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Quinoa
Quinoa

What's New and Beneficial About Quinoa

  • The growing popularity of quinoa among U.S. consumers has led to greater availability of different quinoa varieties in many supermarkets. In addition to white varieties (sometimes called ivory quinoa) that are most common, both red and black quinoa varieties are becoming more widely available. Recent studies have shown these colorful varieties to provide some added amounts of phytonutrients called betaxanthins and betacyanins. These phytonutrients are likely to provide added antioxidant benefits from quinoa. Yellow quinoa - not yet commonly available to U.S. consumers - is yet another colorful variety that provides additional betaxanthins. We encourage you to incorporate the full rainbow of colors when enjoying quinoa in your meal plan!
  • If you are not yet familiar with this unique and health-supportive food, you are not alone: average consumption of quinoa in the U.S. is just over 1 ounce per year. But in countries like Bolivia and Peru where quinoa has been regularly enjoyed for several thousand years, the average yearly intake of quinoa is 4-5 pounds. This intake range corresponds almost exactly to intake of oats in the U.S. Just as with oats, there are many different ways to incorporate quinoa into your meal plan, including use in salads, pilafs, and soups. Quinoa sprouts are also becoming a popular choice for taking full advantage of quinoa's versatility.
  • At WHFoods, we include quinoa in our grain food group, since the seeds of this plant are most commonly used in a way that is very similar to grains. In terms of its composition, however, quinoa is not a grain since it is not a member of the grass family (Poaceae/Gramineae). But for a food that is used so similarly to grains, quinoa is one of the few foods in this broad grain-like category whose seeds are routinely enjoyed in whole food form without removal of the bran or germ. (For example, within the U.S., the vast majority of wheat and rice are consumed have been processed for removal of the bran and germ.) Since these parts of the seed are especially nutrient-rich, it's great to come across a grain-like food that is routinely available on supermarket shelves in a minimally processed form.
  • While quinoa has long been recognized for its outstanding protein content, recent studies have helped to clarify some key strengths of this food from a protein standpoint. 3/4th cup of quinoa provide 8 grams of protein - very similar to 1 cup of yogurt, and about double the amount of protein in an equivalent amount of wheat or brown rice. Equally important, within these 8 grams of protein are plentiful amounts of many amino acids (the building blocks of protein). In fact, for all amino acid requirements set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), quinoa provides between 70-360% of each required amino acid (using the milligrams/gram standard put forth by the WHO). When combined together, the high total protein content of quinoa and its outstanding amino acid composition make it a fantastic source of plant protein in any meal plan.

Quinoa, cooked
0.75 cup
(185.00 grams)
Calories: 222
GI: low

NutrientDRI/DV


 copper40%



 fiber19%

 folate19%

 zinc18%


This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Quinoa provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Quinoa can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Quinoa, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

Health Benefits

Outstanding Overall Nutrient Richness from Quinoa

At WHFoods, we think about nutrient richness as including many different categories of nutrients. Among conventional nutrients, our most important categories are macronutrients (including protein, fiber, and high-quality fats like omega-3s), vitamins, and minerals. Among phytonutrients, we look especially closely at carotenoids and flavonoids, as well as other phytonutrients especially well-known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Quinoa is a food whose nutrient richness spans all of the categories above! Earlier in this profile, we noted the nearly doubled total protein quantity in quinoa versus wheat or brown rice when measured in equivalent cooked amounts. We also pointed out the outstanding amino acid composition within quinoa proteins - something that plant proteins don't always achieve. But protein is not the only macronutrient provided by this amazing plant food. The fiber content of quinoa is just over 5 grams per 3/4 cooked cup, and include substantial amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The fact that quinoa is typically consumed in whole form helps increase the fiber-like components that it provides, including insoluble fibers and nonstarch polysaccharides found in the seed coat. Quinoa also provides us with 180 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) in 3/4th of a cooked cup.

