What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a seed with a high nutritional value. Its scientific name is Chenopodium Quinoa and it is also known in some countries as quinua. It is a cereal that is grown in the Andes mountain range and its main producers are Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
The seeds that are consumed, come from an annual herbaceous plant that reaches 1 to 3 meters high, has broad leaves and a branched trunk with small flowers that lack petals.
It is a native plant of all the countries of the Andean region and it can be found in Chile, Colombia and in the north of Argentina, although they are not large-scale producing countries.
Currently, it can be found in around 70 countries, although all of them with a low production compared to the undisputed leaders of the sector that are Peru and Ecuador, since they concentrate 92% of world production.
Known as the “mother grain” of the Incan Empire, quinoa has been an indispensable food for more than 7.000 years within pre-Columbian cultures.
Quinoa has adapted to the high plains of the Andean Altiplano (>3,500 m above sea level), where it has developed tolerance to several abiotic stresses.
This superfood, has gained international attention because of the nutritional value of its seeds, which are gluten-free, have a low glycemic index, and contain an excellent balance of essential amino acids, fibre, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Chenopodium Quinoa has the potential to provide a highly nutritious food source that can be grown on marginal lands not currently suitable for other major crops. This potential was recognized when the United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa, this being one of only three times a plant has received such a designation.
At a nutritional level, quinoa has an almost perfect balance between fats, proteins and carbohydrates. 16% of each grain is protein, although according to the variety it can reach up to 23%, which is much more than double the amount of protein contained in any other cereal.
On the other hand, the fat that contains not exceeding 9% and is mainly linoleic acid, which is essential for our diet as it is associated with the decrease in the levels of cholesterol. Additionally, linoleic acid can not be synthesized naturally by our body, so it must be obtained from the food we eat.
At the culinary level it has multiple uses, for example, as flour to make different kinds of bread and to improve the absorption of water in mixtures of wheat flour.
With quinoa you can make beer and of course, it is part of many traditional dishes of their countries of origin such as pesque de Cusco, which is a preparation of cheese, quinoa and milk or chicha andina, which is a traditional ferment of the Andes area.
Also considered as a medicinal plant, because it has traditionally been used as a treatment for abscesses, hemorrhages and cuts, and because of its high concentration of magnesium can help relax the blood vessels. In addition, in natural medicine it is recommended to maintain control of anxiety, diabetes and migraine, among other diseases.
How many varieties of quinoa are there?
There is a wide variety of quinoa, depending on its country of origin, each one, with particular properties that can be used for different purposes. For example, nutritionists recommend athletes to consume red varieties, while those who want to lose weight should opt for white quinoa, as it is appropriate to slim down.
Although there are approximately 40 varieties of quinoa available in each of the Andean countries that produce it, the benefits are usually same and with minimal differences between all the species of this superfood.
It is the best known and commercialized. This seed has a bitter residue that protects it naturally from the insects attack, so it should be washed very well before preparing it. Its preparation is equal to that of rice and accepts many forms of being seasoned, since it absorbs the flavors that are added to it, so you can experiment in many ways with it and prepare various dishes.
Its flavor is subtle, very similar to that of nuts, it has only 160 calories per quarter cup. White quinoa has a high content of fiber, for this reason it is excellent to improve digestive system health, strengthen the musculature and regenerate tissues. This variety is also the one with the lowest amount of carbohydrates, but being the richest in minerals and vitamins.
Unlike white quinoa, red has a slightly more earthy flavor and its grains maintain a crispy consistency once cooked, which makes it firmer. For this reason, it is usually used to make vegan meatballs and hamburgers, and to give texture to different varieties of salads.
It is the one with the lowest fat content and the highest content of carbohydrates, being equally low in calories and high in proteins.
Considered the strangest of the quinoa available. Black quinoa has great appreciation for being rich in lithium, a metal that in the right doses is capable of preventing depression, according to different medical studies.
It is used to add to wheat flour mixes for bread making and as an ingredient in soups and desserts.
Black quinua is a relatively new species, born as a hybrid between the crossing of quinoa seeds with spinach.
