11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa
Quinoa isone of the world’s most popular health foods. Quinoa is gluten-free, high inprotein and one of the few plant foods that contain sufficient amounts of allnine essential amino acids.
It is also high in fiber, magnesium, B vitamins, iron,potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and various beneficial antioxidants. Hereare 11 health benefits of quinoa.
1. Very Nutritious
Quinoa is a grain cropthat is grown for its edible seeds. It’s pronounced KEEN-wah.
It technically isn’t a cereal grain, but a pseudo-cereal.In other words, it is basically a seed, which is prepared and eaten similarlyto a grain.
Quinoa was an important crop for the Inca Empire. Theyreferred to it as the “mother of all grains” and believed it to be sacred. Ithas been eaten for thousands of years in South America and only recently becamea trend food, even reaching superfood status.
These days, you can find quinoa and quinoa products allover the world, especially in health food stores and restaurants that emphasizenatural foods. There are three main types: white, red and black.
This is the nutrient content in 1 cup (185 grams) ofcooked quinoa (2):
- Protein: 8grams.
- Fiber: 5grams.
- Manganese: 58%of the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
- Magnesium: 30%of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 28%of the RDA.
- Folate: 19%of the RDA.
- Copper: 18%of the RDA.
- Iron: 15% ofthe RDA.
- Zinc: 13% ofthe RDA.
- Potassium 9%of the RDA.
Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6. Smallamounts of calcium, B3 (niacin) and vitamin E. This comes with a total of 222calories, with 39 grams of carbs and 4 grams of fat.It also contains a small amount of omega-3 fattyacids.
Quinoa is non-GMO, gluten-free and usually grownorganically. Even though technically not a cereal grain, it still counts as awhole-grain food. NASA scientists have been looking at it as a suitable crop tobe grown in outer space, mostly based on its high nutrient content, ease of useand simplicity of growing it.
The United Nations (UN) declared 2013 “The InternationalYear of Quinoa,” due to its high nutrient value and potential to contribute tofood security worldwide.
2. Contains the Plant Compounds Quercetin and Kaempferol
The health effects of real foods go beyond the vitaminsand minerals with which you may be familiar.
There are thousands of trace nutrients, some of which areextremely healthy.
This includes plant antioxidants called flavonoids, whichhave been shown to offer various health benefits.
Two flavonoids that have been particularly well studiedare quercetin and kaempferol, both found in high amounts in quinoa. In fact,the quercetin content of quinoa is even higher than in typical high-quercetinfoods like cranberries.
These important molecules have been shown to have anti-inflammatory,anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-depressant effects in animal studies.
By including quinoa in your diet, you will significantlyincrease your total intake of these (and other) important nutrients.
3. Very High in Fiber, Much Higher Than Most Grains
Another important benefit of quinoa is its highfiber content. One study that looked at 4 varieties of quinoa founda range of 10–16 grams of fiber per every 100 grams.
This equals 17–27 grams per cup, which is very high —more than twice as high as most grains. Boiled quinoa contains much less fiber,gram for gram because it absorbs so much water.
Unfortunately, most of the fiber is insoluble, whichdoesn’t appear to have the same health benefits as solublefiber.
That being said, the soluble fiber content in quinoa isstill quite decent, with about 2.5 grams per cup or 1.5 grams per 100 grams.
Numerous studies show that solublefiber can help reduce blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol,increase fullness and help with weight loss.
4. Gluten-Free and Perfect for People With GlutenIntolerance
According to a 2013 survey, about one-third of people inthe US are trying to minimize or avoid gluten.
A gluten-free diet can be healthy, as long as it’s basedon foods that are naturally gluten-free.
Problems arise when people eat gluten-free foods madewith refined starches.
These foods are no better than their gluten-containingcounterparts, as gluten-free junk food is still junk food.
Many researchers have been looking at quinoa as a suitableingredient in gluten-free diets for people whodon’t want to give up staples like bread and pasta.
Studies have shown that using quinoa instead of typicalgluten-free ingredients like refined tapioca, potato, corn and rice flour candramatically increase the nutrient and antioxidant value of your diet.
5. Very High in Protein, With All the Essential AminoAcids
Protein is made of amino acids, nine of which are calledessential, as your body cannot produce them and needs to obtain them throughyour diet.
If a food contains all nine essentialamino acids, it’s referred to as a complete protein.
