Quinoa (scientific name – chenopodium quinoa) is a grain that has been introduced into North America and Europe only in the latter half of the 20th century.

However, this ancient cereal has been cultivated in the Andes region for at least 7000 years. It forms the staple diet of the Inca people and the custom was that the Incan Emperor always sowed the first seeds of a new crop.

Quinoa grew in importance because the Andes region has very harsh, cold and difficult terrain, where most food grains do not flourish.

The only crops that survived here were maize and quinoa. The cultivation of quinoa reduced after the Spanish invasion of South America. The conquerors not knowing the benefits of quinoa introduced wheat and barley to these people.

Hence quinoa is now being cultivated only in select regions of Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador.

It is now grown in parts of the UK and USA and its popularity is growing all over the world as people begin to realize the health benefits of quinoa.

The quinoa plant grows to 1-3m I height and produces varied colored grains once a year. Common quinoa colors are pink, black, brown, red (also called Inca Red Quinoa), white, yellow and orange. Quinoa can be consumed as a whole grain or ground and used as flour or flakes.

Nutrients in Quinoa

As far as nutrients are concerned, uncooked quinoa (100g) contains:

  • Moisture content – 13g
  • Energy – 368 kcal
  • Protein – 14g
  • Fat – 6g
  • Carbohydrates – 64g
  • Dietary fiber – 7g
  • Calcium – 47mg
  • Iron – 4mg
  • Magnesium – 197mg
  • Phosphorous – 457mg
  • Potassium – 563mg
  • Sodium – 5mg
  • Zinc – 3mg

The vitamins found in quinoa are riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6, niacin, vitamin B12, folate, vitamins E and A. This data has been provided by the National Nutrient Database.

quinona benefits

11 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Quinoa

The health benefits of quinoa are many and some of them are:

1. Quinoa is tolerated by people with celiac disease

Celiac disease or gluten intolerance is the immune reaction that occurs in the body after consumption of gluten.

The immune cells start attacking the intestines which damage its inner lining and cause diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, anemia, and weight loss.

This reduces the absorption of nutrients by the intestines and makes the person weak and susceptible to infections and other diseases.

To prevent this reaction, these individuals have to avoid the consumption of foods which contain gluten like wheat, barley, malt, rye, semolina, etc.

Quinoa does not contain gluten and is an excellent alternative to such foods. Quinoa seeds and the flour of quinoa can be used to make a variety of dishes.

It has been considered safe for consumption by people with celiac disease.

Many food products like pancakes, pizza, and bread were prepared using quinoa flour and were found to be of excellent nutritive nature, texture, and taste for consumption by such people.

The American Journal of Gastroenterology reports a study where 19 celiac patients were given 50g quinoa daily for six weeks. It was found that quinoa is well tolerated by such people without any adverse effects.

What does this mean?
Quinoa is gluten-free and safe for consumption by people with celiac disease.

How to use?
Quinoa flour is an adequate substitute for wheat flour in which can be used to prepare cookies, bread, pancakes or any other dish.

2. Quinoa has a high nutritive value

Quinoa is a highly nutritious food. This pseudo-grain is richer in nutrients than its other traditional counterparts like wheat and rice.

It has balanced levels of proteins, fats, oils, antioxidants, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

It has been called a functional food, which means that not only it is rich in nutrients, but also that these nutrients are fully utilized and functional when consumed. This helps in the prevention of various diseases.

Quinoa contains a higher quality protein with all essential amino acids compared to commonly used cereals.

Also, the proteins in quinoa are easily digested by the body. Thus it is a great protein source for vegetarians and vegans.

It has been used to prepare infant food for undernourished children due to the presence of high amounts of protein, vitamin E, thiamine, iron, zinc and magnesium in it. This food helps in proper growth and nutrition of the children.

Being gluten-free, it is an even more useful alternative for gluten-intolerant people.

What does this mean?
Quinoa is a functional food and a store house of nutrients.

How to use?
Quinoa seeds or quinoa flour can be used to prepare several dishes like salads, soups, cereals, and even infant food.

3. Quinoa assists in bodybuilding

As stated earlier, quinoa is rich in many nutrients, precisely what is required to build muscles.

