Before I delve deeper into the subject of quinoa, I want to discuss grains with you. There’s a lot of confusion about grains out there right now. Some examples of grains are wheat, barley, rice, corn and rye to name just a few. There’s a lot to discuss in terms of grains, but I’m not going to get into all of that in this post.
Here’s my take on them: Some people cannot digest grains very well, and shouldn’t eat them. If you have celiac or other autoimmune conditions, I would recommend eliminating grains from your diet without question. Some people don’t have celiac or autoimmune conditions, and can’t digest grains, and if that’s the case you should avoid grains as well. There are many symptoms and health issues that can be traced back to grains including gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, neurological issues and more. If you’re having these types of symptoms and can’t figure out why, then working with a Nutrition Consultant (like me!) can help in determining the best nutrition plan and foods for your body. Email me if you want to talk more about this.
If you can tolerate grains, then by all means, include them in your diet. My recommendation for anyone eating grains is that you stick to the hypoallergenic grains (regardless of how well you tolerate them). These include white rice, brown rice, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa. Be aware that grains are high in carbohydrates (including quinoa), and can cause spikes in blood sugar. Spikes in blood sugar can cause lots of health issues including weight gain and inflammation. It’s important to eat grains with lots of protein and healthy fats to help slow down digestion, and to slow down the blood sugar response. For the record, I do eat grains (they must be gluten-free) and I only eat them once or twice a week. This is what works for my body. A serving size is 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the cooked grain or quinoa, and I would aim to have only a few servings per week, but not more than one per day.
Alright then, on to the quinoa!
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is considered a grain, but is actually the seed of a plant! Our bodies register quinoa as a grain in terms of how it is processed/digested. Yellow is the most popular variety, but you can also find orange, pink, red, purple and black quinoa seeds. When cooked, quinoa is fluffy, with a slight chewiness, and has a delicate, nutty, earthy flavor.
One of the main things to know about quinoa is that it’s a complete protein. It contains all of the essential amino acids (these are the amino acids that we must obtain from foods, our bodies don’t make them). This makes quinoa a great option for vegetarians, or for those meatless Monday meals. Quinoa is also an excellent source of magnesium and manganese, and has good levels of vitamin B2, vitamin E and fiber. You will also get iron, phosphorus, copper and zinc. Seems like a pretty solid healthy food choice to me.
Quinoa is easy to cook. Rinse quinoa thoroughly. Simply add 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water in a saucepan. Add a pinch of salt (optional). Bring to a boil, the reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes until the water has been absorbed and quinoa seeds are a bit transparent. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
Ways to Incorporate and Use Quinoa
- For more flavor, cook quinoa in chicken or vegetable stock instead of water.
- Use as a replacement in your favorite rice or grain dishes.
- Can be eaten hot or cold.
- Add lemon juice, cilantro and toasted pine nuts for a delicious side dish.
- Mix with your favorite veggies, olive oil and lemon juice for the perfect salad.
- Add in fruit and nuts as an alternative to oatmeal.
- Toast seeds for a crunchy topping on other dishes.
- Quinoa is a neutral backdrop for any herbs, nuts, veggies or meat.
One of my favorite recipes is Quinoa Tabbouleh. It gives me my tabbouleh fix without that pesky gluten, and this recipe is so versatile, you can change it up to suit your tastes! This is also a super quick recipe, and it can all be prepped in the time it takes to make the quinoa. Perfect for a weeknight meal, and it’s great to take to potlucks, as well!
Have you tried quinoa? What are your favorite recipes or ways to eat it?