06/05/2013 12:24 EDT | Updated 06/15/2015 10:59 EDT

Seven Reasons Quinoa is the New Health Food Superstar


Somehow, a superfood that only health advocates like me have known about for years is now common fare for a wave of twentysomethings eating at trendy coffee shops and delis.

Although there is no accounting for taste or trends, quinoa does have some powerful health benefits. It tastes great, it is high protein, and it is part of another major food trend of today: gluten free eating.

Although referred to as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed from a vegetable related to Swiss chard, spinach and beets. Quinoa is pronounced "keen-wah," not "kwin-oh-ah." Learn its benefits, ancient history, preparation tips and cautions.


7 Health Benefits of Quinoa

1. High in protein -- its protein balance is similar to milk and has more protein compared to rice, millet or wheat.

2. A good source of riboflavin -- riboflavin helps reduce the frequency attacks in migraine sufferers by improving the energy metabolism within the brain and muscle cells.

3. The saponins from quinoa are used to promote healing of skin injuries in South America, making it a good antiseptic.

4. It's alkaline-forming. Although it is not strongly alkaline-forming, it is comparable to wild rice, amaranth, and sprouted grains.

5. It only has 172 calories per ¼ cup dry quinoa.

6. Since it is not related to wheat or grain, it's gluten-free. Millions are discovering they feel better and lose weight when they reduce gluten grains or at least wheat products.

7. It is a complex carbohydrate with low glycemic index. This is again good for weight management. I use it in a number of my health Boot Camps.

Quinoa History

The Inca referred to quinoa as the "mother seed," and considered it to be sacred. They grew quinoa in South America in the high altitude of the Andes. It was also their staple food for 5,000 years.

The Spanish conquistadors, not knowing its value, almost wiped out quinoa by making it illegal for Native Indians to grow. In the 1980s, two Americans rediscovered quinoa and started growing it in Colorado.

Quinoa Caution

Quinoa is coated with toxic chemical called saponin. It is therefore important to rinse quinoa thoroughly. And moderation is key -- even with healthy superfoods -- so it shouldn't be eaten every day. A few times a week is enough. Although quinoa is not a commonly allergenic food and does not contain lots of purines, it does contain oxalates. This puts quinoa on the caution list for an oxalate-restricted diet.

Interesting Facts:

  • In South America they use the saponin removed from the quinoa as detergent for washing clothes.
  • The sticky, bitter, soapy film of saponins also keeps birds from eating the quinoa seeds off of the bushes. Scientists decided to create quinoa that didn't have saponins, and guess what? The birds ate it all.
  • More than 200,000 pounds are grown each year in the US Rocky Mountains.
  • Quinoa is the sweetest tasting when grown above 12,500 feet.

Tips for Eating and Cooking Quinoa:

  • Always rinse quinoa. Place quinoa in a strainer, run cold water over it until the entire soapy residue has been washed away. You can taste test a few seeds; if they still have a bitter taste, run more cold water over them. Rubbing the seeds while rinsing with water takes away even more bitterness.
  • You may add quinoa to your salad or make quinoa porridge. Also quinoa pudding is a great substitute for brown rice while quinoa flour is a great substitute for your gluten free baking.
  • Quinoa can even be popped like popcorn, a treat popular with Peruvian children.
  • It is best to store quinoa in an airtight container; stored in the refrigerator, it will keep for three to six months.

Recipes That You Will Enjoy:

Cooking Quinoa: How to cook quinoa the fast and easy way.

Deluxe Quinoa Pudding is easy to make and delicious.