For bodybuilding, a high-protein diet combined with optimum amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals is needed.

Quinoa is a complete protein source which has all the entire essential amino acids required by the body from the diet.

These amino acids act as building blocks which help primarily in the formation of proteins and muscles.

One cup of cooked quinoa will provide you with about 8g protein, 39g carbs, 5g dietary fiber and healthy amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, and niacin.

While the protein, vitamins, and minerals will help in muscle formation, repair and protection; the carbohydrates will fuel the body and provide energy for exercises and workouts.

Quinoa seeds are also best for vegetarian bodybuilders as they provide an excellent source of plant-based protein with high protein quality.

What does this mean?
Quinoa is rich in protein and other nutrients which help in muscle formation, repair, and functioning. It is also suitable for vegetarian bodybuilders.

How to use?
Quinoa can be easily incorporated into the diet like salads, soups, and porridge. Quinoa flakes can be used in breakfast cereals.

(Read more Quinoa for Bodybuilding)

4. Quinoa helps in managing diabetes

Metabolic irregularities and imbalance of hormones like insulin are the primary cause of diabetes.

This causes dysregulation of glucose in the blood which is the primary source of energy production in the body.

The glucose obtained from food remains unutilized and gets excreted from the body as such, in spite of the blood having high levels of glucose.

Phytoecdysteroids present in Quinoa seeds has anti-diabetic properties. It helps in reducing blood glucose levels in cases of hyperglycemia (high blood glucose).

In addition to having sugar lowering abilities, quinoa seeds also help in regulation of lipid and proteins in the serum.

Due to these properties, they have been suggested as substitutes for other commonly used grains like wheat and rice which increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular ailments.

Thus, quinoa can be easily incorporated in the diet in place of other grains which will be beneficial in treating and preventing diabetes.

What does this mean?
Quinoa seeds regulate glucose and lipid levels and help in the management of diabetes.

How to use?
Quinoa can be added to soups, salads, cereals or substituted for rice in any dish.

(Read more Is Quinoa Good in Diabetes?)

5. Quinoa aids in the regulation of cholesterol levels

Cholesterol is required by the body to make hormones, vitamins and to maintain skin and hair health.

However, high levels of cholesterol in the blood is detrimental to health as it can get deposited as fats, block arteries and increase the risk of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disorders.

Quinoa seeds can help in the regulation of cholesterol levels and maintenance of favorable lipid profiles in the body.

They contribute to decreasing total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol while increasing HDL-cholesterol.

LDL-cholesterol is the main reason for high-cholesterol related ailments.

In a study published in The International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, quinoa flakes reduced the total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in postmenopausal women and assisted in regulating the metabolism.

Due to these properties, they were recommended as an option for other grains like wheat and rice to help in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Quinoa is itself cholesterol free and safe for consumption by persons having high-cholesterol.

Most people consume meat for their protein requirements, but it comes with animal fat which has very high cholesterol concentrations.

Quinoa can alternatively be used by these individuals to increase their protein intake without having a risk of increasing their cholesterol levels.

What does this mean?
Quinoa assists in maintaining optimum cholesterol levels which also promotes heart health.

How to use?
For persons with high cholesterol, eating quinoa seeds, flakes and flour can prove to be beneficial.

(Read more Can Quinoa Help in Cholesterol Problems?)

6. Quinoa helps in weight loss

Quinoa is very beneficial for weight loss in many ways.

The high fiber content in quinoa increases bulk in the intestines and makes you feel full.

In a study, it was found that compared to traditional grains like wheat and rice, quinoa helped in increasing satiety and limiting food intake.

High protein content helps in the utilization of more energy from the body to digest the proteins. The extra energy may be derived from stored carbs and fats.

The Journal of Medicinal Food reports a study which found that quinoa seeds extract was beneficial in reducing food intake, body weight, fat deposition and the levels of triglycerides.

Quinoa also helps in reducing adipose tissues (tissues where fats are deposited) and insulin resistance, thereby preventing the onset of obesity and related disorders.

By helping in improving lipid profile and glucose levels, it regulates metabolic activities in the body which increases the BMI.