Its flavor is earthy and remains with a crunchy texture once cooked. Unlike the other varieties, this is attributed the ability to heal and regenerate tissues in a faster way.
What its mineral, protein, fatty and vitamin values refer, is similar to the other species, only varies in the presence of lithium.
There are other varieties of quinoa, although they are not really available for sale with the same ease as the previous ones.
These are mainly local consumption products from producing countries. For example Chullpi quinoa, which may have an orange, red or white color and is commonly used to provide texture to soups and to make vegetarian burgers and fried dishes such as croquettes.
Quinoa Q’oito, another kind, is used mainly for the preparation of gluten-free flours, resulting in a product with high protein content that serves to enrich mixtures for bread, cookies, cakes and pasta, as well as for some preparations of nutritional shakes and protein drinks for athletes.
The lilac quinoa or also known as flower quinoa, is a variety that produces a lilac seed and is very popular in Peru. It has a high content of proteins and minerals just like the others and is usually used to fill tomatoes, peppers, onions and zucchini. In addition to being the ingredient that complements tabouleh salad.
Pink quinoa type, has a much sweeter taste, since it does not have the bitter substance that the others have, therefore they use it for the preparation of desserts because it also contributes a pink color to any preparation and with the same nutritional value. It is cooked in a similar way to oats and in desserts it is usually combined with coconut milk and spices to taste, which results in a tasty and nutritive soft drink.
You may also like:8 Health Benefits of Nuts. The Best Snack You Can Have
What are the Properties of Quinoa?
Quinoa seed has unique characteristics, which allow it to be consumed as a cereal and therefore categorized as a pseudo-cereal. Most of its calories come from complex carbohydrates, it contains much more protein than any known cereal. In its content there is presence of unsaturated fats such as omega 3 and 6 highly beneficial to the human body.
It also stands out for its high fiber content. The excellent nutritional quality of Chenopodium quinoa, has made it become a superfood star among the healthiest diets in the world.
The healthy effects of “real foods” go beyond the vitamins and minerals that we are all familiar with. There are thousands of extra nutrients that are also extremely healthy.
This includes, for example, the flavonoids, which are plant antioxidants that have a large series of beneficial health effects.
There are two flavonoids that have been particularly well studied, quercetin and kaempferol, both of which can be found in quinoa in large quantities. In fact, the content of quercetin in quinoa is higher than in foods typically high in it, such as cranberries.
What is the best of this?
These important molecules have shown anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anticancer and antidepressant effects, at least in animal studies. Including quinoa in the diet significantly increases the total intake of these and other nutrients.
It is a vegetal food that is important thanks to its high nutritional contribution, mainly of proteins. It has been determined that a grain of quinoa is composed of 23% protein, which greatly exceeds the amount that other foods have. This property makes this a key element for the human body by helping the regeneration of tissues and contributing to the formation and maintenance of muscle fibers.
The protein function in the organism is to form and repair the tissues not only muscle, but the skin, internal organs, nails, hair and even cartilage and bones.
Proteins are necessary so that all the cells of the body work in a correct way and for this reason the quinoa has become an excellent source of proteins for the vegetarian and vegan people, being an excellent substitute of the meats.
Similarly, chenopodium quinoa is rich in minerals, especially iron, which is able to strengthen the production of hemoglobin, the main component of red blood cells, allowing cellular oxygenation, which can help reduce fatigue and general exhaustion.
In addition to this, its high value of micronutrients between which stand out potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron and zinc among the minerals, which allow the organism to perform each of its vital functions, since they are present in the blood , the glucose and the osseous system, intervening in all the processes of the body.
Quinoa also has the property of containing vitamin B complex in appreciable amounts, as well as vitamin E. These vitamins have a high antioxidant power, which helps to protect the organism from the negative action of free radicals that are the cause of cellular aging, skin and tissues damage, and cells diseases.
Free radicals make the organism susceptible to diseases such as cancer, therefore, the antioxidant action of quinoa gives it an additional importance, which is why many nutritionists recommend including it in the daily diet.
