Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a small, round seed that people in South America have been eating for thousands of years. Today, this food has become a staple in the United States and other Western countries.
And there’s a reason quinoa has caught on: It’s packed with health benefits. Registered Dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD, explains why quinoa deserves a place on your plate.
Is quinoa good for you?
Quinoa is a nutrient-dense food, which means you get high amounts of vitamins and minerals gram for gram. Conversely, foods considered low in nutrients, such as fried foods or processed snack foods, tend to be high in calories without much nutritional value.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains:
- 222 calories.
- 8 grams of protein.
- 5.2 grams of fiber, 20% of the recommended daily value.
Quinoa is also a good source of:
Health benefits of quinoa
The many nutrients in quinoa can improve your health. Including it as part of an overall healthy diet can:
1. Improve your digestive health
Most Americans don’t get the recommended amount of dietary fiber, which keeps digestion running smoothly. Luckily, quinoa is a tasty way to boost your fiber intake. More fiber in your diet can help reduce constipation and bloating.
On average, adults should get 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day, says Czerwony. Using quinoa in place of lower fiber choices like white rice or processed cereals could help you have a healthier gut.
2. Reduce the risk of colon cancer
The benefits of fiber go beyond better bathroom habits. A high-fiber diet also reduces the risk of colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in US adults.
Research shows that people who eat the highest amount of fiber have a lower risk of colon cancer, notes Czerwony. Fiber moves food waste through the colon more quickly. Hence, harmful substances that could cause damage to cells do not have a chance to take root.
3. Help control your hunger
It’s hard to lose weight when you’re always hungry. But foods high in protein and fiber take longer to digest, so you feel fuller, longer. And quinoa is not only high in fiber, but it’s also a complete protein.
A complete protein is a food that contains all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and you need them for everything from building muscle to maintaining a healthy immune system. Your body makes some amino acids, but you need to get the essential nine from your diet.
Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, shares Czerwony. The most complete protein is meat, so eating quinoa helps you get your protein without the possible health risks of meat. It is a great protein option for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores as well.
4. Reduce the risk of diabetes
Quinoa is a good source of magnesium, an important mineral that many people don’t get enough of. And people with higher amounts of magnesium in their diets may have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
But quinoa may have even more power against diabetes. One study found that eating more quinoa helped reduce the risk of diabetes in older people who had prediabetes. Eating quinoa in combination with fruits, vegetables and other whole grains can help prevent diabetes and other metabolic conditions, says Czerwony.
How to eat quinoa
Quinoa is gluten-free, making it a safe choice if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. It comes in several colors, including white, red, and black, all of which have a slightly different flavor profile. White quinoa has a milder flavor than red or black quinoa, so start with white quinoa if you’re not used to its nutty flavor.
Like other grains, you cook quinoa before eating it. Boil one part quinoa to two parts water, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes until the quinoa has absorbed all the water. This method will create a fluffy, soft quinoa. The versatile, nutty flavor pairs well with sweet or savory dishes, says Czerwony. Most people eat quinoa as if it were a grain. You can use quinoa instead of oats, pasta or rice.
Ready to try quinoa in your kitchen? Get inspired by these tasty recipes:
Allergy and reactions to quinoa
Quinoa is packed with nutrients, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe for everyone. In rare cases, people may be allergic to saponin, a natural chemical found on the outer shell of quinoa. Seek immediate medical help if you experience quinoa allergy symptoms, which can include:
Some people are not allergic to saponin, but have difficulty digesting it. If you notice a minor digestive upset like bloating after eating quinoa, next time you soak it for 30 minutes and rinse it thoroughly before cooking. This removes most of the saponin, which could be easing your tummy.
Most people can safely eat quinoa as part of a balanced diet, reassures Czerwony. But listen to your body. Healthy foods are supposed to make you feel better, not worse. If you think you may have a food allergy or intolerance, let your doctor know.
A versatile and healthy cereal
Quinoa is full of beneficial nutrients and is a great alternative to white rice and white pasta. Add some quinoa to your diet in lieu of low-fiber processed carbohydrates to get more nutritional bang for your buck, suggests Czerwony.
Don’t you love the taste of plain quinoa? Try it in a favorite recipe or salad. Quinoa is versatile enough to work in place of most recipes that call for a grain, she adds. And it works well in salads because you can sprinkle it on foods you already know and love, and you won’t taste a huge difference.
And don’t write off quinoa if it’s not love at first bite. Our palates get used to the taste of processed white beans, so it can take some tweaking, says Czerwony. But stick with it and you may find that you eventually start to enjoy or even crave its hearty texture.
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