Happy Wellness Wednesday! Today we’re going to continue our series on using food as medicine. There really are so many healthy, beneficial foods out there, and I’m so excited to be sharing them with you. Today we look at quinoa.
Quinoa has become a popular food over the past few years for a very good reason…it is SUPER nutritious. If you’ve heard of the term, “superfoods,” you’ve probably seen quinoa on the list. (Oh, and by the way, the word, “superfoods,” is a made up word created primarily for marketing reasons. There is no exact definition for the term.) Anyway, quinoa is a good source of protein, fiber, and numerous vitamins and minerals.
If you’ve tried quinoa before, there’s a good chance you consider it to be a grain. I know I did because I find it similar to rice. Quinoa, however, is actually a seed. For this reason, quinoa is a gluten-free food. It has a slightly nutty taste and can also be made into flour, flakes, and various products like pasta and bread. Regardless of the type of quinoa you like, here’s a list of some of the amazing health benefits you get from eating it.
Good Source of Protein
Protein is made up of smaller units called amino acids, and there are a total of 20 amino acids. Your body can make 11 of them, and you need to get the additional 9 from food. These 9 are referred to as “essential amino acids” because your body can’t produce them on its own. So, what does this have to do with quinoa? Quinoa is one of the only plant foods that supplies a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids in a healthy balance.
Quinoa may help to reduce the risk of dangerous inflammation in your body by promoting healthy gut bacteria. This is important in preventing obesity, inflammation, and disease. In addition to promoting healthy bacteria, quinoa also contains anti-inflammatory nutrients, including saponins. A study conducted at the Chinese Academy of Agriculture in 2014 showed that saponins in quinoa may be used as functional food components in preventing and treating inflammation. Moreover, flavonoids in quinoa are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
Quinoa has a high fiber content that has led to lower cholesterol levels. This works because fiber stimulates digestion, which requires bile acids. These bile acids are partly made with cholesterol, and as your digestion improves, the liver pulls cholesterol from the blood to create more bile acid. This, in turn, reduces the amount of LDL, the bad cholesterol, from your blood. Interestingly, a study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that rats that had consumed a high level of fructose and were then fed a quinoa diet decreased their LDL cholesterol by 57%.
Improves Heart Health
We just learned that quinoa can help to lower your LDL cholesterol, but it can help your heart in other ways too. Quinoa can provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fat through its oleic acid content as well as alpha-linolenic acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Most foods can lose their healthy fatty acids when prepared and oxidized, but quinoa’s nutrients hold up to boiling, steaming, and simmering. In addition, a study published in the Journal of Food Lipids reported that quinoa seeds contain many of the dietary flavonoids shown to inversely correlate with mortality from heart disease.
Reduces Risk of Diabetes and Hypertension
Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of consuming quinoa in regards to diabetes. One such study, mentioned above, published in 2010 in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that quinoa helped reduce blood sugar levels, total cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels in rats fed a high-fructose diet. And, another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food researched quinoa’s role in diabetes management and hypertension along with 10 traditional Peruvian grains and legumes. They found that quinoa was especially rich in an antioxidant called quercetin, and that quinoa had the highest overall antioxidant activity (86%) of all 10 foods studied.
Yes, that’s right…quinoa could actually help you live longer! This has to do with the fiber found in quinoa, as a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded that high dietary fiber intake may reduce the risk of total mortality. Two additional studies show this to be true by noting the positive results found between whole-grain consumption and death from chronic diseases such as cancer cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more.
Quinoa has so many wonderful health benefits. In fact, there are too many to list. We didn’t even get to the part about quinoa’s role in preventing anemia due to its high iron content, preventing osteoporosis due to the magnesium, and preventing kidney stones due to the potassium. The list just goes on and on.
How to Add Quinoa to YOUR Diet
As with all foods, I say get creative! Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Use it in place of rice in any recipe.
- Use it in place of oatmeal for breakfast.
- Serve it cold on a salad.
- Use it to thicken soups and stews.
- Try quinoa flour for gluten-free baking.
For a supercharged breakfast, try incorporating all 3 foods from our Food = Medicine series. Make a warm bowl of quinoa and top it with chopped apples and ginger. It’s delicious and a healthy way to start your day!
Stay happy, healthy, and N motion, AND REMEMBER…age is just a number!
Melissa Merkle and Kirt Lietzow own Boomers N Motion, an exercise and health coaching business focused on keeping baby boomers and older adults healthy into their golden years. For more information on group classes and private, in-home coaching, please contact Melissa and Kirt at coaches@boomersNmotion.com.