Most people would argue that the most remarkable thing about quinoa is the fact that people actually want to eat it, rather than its health benefits. However, while it’s true that the unassuming seed has captured the fancy of everyone from vegans to people who can only eat greens with their burgers, what this superfood has to offer by way of nutrition is pretty amazing.
There are 120 species and 1,800 varieties of quinoa, all of which are naturally nutritionally-dense. While we usually see the red and white varieties, they can come in black, purple, pink, yellow, gray, orange, green or yellow. These colorful seeds are usually cooked like rice, and the result is a fluffy dish with a slightly nutty flavor.
So without further ado, here are 12 reasons why you should add quinoa to your diet.
1. A long, nourishing history
Quinoa isn’t a newly discovered food; in fact, it’s been around for at least four thousand years. Discovered around the time of the ancient Incan civilization, its name means “mother grain”, and it has been found at archaeological digs in tombs of Tarapacá, Calama and Arica in Chile, and in different regions of Peru.
Today, quinoa remains a staple of the Andean people, and is finding its way into more modern kitchens around the world. It is so popular, in fact, that 2013 was officially declared the “International year of quinoa”.
2. Superfood extraordinaire
It is little wonder that the health food community has fallen in love with the Andean import. Easy to prepare and loaded with health benefits, few other foods even come close to providing as much nutrition as a single serving of the pseudo-grain.
In 2009, an article in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture expounded on the benefits of consuming quinoa. It cited the seed’s "unusual composition and exceptional balance" of nutritional elements, as well as commented upon the sheer number of nutrients it contained. An excellent source of fiber and protein, quinoa also provides iron, vitamin B6, lysine, antioxidants, fatty acids, thiamin, folate, phosphorus, manganese, folate, and magnesium.
3. Complete protein
Despite being plant-based, quinoa contains a surprising amount of protein. A single serving of 100 grams gives you 8 grams of it. What’s more, it’s a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that your body needs.
4. Naturally gluten-free
For people with gluten sensitivity, quinoa is a godsend. With the texture of grain, but none of the gluten, it’s the substitute of choice for many gluten-free recipes.
5. Rice substitute
Gram for gram, quinoa is better for your body than red rice. This is good news for many people seeking an alternative to white rice. Quinoa gives you the feeling of fullness, without all of the sugar and carbs.
Even for a grain, quinoa’s fiber content is exceptional. Each serving of 100 grams will give you around 8-16 grams of fiber. With almost twice as much fiber as other grains, quinoa aids in regulating your glucose levels, and can lower your risk of heart disease by relieving high blood pressure and hypertension.
7. Dual flavonoids
Quinoa contains large amounts of two important flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol. Both are potent antioxidants. Most notably, they have anti-inflammatory effects, have been known to be mild anti-depressants, and are even credited with potentially keeping cancer at bay.
8. Iron content
Iron is important in the functioning of our circulatory system. It keeps the red blood cells in our body healthy and full of hemoglobin, the substance that carries oxygen to all our cells. It is also a component of healthy skin, hair, and nail cells.
9. Lower glycemic index
Foods with a lower glycemic index can help keep you feeling fuller, longer. It also keeps your cravings for sugar at a minimum. However, it must be noted that quinoa still has carbohydrates, so it may still not be the best grain substitute for people just seeking to cut out carbs.
10. Carries healthy fats
Quinoa has loads of heart-healthy fats such as oleic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These fats are linked to lowered risk of heart disease and hypertension, as well as improved neural health that leads to better memory, improved moods, and a prevention of neural degeneration caused by dementia or Alzheimer’s.
content One of the amino acids that quinoa contains is lysine, an essential nutrient that our bodies need but cannot produce. A building block protein, it is vital for tissue growth and repair. It also aids in the absorption of calcium, preventing bone loss and osteoporosis.
12. Mineral content
A single serving of quinoa has roughly 20-30% of the recommended daily allowance of magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc. These minerals are important for the formation of healthy bones and teeth. Potassium, in particular, helps regulate electrolytes in the body and helps maintain a healthy nervous system.
Overall, if there is one superfood that you have to at least consider adding to your diet, quinoa is it. Nutrient-packed and easy to consume, it is fits well into a diet that once consisted of a lot of wheat or rice as a healthy substitute for either.