What does this mean?
Due to its high protein and fiber content and its ability to reduce body fats, quinoa is an excellent food for weight loss and prevention of obesity.

How to use?
To promote weight loss, substitute quinoa for other grains like wheat and rice in recipes. Quinoa flour can be used instead of wheat flour, and quinoa seeds can be added to the rice.

(Read more Can Quinoa Promote Weight Loss?)

7. Quinoa helps in the prevention of digestive disorders

The digestive system is one of the most vital systems in our body which helps in the utilization of the food to fuel the body.

Some common digestive disorders include inflammatory diseases, diverticulitis, peptic ulcers, diarrhea, acid reflux, and hemorrhoids.

The health of the digestion system is affected by dietary choices. Some foods have a positive impact on digestion and help in various digestive processes.

Quinoa has high fiber content which helps in proper bowel movements. It also absorbs more water which helps in retaining water in the intestines. This aids the easy transition of soft and bulky stools.

Thus, quinoa helps in preventing constipation and related disorders like diverticulitis and hemorrhoids. It also reduces appetite by making you feel full and reduces overconsumption of food.

For people with gluten-intolerance, consumption of gluten can adversely affect the digestive system. Quinoa is a gluten-free grain can be easily used by such people to avoid digestive issues.

What does this mean?
Quinoa has a high fiber content which helps in maintaining good digestive health and preventing constipation.

How to use?
Regular consumption of quinoa in any form can be beneficial for digestion.

(Read more Quinoa for Digestive Disorders)

8. Quinoa may help in reducing inflammation

Inflammation causes many disorders in the body particularly muscles, digestive tract, and associated organs.

Quinoa seeds contain saponins which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.

They could help in reducing inflammation by inhibiting the many inflammatory cytokines (immune cells) which trigger the inflammatory process.

Thus saponins from quinoa could be used to treat or inflammation-related disorders.

What does this mean?
The anti-inflammatory properties of quinoa may be utilized for treatment of inflammatory disorders.

9. Quinoa helps in the modulation of the immune response

A healthy immune system is required by the body to prevent and fight infections and diseases.

It also helps in the repair of body cells and protects them from damage.

Polysaccharides from quinoa have been shown to have immune-modulating propensities.

It increases the growth and multiplication of macrophages which help in engulfing and killing any antigen or pathogen that comes into contact with it.

Thus they can be consumed to strengthen the immune system and assist in the protection and repair processes.

What does this mean?
Quinoa enhances proliferation of immune cells which are crucial for prevention of several diseases.

10. Quinoa has anti-cancer property

Quinoa has antioxidant properties due to which it helps in scavenging the toxic free radicals that cause cancer and damage the body cells.

This is due to the presence of β-carotene (vitamin A) and tocopherol (vitamin E) which have antioxidant nature.

Extracts from the leaves of quinoa are known to possess anticancer properties that may help in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

More research is required to utilize them as dietary supplements for this purpose.

Also, polysaccharides from quinoa seeds have shown to inhibit cancer in human liver cancer cells and breast cancer cells. They suppress cancer cell growth and assist in killing them.

Moreover, quinoa seeds have been proven to enhance the antioxidant activity of blood, heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, lung and testis.

This could help in the prevention of cancer in these areas, but further studies are required in this regard.

What does this mean?
Quinoa has a potential to treat various types of cancer due to its antioxidant properties.

11. Quinoa helps in preventing skin aging

Skin aging is influenced by several external and internal factors. It depends on what the skin is exposed to from the environment like pollution, sun rays, chemicals, etc.
It also depends on the diet and nutrition.

Matrix metalloproteinases are certain enzymes that regulate the extracellular matrix and facilitate skin aging.

In studies, some chemical compounds derived from quinoa seeds were known to these enzymes and reactive oxygen species which cause the skin to age.

Thus, they can be utilized to prevent and treat skin aging.

However, more research has to be done in this regard.

What does this mean?
Quinoa may be beneficial in maintaining skin health and preventing aging of the skin.

Quinoa Recipes

Here are some ways to cook the quinoa and avail of these health benefits.

How to cook Quinoa?

Quinoa is somewhat similar in taste and texture to the rice. It is also cooked just like rice.

