Labelled a superfood, quinoa has exploded in popularity from a strictly health-food shop item to appearing on the menus of many cafes and restaurants. Sacred to the Incas, it was such a critical component of their diet that it is referred to as the “mother of all grains’’. Legend has it that quinoa was what the Incan soldiers used to eat to increase stamina before going into battle.
Quinoa is not technically a cereal grain. It belongs to what is called a “pseudo-cereal” group, a name for foods that are cooked and eaten like grains and have a similar nutritional profile. Quinoa is actually more closely related to beets, chard and spinach than it is to any of the grains, although it is the seed-like component that is consumed. It is one of the few plant foods that can be considered a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids. Being gluten-free it can be a helpful and nourishing addition to a gluten-free diet. Unlike a lot of gluten-free alternatives quinoa is a good source of fibre, meaning it helps to keep you feel full for longer. There’s no surprise then, that many people consider it a superfood!
It is a good source of magnesium which helps to relax blood vessels and muscles. In some studies magnesium has also been found to help regulate blood glucose, which can help decrease sugar cravings. Quinoa is also a source of the amino acid tryptophan, which is involved in the synthesis of serotonin, our happy, content and calm hormone. It is therefore believed to have mood-boosting qualities. Quinoa also contains a significant amount of riboflavin (vitamin B2), which is great for energy.
Combined with its protein content, quinoa is a great addition for any athlete and could be used pre or post training. In fact because of its beneficial nutrient profile and protein content, quinoa is a great addition to breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is easy to prepare and is often cooked using the absorption method. One tip before cooking quinoa is to make sure you rinse it well, as it can grow a bitter coating, called saponin, which is a natural defence mechanism from the plant to fend off pests.
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Quinoa is so versatile it can be used as a more nutrientdense replacement for pasta or couscous to absorb the flavour and sauce from a casserole; in place of rice in sushi or as a breakfast porridge. Quinoa may just become one of your pantry staples.
There are many wonderful uses for quinoa:
- Use quinoa wherever you would use pasta, orzo or couscous
- Use a mixture of red, black and white for visual appeal in salads
- Quinoa makes an especially delicious tabboulet - add extra parsley for a real nutrient boost
- Puffed quinoa is a delicious addition to a homemade muesli
- Cook quinoa and sweeten with pure maple syrip, cinnamon and blueberries for a breakfast porridge
- Use quinoa flour in gluten-free baking
Click here for Dr Libby's healthy twist on a classic dish: easy lunchtime quinoa fried rice.
Dr Libby Weaver is a leading voice on health, nutrition and well-being. Her approach involves cooking with “real” food and maximising nutritional value in every meal. It’s all about being delicious and nutritious. For more visit drlibby.com