Is quinoa any good?
We get asked this question a lot among the uninitiated, and that’s fair. It has not been until recent years this ancient grain became a household word.
But remember that grouping — “ancient grain” — because quinoa is nothing new, and it has provided extraordinary nutritional value to mankind for centuries.
The answer to one of these questions — taste — depends on how you cook it, which we will be discussing in detail over the next few paragraphs.
The answer to the second — good for you — is a resounding yes no matter how you cook it.
With that said, let’s get into the particulars.
First Off, How You Pronounce Quinoa, and Other Basics
Quinoa is pronounced “keen-wah.”
It is considered a “grain,” and often referred to as a “pseudo cereal” because it produces seeds or fruits that are then used in the same manner as grains.
In quinoa’s case, it is packed with protein and contains nine essential amino acids. It is also one of the best sources for lysine, which helps facilitate the healthy growth of body tissue. Additionally, quinoa contains magnesium, iron, potassium, vitamin E, and fiber.
We will get into what all that means in a moment, but for now, let’s talk about how it compares to some other similar (looking) foods.
Quinoa and the ‘Competition’
There are two primary “competitors” to which quinoa is often compared, and we are going to take a moment now to examine each one. First up:
Couscous is considered a staple food in North Africa, particularly the countries of Sicily, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.
According to New York Times health writer Martha Rose Shulman, it “is meant to be served with brothy stews, which makes it a great vehicle for all sorts of seasonal vegetables and beans.”
“Unlike pasta, couscous should never be boiled (pay no attention to the instructions on most boxes), just reconstituted and steamed,” Shulman writes.
That said, couscous is similar to pasta in its composition, but it may not appear that way right off. That is because couscous, like pasta, is a semolina, but one that has been finely ground to attain the shape of a grain.
Nutritional value-wise, couscous is a simple carb not unlike white pasta. It packs little of the protein or carbohydrate power of quinoa.
However, one cup is slightly lower in calories.
Rice, like quinoa, is a versatile dish. The two primary forms are brown and white, and calories tend to run lower than quinoa again.
The typical cup of rice, untouched by oils or other cooking additives, runs about 205 calories compared to 220 for quinoa.
However, that 205 calories gets you about one-half the protein and one-fifth the fiber, making it a weaker choice when it comes to nutritional value.
If you can’t stand the tasteless quality of white or brown rice like some of us, then you are probably going to have to do some pretty unhealthy things to it to make it edible, thus further diminishing its effort to best quinoa.
While both couscous and quinoa can be easier to prep, the choice is pretty clear when you’re wanting to eat healthier.
Nutritional Value of Quinoa
Before moving onto the next section — the actual benefits you will get from eating more quinoa — let’s give the final nutritional breakdown.
One cup of this ancient grain has the following:
- 220 calories
- 5 grams of dietary fiber
- Over 8 grams of protein
- 18 amino acids, including all of the essentials, in the following amounts:
- Lysine: 442 mg
- Isoleucine: 290 mg
- Tryptophan: 96.2 mg
- Threonine: 242 mg
- Leucine: 483 mg
- Methionine: 178 mg
- Cystine: 117 mg
- Phenylalanine: 342 mg
- Tyrosine: 154 mg
- Valine: 342 mg
- Arginine: 629 mg
- Histidine: 235 mg
- Alanine: 339 mg
- Aspartic acid: 653 mg
- Glutamic acid: 1,073 mg
- Glycine: 400 mg
- Proline: 444 mg
- Serine: 326 mg
Now, the 10 Quinoa Benefits
If you’ve gotten this far into your Internet search, then you already know quinoa is becoming a food favorite for good reason. But you may not know the full extent to which it registers.
To understand the full extent it can improve your life, let’s look at the 10 major benefits and the underlying components of each one.
1. Build Muscle
As mentioned earlier, quinoa is a protein-rich food, packing over 8 grams into a single cup. More importantly, the amino acids so important to muscle building and repair are all present.
Additionally, quinoa contains sufficient amounts of iron, which promotes the growth and function of healthy red blood cells.
The iron also contributes to better muscle contraction. That means eating more quinoa will help you when it comes time to sling the iron.
And we’re going to call out one amino acid in particular at this point — lysine — because it promotes healthy tissue growth and repair.
Put all of that together, and you have a food that supports gym time as well as repair time. If made a regular part of your diet and combined with other healthy proteins and fibers, as well as a regular workout routine, you’ll build bigger, stronger muscles.
The fiber content of a cup of quinoa can vary depending on the type, but what it boils down to is this: over 5 grams in dietary. That’s a minimum of twice all other grains.
When you consume appropriate amounts of fiber — most Americans don’t, unfortunately — you enjoy better digestion.
Now, just how much fiber should you eat in a day?
The American diet runs at about 15 grams, which is way too low.
A lot of doctors and nutritionists will recommend at least double that amount with 38 grams per day being “ideal.”