The problem is that many plant foods are deficient incertain essential amino acids, such as lysine.
However, quinoa is an exception to this, because itcontains sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids.. For this reason,it’s an excellent source of protein. It has both more and better protein thanmost grains.
With 8 grams of quality protein per cup (185 grams),quinoa is an excellent plant-based protein source for vegetariansand vegans.
6. Has a Low Glycemic Index, Which is Good for Blood Sugar Control
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foodsraise your blood sugar levels.
Eating foods that are high on the glycemic index canstimulate hunger and contribute to obesity.
Such foods have also been linked to many of the common,chronic, Western diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Quinoa has aglycemic index of 53, which is considered low.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s stillfairly high in carbs. Therefore, it’s not a good choice if you’re followinga low-carb diet.
7. High in Important Minerals Like Iron and Magnesium
Many people don’t get enough of certain importantnutrients.
This is particularly true of some minerals,especially magnesium, potassium, zinc and (forwomen) iron.
Quinoa is very high in all 4 minerals, particularlymagnesium, with one cup (185 grams) providing about 30% of the RDA.
The problem is that it also contains a substancecalled phytic acid, which can bind theseminerals and reduce their absorption.
However, by soaking and/or sprouting the quinoa prior tocooking, you can reduce the phytic acid content and make these minerals morebioavailable.
Quinoa is also pretty high in oxalates,which reduce the absorption of calcium and can cause problems for certainindividuals with recurring kidney stones.
8. Has Beneficial Effects on Metabolic Health
Given its high beneficial nutrient content, it makessense that quinoa could improve metabolic health. To date, two studies, inhumans and rats respectively, examined the effects of quinoa on metabolichealth.
The human-based study found that using quinoa instead oftypical gluten-free breads and pastas significantly reduced blood sugar,insulin and triglyceride levels.
Research in rats showed that adding quinoa to a diet highin fructose almost completely inhibited the negativeeffects of fructose. However, more research is needed to fully understand theeffects of quinoa on metabolic health.
9. Very High in Antioxidants
Quinoa is very high in antioxidants, which are substancesthat neutralize free radicals and are believed to help fight aging and manydiseases.
One study, researching antioxidant levels in fivecereals, three pseudo-cereals and two legumes found that quinoa had the highestantioxidant content of all ten foods.
Allowing the seeds to sprout seems to increase theantioxidant content even further.
10. May Help You Lose Weight
In order to lose weight,you need to take in fewer calories than you burn.
Certain food properties can promote weight loss, eitherby boosting metabolism or reducing appetite. Interestingly, quinoa has severalsuch properties.
It’s high in protein, which canboth increase metabolism and reduceappetite significantly.
The high amount of fiber may increase feelings offullness, making you eat fewer calories overall.
The fact that quinoa has a low glycemic index is anotherimportant feature, as choosing such foods has been linked to reduced calorieintake.
Although there is currently no study that looks at theeffects of quinoa on body weight, it seems intuitive that it could be a usefulpart of a healthy weight loss diet.
11. Easy to Incorporate Into Your Diet
While not directly a health benefit, the fact that quinoais very easy to incorporate into your diet is nonetheless important.
It’s also tasty and goes well with many foods. Dependingon the type of quinoa, it can be important to rinse it with water prior tocooking to get rid of saponins, which are found on the outer layer and can havea bitter flavor.
However, some brands have already been rinsed, makingthis step unnecessary. You can buy quinoa in most health food stores and manysupermarkets (or order it at Just Fresh). It can be ready to eat in as littleas 15–20 minutes:
- Put 2 cups (240 ml) of water in a pot, turn upthe heat.
- Add 1 cup (170 grams) of raw quinoa, with a dashof salt.
- Boil for 15–20 minutes.
It should now have absorbed most of the water and gottena fluffy look. If done right, it should have a mild, nutty flavor and asatisfying crunch. You can easily find many healthy and diverse recipes forquinoa online, including breakfast bowls, lunches and dinners.
The Bottom Line
Rich in fiber, minerals, antioxidants and all nineessential amino acids, quinoa is one of the healthiest andmost nutritious foods on the planet.
It may improve your blood sugar and cholesterol levelsand even aid weight loss.
What’s more, it’s naturally gluten-free, delicious,versatile and incredibly easy to prepare.