Super Food Spotlight: Quinoa

You may have only recently heard of it, but quinoa has been around for thousands of years. And while its name may be difficult to pronounce (it's keen-wah), the health benefits of this ancient Incan "mother of all grains," are easy to grasp: Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that's a complete protein, meaning it provides all the essential amino acids our bodies need to function. And it can be used in an array of dishes to boot. Here's what you need to know about this must-try power food.

It does double duty nutritionally.

Quinoa is one of the few foods that functions as both a carb and a protein. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 39 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein, as well as a healthy helping of manganese, folate, iron, and B vitamins. That means you can enjoy it on a bed of greens with a little olive oil and vinegar, and you'll be satisfied and energized for hours.

It's ideal for gluten-free diets.

A pitfall of the typical gluten-free diet is its lack of truly nutritious grains (white rice, anyone?). Quinoa can fill the void left by the absence of whole wheat: It provides fiber, protein, carbs, vitamins, and minerals in spades, and has an appealingly nutty taste.

It's easy to prepare.

If you can boil water, you can make quinoa. After about 15 minutes in a pan of hot water, the little germ, or tail, of the grain pops out and lets you know it's done. Just give the quinoa a rinse before cooking in order to remove any trace of its natural bitter coating, called saponin.

It's colorful.

Did you know quinoa comes in a rainbow of shades? You can buy it in red, purple, and black as well as the more typical beige. Mix and match when cooking to create a meal that pleases the eye as well as the palate.

It's versatile.

Quinoa comes in several forms, including whole uncooked grains, flakes, and flour. For a healthy, nutritious twist on some old favorites,

  • Bake cookies using quinoa flour in place of oatmeal.
  • Mix whole wheat breadcrumbs with cooked quinoa to make kid-friendly quinoa-crusted chicken fingers.
  • Want to enjoy a hearty chowder that can double as an entrée? Throw some quinoa into the mix into the chowder?
  • Add quinoa to a tangy slaw of cabbage and diced veggies.

Alison Massey, MS, RD, reviewed this article.



"Quinoa-March Grain of the Month." Whole Grains Council. Web. Accessed August 15, 2013.

"Quinoa, Cooked." Self Nutrition Data. Web. Accessed August 15, 2013.

"Protein." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. Page last updated 4 Oct. 2012. Accessed August 15, 2013.

Andrew Giancoli, MPH, RD. "Five Grains to Keep Your Family Healthy." Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Web. Page reviewed April, 2013. Page accessed August 15, 2013.