In our experience, 34-36 grams is plenty to see the digestive benefits without it resulting in bloating and frequent trips to the bathroom.
That’s not a recommendation, by the way. Just a personal observation. Your body chemistry will likely be different, thus requiring you to consume a little more or a little less based on how it makes you feel.
3. Good Heart Health
Continuing with the fiber thread, quinoa’s higher content is important to the function and longevity of your heart.
See, fiber doesn’t just regulate digestion. It also pulls out a lot of the bad cholesterol that can build up in your arteries.
That’s because it is a soluble fiber, which has been known to reduce both “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and overall counts.
Additionally, studies have shown that when individuals consume a high-fiber diet, they experience drops in blood and pulse pressure.
Also, an ancillary benefit is that soluble fibers can protect against strokes and diabetes, which often are tied to heart disease.
4. Lessens Headaches
More than 37 million Americans suffer from recurring migraines. That’s more than 10 percent of the current population.
While that doesn’t take into consideration worldwide numbers, if you extrapolate for the 7 billion walking Planet Earth, the number grows to over 809 million.
Some will have problems no matter what, but others could benefit from bringing more quinoa into their diets. That’s because the grain has something called magnesium.
What does magnesium do, exactly?
Well, it relaxes the blood vessels allowing for easier blood flow throughout the body. As a result, diets that are high in magnesium have been tied to reduction of Type 2 Diabetes.
That’s because of the healthier blood sugar control promotion. As a result, consumers of magnesium also may experience a more regulated body temperature as well.
5. Boosts Energy Levels
Once magnesium enters the bloodstream and improves quality of life there, it’s only a matter of time before other benefits follow suit.
Thanks to the high magnesium content of quinoa — 197 mg per 100 grams — a person who regularly consumes the grain will experience higher energy levels.
This energy is so beneficial in multiple aspects of life. From mental tasks to physical workouts, the results will accumulate.
6. Healthy Bone and Teeth Formation
One other factor dependent on magnesium is the effects it can have on your teeth and bones.
As Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, notes, magnesium is “crucial” for bones.
“Magnesium stimulates the hormone calcitonin, which helps to preserve bone structure by drawing calcium out of the blood and soft tissues back into the bones,” Dean says.
She continued: “This action helps lower the likelihood of osteoporosis, some forms of arthritis, heart attack, and kidney stones. So, if you’re taking lots of calcium and not much magnesium, you are susceptible to these conditions.”
7. Cancer Deterrent
No one can tell you beyond any certainty that eating quinoa is going to keep you from getting cancer, and any publication that does is guilty of overselling the benefits.
However, there is reason to think it can’t hurt and might even help stave off the deadly disease.
That’s because of how it can help in the fight against free radicals.
As Jessie Szalay of LiveScience notes, “The body is under constant attack from oxidative stress. Oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons.
Electrons like to be in pairs, so these atoms, called free radicals, scavenge the body to seek out other electrons so they can become a pair. This causes damage to cells, proteins and DNA.”
Quinoa contains something called manganese, which acts as an antioxidant. Studies are still somewhat inconclusive, but there is promising evidence that antioxidants are effective in the fight against free radicals.
That said, it stands to reason that if you are eliminating more of what might cause cancer, you may have less of a risk of getting it.
8. Weight Loss
Metabolism is what keeps a student athlete from gaining weight in spite of being able to eat a whole pizza in one sitting.
It’s also why we can’t seem to keep the weight off once those more active periods of life are over.
As we age, metabolism needs extra help in order to stay charged, and most people just don’t put in the extra work or eat the right foods to get them there.
Quinoa is definitely one of the right foods because it contains riboflavin, which also is known as vitamin B2.
All the foods you eat — fats, carbs, proteins — contain energy that needs to be released. B2 helps with that, thus giving you the energy to lead an active lifestyle.
And if you’re serious about weight loss, you will be as active as possible. Consuming more quinoa helps get you there.
9. Healthy Brain Activity
Now we get into combining some of quinoa’s greatest hits — magnesium and riboflavin, namely — to examine how the food can have a positive effect on brain activity.
As Julie Wilcox writes in Forbes, the brain benefits of quinoa are that its magnesium helps to facilitate transmission of nerve impulses.
BrainHQ adds that it “has been demonstrated to reduce inflammation-related brain injury and lessen the brain’s likelihood of hemorrhage.”
Combine that with how the riboflavin metabolizes for brain function, and eating this super-grain can help you in your daily thought processes.
By making it a bigger part of your diet, you could end up improving your time management and organizational skills as well as memory functions.
10. Healthy Skin Elasticity
We’ve put this one way down on the list of benefits, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less important.
Okay, it is a bit less important than healthy heart and brain functions, but not if you’re a high school student heading to prom.
The skin benefits of quinoa are largely attributed to its large quantity of riboflavin. Among many symptoms of riboflavin deficiencies, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are skin disorders such as acne.
Men 14 years or older should have about 1.3 mg of riboflavin per day. For women, it’s around 1.0-1.1 mg. Quinoa contains 0.11 mg per 100 grams.