The content of complex carbohydrates, makes quinoa an ideal complement to provide energy for much longer than other cereals, being that complex carbohydrates decompose more slowly and providing energy dose constantly throughout the day. Unlike other foods that provide fast consumption energy and high caloric content, affecting the excessive weight gain.
This type of carbohydrate has the ability to prevent cardiovascular diseases in addition to providing energy to the muscles and brain throughout the day, improving their performance in a remarkable way.
Another property of quinoa is its contribution of insoluble type fiber, very similar to that found in other green leafy vegetables such as spinach, green beans, celery and carrots.
Insoluble fiber favors the digestive processes by adding volume to the feces, helping the food circulate through the digestive tract in a much faster way, favoring the healthy elimination of waste. The fiber can also control the levels of sugar in the blood improving the general health of the organism.
Once boiled, the quinoa contains less fiber, since it absorbs water.
Unfortunately, most of the fiber it contains is insoluble, which does not have the same benefits as the soluble one. Even so, the soluble fiber content is 2.5 grams per cup (or 1.5 grams per 100 grams), which is pretty decent.
There are numerous studies that show that soluble fiber can help reduce blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, increase the feeling of fullness and help weight loss.
In short, quinoa is higher in fiber than most cereals, with a content of between 17 and 27 grams of fiber per cup of raw quinoa.
Benefits for health when consuming Quinoa
Quinoa is a superfood you can not miss on the shopping list. Not only for its delicious taste, but also for its multiple benefits for the organism and our health.
It serves to lose weight while eating healthy
Quinoa can help us lose weight due to its high concentration of proteins and fiber and its low glycemic index. This makes it very recommended for people with diabetes.
It has a high fiber content that acts as a purifier of the organism, allowing the elimination of toxins and residues capable of damaging the organism. Thanks to fiber, it generates a feeling of satiety that diminishes cravings for eating, which contributes to people not consuming excess food and can lose weight in a natural way, without a strict diet that eliminates essential nutrients.
6% of each grain is fiber, this favors the functioning of the intestines, helps to lose weight and reduce measures in the abdomen area. If it is accompanied by an exercise routine and a healthy and balanced diet, we will have even better results in a shorter period of time.
Controls the levels of cholesterol in the blood
Its high content of fiber and unsaturated lipids help to control the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and this is especially beneficial because it allows to improve cardiovascular health, avoiding problems of blood circulation, arterial and blood pressure.
The beneficial effect against hypercholesterolemia, is due to its chemical composition, since it has an adequate level of linoleic acid that allows the organism to get rid of the saturated lipids of the blood, causing the reduction of triglycerides and cholesterol, also favoring the metabolism of the insulin, for which it represents an aid for diabetics in their process of glycemia control.
It is a powerful antioxidant
As mentioned earlier, quinoa has a large number of flavonoids, such as quercetin and kaempferol, in addition to vitamin E and together, contribute to defense against free radicals. It has therefore an immense antioxidant power, which helps to purify the organism and improve general health.
Free radicals are associated with premature aging, both, skin and all body tissues and at the cellular level.
Different studies have shown that antioxidants reduce the risk of cancer, hypertension, delay cellular aging, prevent diabetes and strengthens the immune system.
Excellent food for athletes
Athletes have a greater need for protein and complex carbohydrates than other people, since they spend a lot of energy during training and competitions. This causes wear and tear at the muscle level and requires that tissues be repaired correctly to provide greater performance. Here is when quinoa benefits them, since this pseudo-cereal is composed of 23% protein that helps to form muscles and regenerate tissues.
In addition, it is an efficient source of energy and possesses essential amino acids for our body. All this serves to recover after competitions and hard workouts. Ideal for rebuilding muscles when working with weights for example.
It is an ingredient that is usually used in protein bars or energy bars, as well as some protein drinks that are marketed as special nutritional supplements for athletes.
Special for people with celiac disease
Its composition is totally free of gluten, which is an incredible benefit for people with celiac disease or anyone who has a diet that is free of this type of protein. The best of all is that it is gluten free naturally, it is not a synthetic process that eliminates it so it does not alter its nutritional properties.
