Quinoa

Have you been hearing the term “healthy whole grain” lately? Or are you surrounded by people obsessed with cutting all of the carbohydrates out of their diets?

To eat carbs, or not to eat carbs … that is the question.

While eliminating all carbs may be a quick and easy way to cut calories in the short-term, I do not recommend it as a long-term strategy. Whole grains provide healthy fuel for your body and are an important source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. So go ahead and cut down on the cakes, crackers and biscuits. But be sure to include some healthy whole grains in your day!

The USDA recommends that women eat 5-6 servings of grains per day (6-8 for men) and recommends that at least half of your grains each day are whole grains. (1)

So, what exactly is a whole grain?

“Whole grains” are foods that contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm. This is in contrast to “refined grains,” which have been processed to remove the bran and germ. (2) I know, removing “germ” probably sounds like it should be a good thing. But it’s not! Let me tell you why: The germ is a rich source of B vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy fats.  And the bran also contains B vitamins in addition to antioxidants and fiber. All of that nutrition gets stripped away when the grains are milled and processed for refined grain products — such as white flour, white bread and white rice.

Wondering how to start adding whole grains? Well, look no further, quinoa is one of the healthiest whole grains out there!

Quinoa: modern-day superfood

Quinoa was considered a sacred crop by the ancient Incas and now it is a modern-day “superfood.”

Quinoa is one of the few plant foods available that is a complete protein (it contains all of the amino acids) and it has a very high protein to carbohydrate ratio compared to most other grains. This makes it a great staple for any plant-based diet. And, if you are gluten sensitive, not to worry: it is gluten free!

One half cup of cooked quinoa has: 111 calories, 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.
Compare that to ½ cup of white rice, which has: 121 calories, 2 grams of protein and 0 fiber. (3)

The nutrition benefits abound. Quinoa is high in fiber, B vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc and phytonutrients. It can help with cholesterol reduction and heart health, blood sugar control and reduced risk of diabetes, appetite control and weight management. (4,5,6,7)

Like many other ancient grains, quinoa was once obscure in the United States. But now it is easily found in many supermarkets and restaurants. While quinoa is technically not a grain (it is actually an edible seed) it is used in cooking like a whole grain. It is small, with a mildly nutty taste and it comes in a variety of colors, including ivory, red and black.  Quinoa is quick and easy to cook and it is delicious in pilafs, salads, soups and stir fries. Just be sure to rinse it first! Quinoa contains a bitter coating, called saponin. Saponin is a natural pesticide — great for fighting off pests while it is growing, but not so great-tasting.

 

Have some fun cooking with quinoa and try this delicious recipe from chef and dietitian Bryan Roof (found in Today’s Dietitian magazine):

Quinoa Tabbouleh
Serves 4

Ingredients

1 cup water
1/2 cup quinoa
2 cups baby arugula, chopped
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded on large holes of box grater (1 cup)
1/2 red onion, sliced thin (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, rehydrated in hot water for 10 minutes and chopped
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Directions

  1. Combine water and quinoa in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes. Transfer quinoa to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to cooled quinoa and toss to combine. Serve.

Nutrient Analysis per serving

Calories: 260; Total fat: 15 g; Sat fat: 2 g; Trans fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 650 mg; Total carbohydrate: 29 g; Dietary fiber: 6 g; Sugar: 9 g; Protein: 6 g

For more inspiration, check out these recipe links:

 

References

  1. Choose MyPlate: All about the grains group. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed March 23, 2017.
  2. Whole grains 101. Whole Grains Council. Accessed March 23, 2017.
  3. National nutrient database for standard reference. United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed March 23, 2017.
  4. Quinoa – March grain of the month. Whole Grains Council. Accessed March 23, 2017.
  5. Roof B. Quinoa – a grain of simplicity. Today’s Dietitian. 2013; 15(5): 66.
  6. 11 proven health benefits of quinoa. Authority Nutrition. Accessed March 23, 2017.
  7. Quinoa 101: Nutrition facts and health benefits. Authority Nutrition. Accessed March 23, 2017.
Jen Kim, RDN

About Jen Kim, RDN

Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). She completed her Bachelor's of Science degree at the University of Illinois, and holds a Master's Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from San Diego State University. Jennifer also has a Certification in Adult Weight Management. She has worked in hospitals as a Clinical Dietitian, done obesity research and worked as a Corporate Dietitian for a national weight loss company. Jennifer is passionate about helping people live healthier lives. She believes in a balanced approach to nutrition - where all foods can fit - centered around a natural, plant-based diet. Jen lives in San Diego with her husband and two boys - where she enjoys playing soccer and tennis, hiking, playing on the beach, playing board games and shooting pool.

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