There are approximately 185 grams in a cup of cooked quinoa, so you’re probably not going to get all the recommended dosage through this method, but every little bit helps.
Now that we’ve covered all the benefits (at least the obvious ones), it’s time to move along to some of the different uses and troubleshooting around preparation of quinoa, shall we?
Is Quinoa Good for the Ketogenic Diet?
Before we can answer this question, an explanation is necessary.
The Ketogenic Diet has caught on in recent years as a “low-carb” diet. It also runs from “high” to “adequate” in the protein department.
If you ask any faithful practitioner of Keto how many carbs they should have in a day, they will probably say something along the lines of 20-30 grams.
But do remember, they are speaking of net carbs when they say that, or the amount of carbs minus fiber.
If you consume 30-40 grams of fiber each day, then you would be eating anywhere from 50-70 grams of carbohydrates on Keto.
Most will tell you not to exceed 50 total grams of carbs each day on average, so that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room on the non-fiber side.
If you consume one-half cup of cooked quinoa, that will result in total carbs of 20 grams, 17 net.
In other words, yes, you can have it, but no, it isn’t necessarily good for Keto.
Manageable yes, but not good.
That said, the main use of Keto is to treat hard-to-control epilepsy in children.
Some in the fitness community swear by it as a means of forcing the body to burn fats, but it’s questionable that this method of dieting is a) sustainable, and b) a net positive for overall health.
While you may see some positive benefit on Keto, you have to stick with it if you plan to continue those benefits.
In other words, it must become your new way of life. Getting off the Keto Diet often results in rapid weight gain.
How Much Should You Eat Per Day?
Quinoa, like any food, has its limits.
If you eat more of it than you burn off, you’ll gain weight. If you maintain healthy activity levels — easier to do thanks to quinoa’s energy-boosting benefits — you should be fine.
A registered dietician/weight-loss coach and assistant department head of nutrition at Lifetime Fitness in Mason, Ohio, the recommended dosage per day is anywhere from 1/2-cup to one cup per meal.
That would amount to 330-660 calories of quinoa per day, or 12-24 grams of protein and 7.5-15 grams of fiber per day.
If you are trying to do Keto, you probably won’t want to exceed one-half cup per day.
What Kinds of Quinoa Are There, and How Are They Different?
Quinoa comes in three different “types,” and yes, there are some differences.
The most popular form of quinoa is called either white quinoa or gold quinoa. We prefer gold because it more closely resembles this color.
People prefer this for its creamy, fluffy qualities. It tastes better and cooks faster than the other two in our opinion as well, with a 10- to 15-minute prep time.
Red quinoa usually takes the full 15 minutes to cook unlike its lighter colored cousin.
It’s slightly higher in fiber than gold/white variety, but it’s also higher in net carbs, so Keto folks are going to hate it.
It’s also chewier, which, while a matter of preference, isn’t what we’re looking for in quinoa’s taste since the pseudo cereal is often used as a healthier substitute for rice. (Substitute, right? You want some similarities!)
Beyond these subtle differences, red and gold/white are interchangeable nutritionally speaking.
When you hear the calorie counts of quinoa quoted as 220 — as we did earlier in this piece, admittedly — they’re talking about black quinoa.
The black form is actually about 50 calories more than the red and gold/white varieties, which hover around 170.
Other than that, black quinoa, often dubbed the “gold of the Incas,” has a lot of the same nutritional qualities. After all, it’s quinoa, through and through.
Cooking time is about the same as red quinoa, if not slightly longer. It also borders more on the chewy or crunchy side in taste.
Just Tasted Quinoa for the First Time: Why Is It So Bitter?
If you are curious as to why your first taste is so bitter — or perhaps second or third if you’re new to it and don’t eat it a lot — then you must first understand how to cook it.
What you probably failed to do is adequately rinse the quinoa before cooking.
Many prepackaged products come pre-rinsed, but it is never a bad idea to give it one last rinsing before you cook it.
This takes off the saponin, which is a naturally occurring chemical that accounts for that bitterness. It’s not only found on quinoa, but it’s also found on many other vegetables.
Once you’ve held your quinoa under the faucet for a bit, dump about one cup into two cups of salted water.
(The salt will add some extra flavor as this can be quite bland when left to its own devices.)
You will want to cook the quinoa on medium and slowly bring it to a boil before lowering back to simmer. We recommend letting it do so for another 15 minutes for best results. From there, it should be good to go.
Quinoa has come on strong in recent years as dietitians and doctors have learned more about its nutritional components and subsequent benefits.
As you can see here, there are many benefits to both body and mind, and while some on low-carb diets will warn against it, the overall profile has plenty to recommend it no matter where you are on the health spectrum.
The antioxidant qualities are especially exciting for the immune system, and you can add extra flavor to quinoa without damaging its nutritional qualities.
Now, what are some of your favorite quinoa recipes? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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