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Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is a hearty, protein-rich seed, considered by many to be a whole grain. A "whole grain" contains all of the original parts of the grain or seed, making it a healthier and more complete food than a refined or processed grain. Quinoa is in the same plant family with Swiss chard, spinach, and sugar beets.
Quinoa is gluten-free, and the flour is a good substitute for wheat flour. Mild and nutty flavored, quinoa can be enjoyed in many ways.
WHY IT IS GOOD FOR YOU
Quinoa is rich in protein. It has almost twice the amount of protein found in oats, as well as a bit more fiber and iron. Quinoa is a complete protein. This means that it contains all nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) that your body needs but cannot make on its own.
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You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones. Protein is also important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. Quinoa's high protein content makes it a good option in place of rice and other high-carbohydrate, low-protein grains, especially for people with diabetes.
Quinoa is also a good source of potassium, which you need for muscle and protein building, maintaining a regular heartbeat, and many other bodily functions. It offers many other vitamins and minerals as well.
Quinoa has several antioxidants, like those found in berries. Antioxidants help prevent cell damage. This is important for healing, as well as prevention of disease and aging.
If you have celiac disease, or follow a gluten-free diet, quinoa is a great option. It does not contain gluten.
Quinoa contains heart-healthy fats that can help boost your "good cholesterol." It is filling and packs a nutritious punch in a small amount.
HOW IT IS PREPARED
Quinoa can be cooked and eaten in many ways. You will need to simmer it in water like rice. Add 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water or stock and simmer until tender, for about 15 minutes.
To add quinoa to your diet:
- Add cooked quinoa to your salad, soups, or pasta dishes.
- Make it a side dish. Think of quinoa as your new rice. Combine cooked quinoa with herbs, beans, vegetables, and seasonings and serve with your meal. Add a healthy protein like chicken or fish if you choose.
- Use quinoa flour instead of wheat flour in your muffins, pancakes, cookies, or any time you bake.
When quinoa is finished cooking, you will see curly threads are around each grain. Make a big batch of cooked quinoa and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. It reheats well. Take it out for several meals as you need it.
WHERE TO FIND QUINOA
Most major grocery stores carry bags of quinoa in their rice section or in their natural or organic food sections. You can also purchase quinoa flour, pasta, and cereal products. Quinoa may also be purchased online or at any health food store.
There are over one hundred varieties of quinoa. But you will most likely see yellow/ivory, red, or black quinoa in stores.
Uncooked, you can store it in your pantry for several months. Use an airtight container or bag for storage.
There are many delicious recipes using quinoa. Here is one you can try.
(Yields 4 servings. Serving size: 1 tomato, ¾ cup (180 milliliters, mL) stuffing)
- 4 medium (2½ inches, or 6 centimeters) tomatoes, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon (tbsp), or 15 mL, olive oil
- 2 tbsp (30 mL) red onions, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup (240 mL) cooked mixed vegetables -- such as peppers, corn, carrots, or peas (leftover friendly)
- 1 cup (240 mL) quinoa, rinsed*
- 1 cup (240 mL) low-sodium chicken broth
- ½ ripe avocado, peeled and diced (see tip)
- ¼ teaspoon (1 mL) ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh parsley, rinsed, dried, and chopped (or 1 teaspoon, or 5 mL, dried)
- Preheat oven to 350ºF (176.6ºC).
- Cut off the tops of the tomatoes and hollow out the insides. (The pulp can be saved for use in tomato soup or sauce, or salsa.) Set tomatoes aside.
- Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, and cook until they begin to soften, for about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add cooked vegetables, and heat through, about another 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add quinoa, and cook gently until it smells good, about 2 minutes.
- Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover the pan. Cook until the quinoa has absorbed all of the liquid and is fully cooked, about 7 to 10 minutes.
- When the quinoa is cooked, remove the lid and gently fluff quinoa with a fork. Gently mix in the avocado, pepper, and parsley.
- Carefully stuff about ¾ cup (180 mL) of quinoa into each tomato.
- Place tomatoes on a baking sheet, and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until tomatoes are hot throughout (tomatoes may be stuffed in advance and baked later).
- Serve immediately.
- Calories: 299
- Total fat: 10 g
- Saturated fat: 1 g
- Sodium: 64 mg
- Total fiber: 8 g
- Protein: 10 g
- Carbohydrates: 46 g
Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Deliciously healthy family meals. healthyeating.nhlbi.nih.gov/pdfs/KTB_Family_Cookbook_2010.pdf
Troncone R, Auricchio S. Celia disease. In: Wyllie R, Hyams JS, Kay M, eds. Pediatric Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 34.
van der Kamp JW, Poutanen K, Seal CJ, Richardson DP. The HEALTHGRAIN definition of 'whole grain'. Food Nutr Res. 2014;58. PMID: 24505218 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24505218/.
Zevallos VF, Herencia LI, Chang F, Donnelly S, Ellis HJ, Ciclitira PJ. Gastrointestinal effects of eating quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) in celiac patients. Am J Gastroenterol. 2014;109(2):270-278. PMID: 24445568 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24445568/.
Review Date: 5/26/2020
Reviewed By: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.