Truth be told, I mispronounced quinoa for years as que-noah. This powerhouse of a grain is considered a ‘pseudocereal’ related to spinach and amaranth and deserves more respect. Its correct pronunciation is keen-wah and it’s worth getting to know its health benefits.
Quinoa originated in South America in the Andes region and was initially used to feed animals. Though most quinoa is grown in Bolivia and Peru, it’s cultivated all around the world. Quinoa became popular about 10 years ago as it's gluten-free, high in fiber, and is considered a complete protein. Similar to soy, quinoa contains all of the 9 essential amino acids that our bodies can’t produce.
As mentioned above, quinoa is gluten-free and a good source of dietary fiber, providing 5 grams per ½ cup cooked. This is 20% of the Daily Value! Individuals on gluten-free diets may have trouble obtaining enough fiber as several gluten-free products are rice, potato or corn-based.
Health benefits of quinoa
One important health benefit of quinoa is that it may aid in the reduction of cholesterol and fat accumulation in the liver. A study done on obese, diabetic mice found that mice consuming quinoa had reduced total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and fat accumulation in their lives similar to lean mice. Levels of interleukin 6 were also lower. Scientists believe fiber and phytochemicals in quinoa may be responsible for these health effects. More studies are needed. 1
A small, randomized control trial in humans consuming quinoa had similar results to the mice study. A dose-response randomized control trial was completed in 50 overweight and obese subjects over a 12-week period. The effect of 25 and 50 grams of daily quinoa was evaluated. Results showed improvements in nutrient consumption, body composition, total cholesterol, LDL, and HDL were not significantly changed with quinoa intake. However, triglycerides were lowered significantly in the 50-gram quinoa group. The prevalence of metabolic syndrome was also lowered by 70%. 2 Fifty grams of quinoa is equivalent to roughly 2 ounces of quinoa.
How to use quinoa
Quinoa is not just for salads or sides. There are multiple ways it can be enjoyed. It is so easy to cook. Simply follow package directions which usually call for 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups of water. It can be cooked on the stove, in a rice cooker, with an Instapot, or even in the microwave.
- Try quinoa at breakfast. Add your favorite dried fruit, chopped nuts, ground ginger, or cinnamon to cooked quinoa with a drizzle of honey.
- Use quinoa as the base of your favorite grain bowl. Top with beans or cooked chicken, sauteed vegetables, and chopped avocados or olives. Now you have a power bowl!
- Cook quinoa in beef, chicken, or vegetable broth to add more flavor.
- Use cooked quinoa in place of bread crumbs or crackers in meatloaf or meatballs.
- Add quinoa to chili and reduce the amount of meat used.
- Make veggie burgers with quinoa, chopped mushrooms, and lentils.
- Have quinoa as a side dish in place of rice or potatoes.
- Toast quinoa and add it to your yogurt instead of granola.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
1. Noratto GD, Murphy K, Chew BP. Quinoa intake reduces plasma and liver cholesterol, lessens obesity-associated inflammation, and helps to prevent hepatic steatosis in obese db/db mouse. Food Chem. 2019 Jul 30;287:107-114.
2. Navarro-Perez D, Radcliffe J, Tierney A, Jois M. Quinoa Seed Lowers Serum Triglycerides in Overweight and Obese Subjects: A Dose-Response Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Curr Dev Nutr. 2017 Aug 24;1(9)