidation very likely to apply to humans, and we expect this health benefit to eventually be demonstrated in human dietary studies as well.

As a non-grass grain, quinoa can provide a great grain-like addition to "gluten-free" meal plans, and quinoa has been shown to be well-tolerated by persons who are required to avoid wheat, including persons diagnosed with celiac disease. In addition, there are some studies showing potentially greater digestibility of quinoa in comparison to cereal grains. In short: quinoa is a food that can be incorporated into your meal plan like a grain, but which doesn't raise the same concerns that cereal grains sometimes raise.

When the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared that 2013 to be recognized as "The International Year of the Quinoa," it made mention of many health benefits described above. But it also focused on the relatively low cost of this plant food and its great adaptability to climate, allowing it to play a helpful role in food security worldwide. Even if food security is not a personal concern, however, it would be correct to think about quinoa as a very helpful and potentially stabilizing factor in your meal plan that can provide you with outstanding overall benefits.

Description

Many popular descriptions of quinoa describe it as a "pseudocereal." That's because grains are often referred to as "cereal grains" and cereal grains all belong to the grass family of plants (Poaceae/Gramineae). At WHFoods, we include quinoa as one of our 8 grains, even though it is not a member of the grass family like wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, and millet. (We include one other non-grass among our 8 grains, and that is buckwheat.) Our reason for including quinoa among our grains is simple: the seeds of this plant are widely used and enjoyed in the same way as true cereal grains. Not only is quinoa often substituted for rice or used it in a side dish in much the same way as wheat is used in couscous; it is also often ground into flour and used to make noodles and baked goods. In fact, like malted barley and other grains, quinoa is used in some parts of the world for the brewing of beer.

The part of the quinoa plant that you will find in your local grocery is its seed. In fact, use of the word "quinoa" is so common that many people do not even stop to think about the fact that the very small, roundish, bits they are seeing before them are actually plant seeds. Similarly, it is possible to have enjoyed quinoa for a long period of time without ever having set eyes on the quinoa plant itself. The flowers of these gorgeous plants are startling beautiful in color, and the leaves are reminiscent of many different types of salad greens. Not only are quinoa leaves edible - they are used in many cuisines in much the same way as spinach, which belongs to the same plant family as quinoa (the Amaranthaceae family). Along with quinoa and spinach, this plant family also includes beets and Swiss chard. It's worth noting here that quinoa was originally classified within the Chenopodiaceae or goosefoot family of plants, but this entire family was eventually subsumed within the Amaranthaceae.

Quinoa varieties are typically defined in terms of color. These varieties include white, yellow, red and black, although the exact shades can vary and are often softer than these names sometimes imply. White quinoa (sometimes called ivory quinoa) is the most common variety in U.S. supermarkets and is the mildest in taste and the least crunchy after being cooked. It also tends to cook a bit faster than the other color varieties. Red and black quinoa varieties are usually described as stronger and more earthy in flavor, but we think of all quinoa varieties as having a somewhat nut-like taste and delicate as opposed to harsh. Because of their unique betaxanthin and betacyanin combinations, quinoa varieties of all colors deserve a place in healthy meal plans.

One final note in this description section about pronunciation of the word "quinoa": the most often used version here is "KEEN-wah." The word "quinoa" originated in one of the native languages (Quechua) spoken by people in the Andes Mountains region along the Western coast of South America. The word for quinoa in Quechua was "kinuwa."

History

Quinoa has a rich, wonderful, and long history in the cuisines of South America, and its basic genetic types can still be divided up according to basic geographical regions on this continent. Included here are the sea level regions of Chile; the highland regions of Peru and Bolivia; and the Inter-Andean valleys in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. Quinoa thrived in the arid and semi-arid regions provided by parts of the Andes Mountains, and while it grew wild in those regions, it was cultivated as early as 5000-3000 B.C. and has remained a staple part of "Andean" cuisines from that time all the way up until today. In fact, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (in that order) remain the top quinoa producing countries in the world, with a combined production of nearly 250,000 metric tons each year.

Within the U.S., one special spot - the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Rockies - has seen successful large-scale production of quinoa beginning in the 1980's. Since that time, U.S. commercial production of quinoa has grown to include acreage in both Southern and Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Still, quinoa imports from South America presently account for most of the quinoa that is enjoyed within the U.S.

How to Select and Store

Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the quinoa are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing quinoa in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture. When deciding upon the amount to purchase, remember that quinoa expands during the cooking process to several times (usually triple) its original size. You are very likely to find quinoa in your local supermarket, but if you don't, check for it at a grocery that includes a natural foods section, because it's usually on the shelf.

White quinoa is most common type that you will find in most stores, although red and black quinoa are becoming more widely available. We have even seen tri-color mixtures of quinoa being sold in both pre-packaged form and in bulk bins.

Store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep for a longer period of time, approximately three to six months, if stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Safety

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Quinoa, cooked
0.75 cup
185.00 grams
Calories: 222
GI: low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese1.17 mg514.1very good
phosphorus281.20 mg403.3good
copper0.36 mg403.2good
magnesium118.40 mg282.3good
folate77.70 mcg191.6good
fiber5.18 g191.5good
zinc2.02 mg181.5good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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