Quinoa ranks as a good source of many minerals including zinc, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. At WHFoods, quinoa actually ranks in our Top 10 foods for magnesium. It also provides nearly 3 milligrams of iron per 3/4th cooked cup, which actually puts it slightly above a 4-ounce serving of either lamb or beef. Among antioxidant-related minerals, quinoa is richest in manganese, and it ranks among our Top 25 WHFoods for this mineral. Folate qualifies as one of the key vitamins provided by quinoa, and you'll get about 20% of the Daily Value for this B-vitamin from a single 3/4th cup serving (cooked). Cooked quinoa also provides about 10-15% of most other B-complex vitamins in this same serving size.

Over 20 different phenolic phytonutrients have been identified in quinoa, including many phenolic acids and polyphenols. Virtually all of these phytonutrients have been shown to provide antioxidant benefits, and many provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well. The list of phenolic phytonutrients in quinoa includes: chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, hesperidin, isoquercetin, quercetin, kaempferol, neohesperidin, rosmarinic acid, rutin, and vanillic acid.

Betalains are a group of phytonutrients that provide red and yellow quinoa varieties with their unique colors. Betalains can actually be found varying degrees in most varieties of quinoa members and have been shown to increase the antioxidant capacity and free radical scavenging benefits provided by this food. So it makes sense to enjoy the full spectrum of quinoa color varieties in your meal plan!

One of the most unusual categories of phytonutrients in quinoa are its phytoecdysteroids. (One particular phytoecdysteroid - called 20-hydroxyecdysone (20HE) - has been shown to be especially concentrated in quinoa.) While purified ecdysterone supplements are sold as body building aids to help with development of muscle tissue, few studies exist on consumption of ecdysteroids as naturally contained within common plant foods, including quinoa. Research interest in these compounds includes speculation about their potential role in blood sugar regulation.

Potential Health Benefits from Quinoa

As might be expected from a food that serves as a good source of protein and fiber, as well as a low glycemic index (GI) value, quinoa has raised the interest of researchers with respect to better blood sugar regulation, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and other aspects of metabolism related to blood sugar. Unfortunately, most of the studies in this area have been conducted on animals and we have yet to see a large scale study on humans enjoying quinoa as part of their regular food intake. We would be surprised, however, if quinoa did not turn out to show benefits for blood sugar regulation given its chemistry and nutrient-richness.

Like blood sugar benefits, cardiovascular benefits fall into another area of health support that we would expect to be provided by quinoa. However, the research we've reviewed in this area is not extensive and comes primarily from animal studies. In these studies, the equivalent of roughly 1/2-1 cup of cooked quinoa in a person's diet per day over a period of approximately 1-2 months has been associated with decreases in blood triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol, and total cholesterol. In addition, risk of lipid peroxidation (oxygen-based damaged to blood fats) has been shown to decrease in some of these studies. The well-documented antioxidant capacity of quinoa - provided in large part by its impressive array of phenols and polyphenols - makes these animal study findings on lipid peroxidation very likely to apply to humans, and we expect this health benefit to eventually be demonstrated in human dietary studies as well.

As a non-grass grain, quinoa can provide a great grain-like addition to "gluten-free" meal plans, and quinoa has been shown to be well-tolerated by persons who are required to avoid wheat, including persons diagnosed with celiac disease. In addition, there are some studies showing potentially greater digestibility of quinoa in comparison to cereal grains. In short: quinoa is a food that can be incorporated into your meal plan like a grain, but which doesn't raise the same concerns that cereal grains sometimes raise.

When the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared that 2013 to be recognized as "The International Year of the Quinoa," it made mention of many health benefits described above. But it also focused on the relatively low cost of this plant food and its great adaptability to climate, allowing it to play a helpful role in food security worldwide. Even if food security is not a personal concern, however, it would be correct to think about quinoa as a very helpful and potentially stabilizing factor in your meal plan that can provide you with outstanding overall benefits.

Description

Many popular descriptions of quinoa describe it as a "pseudocereal." That's because grains are often referred to as "cereal grains" and cereal grains all belong to the grass family of plants (Poaceae/Gramineae). At WHFoods, we include quinoa as one of our 8 grains, even though it is not a member of the grass family like wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, and millet. (We include one other non-grass among our 8 grains, and that is buckwheat.) Our reason for including quinoa among our grains is simple: the seeds of this plant are widely used and enjoyed in the same way as true cereal grains. Not only is quinoa often substituted for rice or used it in a side dish in much the same way as wheat is used in couscous; it is also often ground into flour and used to make noodles and baked goods. In fact, like malted barley and other grains, quinoa is used in some parts of the world for the brewing of beer.