Rinse and wash quinoa thoroughly with water. This will remove the residual saponins which may otherwise make your quinoa taste bitter.

For one part of quinoa, take two parts of water. For example, for one cup of quinoa, two cups of water will be sufficient.

Add quinoa and water to a pan and bring it to boil on high heat.

Then lower the flame and allow quinoa to simmer till all water is absorbed.

Cover with a lid and cook for five more minutes. This will help in making soft and fluffy quinoa.

Quinoa Porridge

Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cup milk/low-fat milk/soy milk/almond milk
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ Tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ Tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp chopped toasted almond
  • 2-3 tsp sugar/honey
  • 1 cup blueberries or strawberries
  • Two tsp lemon zest

Method

Add milk, water, quinoa, sugar, ground cinnamon and salt to a pan, stir and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the flame and simmer for 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed.

Top with chopped blueberries and almonds. Quinoa porridge is ready.

Quinoa vegetable salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups quinoa
  • One tsp oil
  • 1tbsp minced garlic
  • ½ cup diced onion
  • 2 ½ cups of water
  • Two tsp salt
  • ½ Tsp ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup diced tomato
  • ¾ cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup chopped capsicum
  • ½ cup cucumber
  • ½ cup corn kernels
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro/ coriander
  • One tsp chopped mint
  • Two tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Method

Wash the quinoa seeds thoroughly.

Pour oil into a saucepan. Cook and stir chopped garlic and ¼ cup onions for 5 minutes.

Add water, one Tsp salt, and ¼ Tsp black pepper and bring to boil. Put quinoa in the boiling water, lower the flame and allow quinoa to simmer until it is soft, for about 20 minutes.

Drain excess water and transfer quinoa to a mixing bowl.

Add carrots, tomato, cucumber, corn kernels, ¼ cup onion, cucumber, cilantro, and mint. Add one Tsp salt and ¼

Tsp black pepper. Pour olive oil and vinegar and mix gently. Quinoa vegetable salad is ready to eat.

(Read More Cooking Delicious Dishes with Quinoa)

Precautions to be taken while consuming Quinoa

Quinoa is safe for consumption and side effects after consuming quinoa are unlikely. However, for some people, precautions are necessary.

Due to its high fiber content, quinoa can cause stomach pain, cramps or digestion problems for individuals who are not used to eating a high fiber diet. Thus, begin by including quinoa in small amounts in the diet and gradually increase the content.

The covering of quinoa seeds contains saponins which are bitter and can be toxic. Commercially available seeds are refined, and these seed coatings are removed in the process. However, before cooking, it is recommended to wash the seeds thoroughly to remove any residual saponins.

Quinoa contains high levels of oxalic acid which can result in the formation of kidney stones in persons who are at a risk of developing calcium oxalate stones. Thus, quinoa should be avoided or consumed in small amounts by such persons.

Summary

We gain more health benefits of quinoa when we know how to select, store and cook it. Quinoa is available in bulk – which is cheaper – and prepackaged containers or bags.

Buy the quantity you need always knowing that quinoa doubles in size when cooking. When purchasing from bulk bins, make sure the bins have been covered and that the store has a good turnover. This will ensure freshness of the product. Check the grains carefully to make sure they are dry and free of moisture.

Red and white quinoa is the most commonly available, although these days you get black and multi-colored varieties too. Store quinoa in airtight containers. If kept refrigerated, quinoa will last for at least 6 months.

The simplest way to cook washed and soaked quinoa is to add one cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid, bring to a boil, reduce and simmer for 15 minutes. Once the liquid gets completely absorbed, you can fluff out the grains and add to any recipe. Roasting and then cooking quinoa gives it a delicious, nutty flavor.

There are many recipes available to cook quinoa grains and quinoa flour. Apart from simply boiling and garnishing quinoa, you can combine it with other grains, meats, fruits, and vegetables to make tasty meals. Try quinoa salad combining it with your choice of vegetables, fruits, and seasoning.

Served chilled, it can be a great side dish for a heavier meat dish. Quinoa can also be used to make soups, casseroles, cookies etc. So, try new recipes and enjoy tasty and nutritious meals using quinoa and enjoy various health benefits.

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