Often mistaken as a gluten-free grain, quinoa is actually a highly nutritious vegetable seed rather than a grain. Quinoa is a vegetable related to beets and spinach that delivers a very rare vegetable-sourced complete protein with all 9 essential amino acids. (1)
We think of rice and beans being a complete protein because only when eaten together do they deliver all 9 essential amino acids. Most grains lack the amino acids lysine and isoleucine, and require to be eaten with a legume to become “complete.” Quinoa, which has been a staple in South America for 4000 years, is a low-fat, high-fiber, super high-protein, low-glycemic index, vitamin-, mineral-, and nutrient-packed seed. (2-4)
Even though quinoa is technically not a grain, it has been called “chisaya mama,” or “the mother of all grains.” It is considered sacred perhaps because it thrives during a long hot summer and, during drought conditions when other plants weaken, the quinoa harvest doubles. (1) As nature always answers the call, this high-protein food is harvested just before the cold winter months when more protein and fats are needed. (1)
While still considered a low-fat protein source, quinoa is much higher in fat than wheat and other grasses. It has a significant amount of oleic acid, which is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil and has some (ALA) alpha-linolenic acid, which is a heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid. Surprisingly, these good fats stay stable or do not become oxidized from cooking, which happens with most other fats. (5)
Researchers believe that this is due to the high levels of antioxidants found in quinoa. It is high in the alpha, beta and gamma forms of vitamin E, polyphenols, and flavonoids like quercetin that lengthen its shelf life while protecting the seed from rancidity when heated. (5)
In addition to being a high-protein grain alternative, perhaps quinoa’s most current claim to fame is its effect on blood sugar. (6) As a low-glycemic food, it exerts little blood sugar stress on the body, but its high fiber content helps to slow the absorption of other sugars from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. (7) In one study, it outperformed 10 other Peruvian grains for its effects on weight and blood sugar. (6)
Interestingly, even though quinoa maintained healthy low blood sugar levels, it provided more satisfaction, satiety and fullness after the meal compared to wheat or rice, according to the Satiating Efficiency Index (SEI). (8) It also has a very high magnesium content that supports healthy blood sugar (9) and healthy blood pressure levels. (9)
As a natural antioxidant, anti-inflammation food that is just loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, heart-healthy fats, and a vegetarian “complete protein,” quinoa must be considered as a staple in the diet this fall and winter, as the need for healthy high-protein foods goes up.
Quinoa Cooking Instructions
- Do your best to wash away the skin of the quinoa seed as it is a bit bitter. Use a fine strainer.
- Add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of quinoa and bring to a boil.
- Then cover it, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Then, strain the cooked quinoa again through the fine strainer (quinoa holds a lot of water).
- Return the strained quinoa to a warm pot and sit without heat for 15 more minutes. This ensures that you get fluffy and light quinoa, rather than wet, clumpy quinoa.