The part of the quinoa plant that you will find in your local grocery is its seed. In fact, use of the word "quinoa" is so common that many people do not even stop to think about the fact that the very small, roundish, bits they are seeing before them are actually plant seeds. Similarly, it is possible to have enjoyed quinoa for a long period of time without ever having set eyes on the quinoa plant itself. The flowers of these gorgeous plants are startling beautiful in color, and the leaves are reminiscent of many different types of salad greens. Not only are quinoa leaves edible - they are used in many cuisines in much the same way as spinach, which belongs to the same plant family as quinoa (the Amaranthaceae family). Along with quinoa and spinach, this plant family also includes beets and Swiss chard. It's worth noting here that quinoa was originally classified within the Chenopodiaceae or goosefoot family of plants, but this entire family was eventually subsumed within the Amaranthaceae.

Quinoa varieties are typically defined in terms of color. These varieties include white, yellow, red and black, although the exact shades can vary and are often softer than these names sometimes imply. White quinoa (sometimes called ivory quinoa) is the most common variety in U.S. supermarkets and is the mildest in taste and the least crunchy after being cooked. It also tends to cook a bit faster than the other color varieties. Red and black quinoa varieties are usually described as stronger and more earthy in flavor, but we think of all quinoa varieties as having a somewhat nut-like taste and delicate as opposed to harsh. Because of their unique betaxanthin and betacyanin combinations, quinoa varieties of all colors deserve a place in healthy meal plans.

One final note in this description section about pronunciation of the word "quinoa": the most often used version here is "KEEN-wah." The word "quinoa" originated in one of the native languages (Quechua) spoken by people in the Andes Mountains region along the Western coast of South America. The word for quinoa in Quechua was "kinuwa."

History

Quinoa has a rich, wonderful, and long history in the cuisines of South America, and its basic genetic types can still be divided up according to basic geographical regions on this continent. Included here are the sea level regions of Chile; the highland regions of Peru and Bolivia; and the Inter-Andean valleys in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. Quinoa thrived in the arid and semi-arid regions provided by parts of the Andes Mountains, and while it grew wild in those regions, it was cultivated as early as 5000-3000 B.C. and has remained a staple part of "Andean" cuisines from that time all the way up until today. In fact, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (in that order) remain the top quinoa producing countries in the world, with a combined production of nearly 250,000 metric tons each year.

Within the U.S., one special spot - the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Rockies - has seen successful large-scale production of quinoa beginning in the 1980's. Since that time, U.S. commercial production of quinoa has grown to include acreage in both Southern and Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Still, quinoa imports from South America presently account for most of the quinoa that is enjoyed within the U.S.

How to Select and Store

Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the quinoa are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing quinoa in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture. When deciding upon the amount to purchase, remember that quinoa expands during the cooking process to several times (usually triple) its original size. You are very likely to find quinoa in your local supermarket, but if you don't, check for it at a grocery that includes a natural foods section, because it's usually on the shelf.

White quinoa is most common type that you will find in most stores, although red and black quinoa are becoming more widely available. We have even seen tri-color mixtures of quinoa being sold in both pre-packaged form and in bulk bins.

Store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep for a longer period of time, approximately three to six months, if stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

Tips for Preparing Quinoa

If you are trying to prepare quinoa in a way that sweetens its natural taste, you can rinse the seeds, rub them gently together, and then re-rinse them to remove some of the components that bring a partly bitter taste to this food. A fine-meshed strainer makes the process easy to carry out - so much so that you will find strainers being advertised as "quinoa strainers." Included among these components are phytonutrients called saponins, which play an important role in protection of the quinoa plant, but which have also been shown to provide us with potential health benefits. For this reason, thorough rinsing of quinoa is something of a judgment call: if you find the taste of unrinsed quinoa to be objectionable, it makes good sense to use the rinsing process above and prepare a quinoa dish that will be fully delicious and enjoyable to eat. If you don't mind or even prefer the taste of unrinsed quinoa, you can very lightly rinse or even forego the rinsing process. In this context, we would also add that some pre-packaged quinoa has been pre-rinsed during production, and that the seeds of some quinoa varieties (especially white varieties) can be relatively sweet in their natural form.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Quinoa

To cook the quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare. When cooking is complete, you will notice that the grains have become translucent, and the white germ has partially detached itself, appearing like a white-spiraled tail. If you desire the quinoa to have a nuttier flavor, you can dry roast it before cooking; to dry roast, place it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir constantly for five minutes. Recent studies on the cooking of quinoa have compared boiling versus steaming methods to evaluate the impact of cooking on the B vitamin folate. The good news is that folate in quinoa appears to be well-preserved using either cooking method.