Quinoa can be consumed directly and integrally providing many other benefits to the organism as we have explained. Having celiac disease is suffering from an autoimmune illness that causes intolerance to gluten, a set of proteins found in cereals such as barley, rye and oats.
A gluten-free diet can be healthy, as long as it is based on foods that naturally do not contain gluten. Problems arise when people consume “gluten-free” products made with refined starches.
These foods are no better than their gluten-free counterparts, because the gluten-free junk food is still junk food.
Several researchers have proposed quinoa as a viable ingredient for those who seek to follow a gluten-free diet but do not want to give up bread or pasta.
Some studies show that: “The use of quinoa instead of typical gluten-free ingredients, such as refined tapioca, potatoes, corn or rice flour, can greatly increase the antioxidant and nutrient value of the diet”.
Helps strengthen hair
Thanks to its combination of nutrients, quinoa helps strengthen, give shine and softness to hair. The way to apply it is as a mask, which is made with boiled seeds and a little olive oil.
The minerals and nutrients are used to improve the texture in hair damaged by chemicals or excess sun.
It is very common to find this food as an ingredient in the formulation of cosmetic products for hair care. Many protein treatments are based on this superfood, so you can not only make the mask at home, but it is also easy to purchase products to care for hair with high content of quinoa, highly nutritive.
Its amino acids repair the split ends and make the hair stronger, silky and shiny, also contributing to nourish the scalp, which can potentially prevent hair loss.
Helps to take care of our body in a generalized way
Due to its high level of proteins, vitamins and minerals, it helps to avoid flaccidity of the skin, improves the musculature, prevents cellulitis and stretch marks. Therefore, it is a very useful tool both, for beauty and for the general health of the body internally and externally. Its habitual consumption improves the aspect of the skin, by the ability of quinoa to regenerate tissues.
One of its most outstanding qualities is its efficiency to detoxify the organism, thanks to its high biological value proteins, among which are the essential amino acids that the body is incapable of manufacturing by itself. This contributes to the regeneration of tissues, organs and all the cells that make up the body.
The daidzein and cistestin that are present in quinoa, are phytoestrogens that help to prevent osteoporosis and mitigate some of the alterations produced by the lack of estrogen.
Keeps skin hydrated
As a result of its high content of proteins, quinoa makes dry and cracked skins hydrate in a more effective way. For this, it is necessary to apply it directly on the skin as a mask, boiling quinoa grains in a glass of milk and letting it rest. If we combine this mask with oral intake, the results will be noticed in less time, achieving a much more hydrated, elastic and firm skin.
Above all, the same hydration is well appreciated when there are problems in the joints, since it also contains proline, an amino acid that participates in the repair of tissues, especially joints and is also necessary in healing processes.
Additionally, its nutritious oils allow a repair at the cellular level, providing a greater luminosity. It is for these reasons that there are several cosmetic laboratories that study quinoa properties and elaborate products that contain it.
It helps to have strong bones
It contains at least the quadruple of the calcium that the corn has and almost the triple that rice. It is also calcium of easy absorption, therefore, helps to avoid decalcification and can be an excellent complement in the diet for children and women in menopause.
Quinoa contains a high concentration of magnesium, which allows the relaxation of the walls of the blood vessels.
On the other hand, its consumption helps reduce migraine and combats its frequent appearance. That strong headache that disturbs us for hours, can be combated with doses of magnesium and vitamin B12, both present in quinoa naturally, so it is attributed the benefit of soothing this condition.
You may like to visit:30 Reasons why you should stop eating dairy
Quinoa as a natural relaxant
Quinoa infusions have the benefit of acting on stress levels, making them descent naturally. Its anti-stress ability may be due to the fact that it contains alanine, which is a valuable source of energy for the muscles, brain and especially for the nervous system.
Besides, it contains glycine, which behaves like a neurotransmitter that is associated with regulation of motor functions and to calm the brain, favoring relaxation and rest at night.
Where to buy quinoa?
Fortunately, today we do not have great difficulties to find certain foods that before we did not even know that they existed. This is the case of quinoa, currently available in all kind of supermarkets and online stores.