What is all the hype and hysteria about a grain that is so difficult to pronounce?  When I first came across Quinoa (KEEN-wah), I, like probably many others, thought it was supposed to be pronounced “kee•noah”.  Little did I realize that the proper enunciation of this SuperFood is actually much different – and so now is my understanding of its amazing health benefits.

Quinoa dates back three to four thousand years ago when the Incas first realized that the seed was fit for human consumption. According to WHFoods quinoa “was the gold of the Incas” because they believed it increased the stamina of their warriors. The Quinoa Corporation calls quinoa the “Supergrain of the Future.”

1. Quinoa is incredibly nutritious

Quinoa is a grain crop that is grown for its edible seeds. It is pronounced KEEN-wah.  It technically isn’t a cereal grain, but a pseudo-cereal.  In other words, it is basically a “seed” which is prepared and eaten similarly to a grain.

Quinoa was an important crop for the Inca Empire back in the day.  They referred to it as the “mother of all grains” and believed it to be sacred.  It has been consumed for thousands of years in South America, although it only became trendy and reached “superfood status” a few years ago.

These days, you can find Quinoa and products made with it all over the world… especially in health food stores and restaurants that emphasize natural foods.

2. Quinoa contains quercetin and kaempferol

The health effects of real foods go way beyond the vitamins and minerals we’re all familiar with.  There are thousands of trace nutrients in there – and some of them are extremely healthy.  This includes interesting molecules called flavonoids, which are plant antioxidants that have been shown to have all sorts of beneficial effects on health.

Two flavonoids that have been particularly well studied are Quercetin and Kaempferol – and they happen to be found in large amounts in Quinoa.  In fact, the quercetin content of quinoa is even higher than typical high-quercetin foods like cranberries.  These important molecules have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-depressant effects.

3. It is very high in fiber

Another important benefit of quinoa is that it is high in fiber.  One study that looked at 4 varieties of quinoa found a range of between 10 and 16 grams of fiber, per every 100 grams of uncooked quinoa.

This equals 17-27 grams per cup, which is very high – more than twice as high as most grains.  Boiled quinoa contains much less fiber, gram for gram, because it absorbs so much water.

Unfortunately, most of the fiber is insoluble fiber, which doesn’t appear to have the same health benefits as soluble fiber.  That being said, the soluble fiber content is about 2.5 grams per cup (or 1.5 grams per 100 grams), which is still decent.

4. Quinoa is gluten-free

According to a 2013 survey, about a third of people in the U.S. are currently trying to minimize or avoid gluten.  A gluten-free diet can be healthy, as long as it is based on foods that are naturally gluten free.

The problems arise when people eat “gluten free” foods made with refined starches instead.  These foods are no better than their gluten-containing counterparts, because gluten free junk food is still junk food.

5. Quinoa is very high in protein

Protein is made out of amino acids. Some of them are termed “essential” because we can not produce them and need to get them from the diet.  If a food contains all the essential amino acids, it is seen as a “complete” protein.  The problem is that many plant foods are deficient in certain essential amino acids, such as Lysine.

6. Quinoa has a low glycemic index

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels.  It is known that eating foods that are high on the glycemic index can stimulate hunger and contribute to obesity.  Such foods have also been linked to many of the chronic, Western diseases that are so common today, such as diabetes and heart disease.

7. It is high in minerals and Magnesium

There are many nutrients in the modern diet that people tend to be lacking in.  This is particularly true of some minerals – especially Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc and Iron.  Interestingly, quinoa is very high in all 4 minerals.  It is particularly high in magnesium, with one cup having about 30% of the RDA.

8. Quinoa may benefits metabolic health

Given the high amount of beneficial nutrients, it makes sense that quinoa could lead to improvements in metabolic health.  A human study found that using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free breads and pastas significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin and triglyceride levels.  The rat study found that adding quinoa to a diet high in fructose almost completely inhibited the negative effects of fructose.

9. Quinoa is loaded with antioxidants

Quinoa also happens to be very high in antioxidants.  Antioxidants are substances that neutralize free radicals and are believed to help fight aging and many diseases.  One study looked at antioxidants in 10 foods – 5 cereals, 3 pseudocereals and 2 legumes.  Quinoa had the highest antioxidant content of all 10.

10. Quinoa is a weight-loss friendly food

In order to lose weight, we need to take in fewer calories than we burn.  It is known that certain properties of foods can facilitate this process… either by boosting metabolism (increasing calories out) or reducing appetite (lowering calories in).  Interestingly, quinoa has several such properties.  It is high in protein, which can both increase metabolism and reduce appetite significantly.

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