Quinoa flour is another form of quinoa that is becoming more widely available in supermarkets. While it is possible to make baked goods and pastas out of 100% quinoa flour, many companies making products from quinoa flour combine this flour with other types (for example tapioca flour or rice flour) or even with oatmeal to produce a lighter texture. If you are making baked products at home, you can simply experiment to determine the approach to quinoa flour that you like best.

How to Enjoy

  • Combine cooked chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, scallions and coriander. Season to taste and enjoy this south-of-the-border inspired salad.
  • Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve as breakfast porridge.
  • For a twist on your favorite pasta recipe, use noodles made from quinoa.
  • Sprouted quinoa can be used in salads and sandwiches just like alfalfa sprouts.
  • Add quinoa to your favorite vegetable soups.
  • Ground quinoa flour can be added to cookie or muffin recipes.
  • Quinoa is great to use in tabouli, serving as a delicious (and wheat-free) substitute for the bulgur wheat with which this Middle Eastern dish is usually made.

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Nutritional Profile

The outstanding overall nutrient richness of quinoa is reflected in its high-quality proteins, its healthy mix of soluble and insoluble fibers, and its wealth of mineral nutrients, including zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. This food is also a good source of folate, and contains many other B vitamins in substantial amounts. Phenols head the list of quinoa phytonutrients. Included here are chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, hesperidin, isoquercetin, quercetin, kaempferol, neohesperidin, rosmarinic acid, rutin, and vanillic acid.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn't contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food's in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients - not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good - please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you'll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food's nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling." Read more background information and details of our rating system.

Quinoa, cooked
0.75 cup
185.00 grams
Calories: 222
GI: low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese1.17 mg514.1very good
phosphorus281.20 mg403.3good
copper0.36 mg403.2good
magnesium118.40 mg282.3good
folate77.70 mcg191.6good
fiber5.18 g191.5good
zinc2.02 mg181.5good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, here is an in-depth nutritional profile for Quinoa. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

Quinoa, cooked
(Note: "--" indicates data unavailable)
0.75 cup
(185.00 g)
GI: low
BASIC MACRONUTRIENTS AND CALORIES
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Protein8.14 g16
Carbohydrates39.40 g18
Fat - total3.55 g5
Dietary Fiber5.18 g19
Calories222.0012
MACRONUTRIENT AND CALORIE DETAIL
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Carbohydrate:
Starch32.62 g
Total Sugars1.61 g
Monosaccharides-- g
Fructose-- g
Glucose-- g
Galactose-- g
Disaccharides-- g
Lactose-- g
Maltose-- g
Sucrose-- g
Soluble Fiber-- g
Insoluble Fiber-- g
Other Carbohydrates32.62 g
Fat:
Monounsaturated Fat0.98 g
Polyunsaturated Fat1.99 g
Saturated Fat0.43 g
Trans Fat-- g
Calories from Fat31.97
Calories from Saturated Fat3.85
Calories from Trans Fat--
Cholesterol0.00 mg
Water132.48 g
MICRONUTRIENTS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Vitamins
Water-Soluble Vitamins
B-Complex Vitamins
Vitamin B10.20 mg17
Vitamin B20.20 mg15
Vitamin B30.76 mg5
Vitamin B3 (Niacin Equivalents)2.37 mg
Vitamin B60.23 mg14
Vitamin B120.00 mcg0
Biotin-- mcg--
Choline42.55 mg10
Folate77.70 mcg19
Folate (DFE)77.70 mcg
Folate (food)77.70 mcg
Pantothenic Acid0.50 mg10
Vitamin C0.00 mg0
Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotenoids)
Vitamin A International Units (IU)9.25 IU
Vitamin A mcg Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)0.46 mcg (RAE)0
Vitamin A mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)0.92 mcg (RE)
Retinol mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)0.00 mcg (RE)
Carotenoid mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)0.92 mcg (RE)
Alpha-Carotene0.00 mcg
Beta-Carotene5.55 mcg
Beta-Carotene Equivalents5.55 mcg
Cryptoxanthin0.00 mcg
Lutein and Zeaxanthin98.05 mcg
Lycopene0.00 mcg
Vitamin D
Vitamin D International Units (IU)0.00 IU0
Vitamin D mcg0.00 mcg
Vitamin E
Vitamin E mg Alpha-Tocopherol Equivalents (ATE)1.17 mg (ATE)8
Vitamin E International Units (IU)1.74 IU
Vitamin E mg1.17 mg
Vitamin K0.00 mcg0
Minerals
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Boron-- mcg
Calcium31.45 mg3
Chloride-- mg
Chromium-- mcg--
Copper0.36 mg40
Fluoride-- mg--
Iodine-- mcg--
Iron2.76 mg15
Magnesium118.40 mg28
Manganese1.17 mg51
Molybdenum-- mcg--
Phosphorus281.20 mg40
Potassium318.20 mg7
Selenium5.18 mcg9
Sodium12.95 mg1
Zinc2.02 mg18
INDIVIDUAL FATTY ACIDS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Omega-3 Fatty Acids0.18 g8
Omega-6 Fatty Acids1.81 g
Monounsaturated Fats
14:1 Myristoleic-- g
15:1 Pentadecenoic-- g
16:1 Palmitol-- g
17:1 Heptadecenoic-- g
18:1 Oleic0.86 g
20:1 Eicosenoic0.06 g
22:1 Erucic0.05 g
24:1 Nervonic-- g
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
18:2 Linoleic1.80 g
18:2 Conjugated Linoleic (CLA)-- g
18:3 Linolenic0.16 g
18:4 Stearidonic-- g
20:3 Eicosatrienoic-- g
20:4 Arachidonic0.01 g
20:5 Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)-- g
22:5 Docosapentaenoic (DPA)-- g
22:6 Docosahexaenoic (DHA)0.03 g
Saturated Fatty Acids
4:0 Butyric-- g
6:0 Caproic-- g
8:0 Caprylic-- g
10:0 Capric-- g
12:0 Lauric-- g
14:0 Myristic-- g
15:0 Pentadecanoic-- g
16:0 Palmitic0.36 g
17:0 Margaric-- g
18:0 Stearic0.02 g
20:0 Arachidic-- g
22:0 Behenate-- g
24:0 Lignoceric-- g
INDIVIDUAL AMINO ACIDS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Alanine0.34 g
Arginine0.63 g
Aspartic Acid0.65 g
Cysteine0.12 g
Glutamic Acid1.07 g
Glycine0.40 g
Histidine0.23 g
Isoleucine0.29 g
Leucine0.48 g
Lysine0.44 g
Methionine0.18 g
Phenylalanine0.34 g
Proline0.44 g
Serine0.33 g
Threonine0.24 g
Tryptophan0.10 g
Tyrosine0.15 g
Valine0.34 g
OTHER COMPONENTS
nutrientamountDRI/DV
(%)
Ash1.41 g
Organic Acids (Total)-- g
Acetic Acid-- g
Citric Acid-- g
Lactic Acid-- g
Malic Acid-- g
Taurine-- g
Sugar Alcohols (Total)-- g
Glycerol-- g
Inositol-- g
Mannitol-- g
Sorbitol-- g
Xylitol-- g
Artificial Sweeteners (Total)-- mg
Aspartame-- mg
Saccharin-- mg
Alcohol0.00 g
Caffeine0.00 mg

Note:

The nutrient profiles provided in this website are derived from The Food Processor, Version 10.12.0, ESHA Research, Salem, Oregon, USA. Among the 50,000+ food items in the master database and 163 nutritional components per item, specific nutrient values were frequently missing from any particular food item. We chose the designation "--" to represent those nutrients for which no value was included in this version of the database.

References

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