Quinoa was a staple food for thousands of years in the Andes region of South America as one of just a few crops the ancient Incas cultivated at such high altitude. Today, it is still generally agreed to be an ancient grain and is cultivated the same way now that is was millennia ago. While quinoa is usually considered to be a whole grain, it is actually a seed, but can be prepared like whole grains such as rice or barley.
Researchers from Rutgers University, Universidad Arturo Prat and Universidad de Las Americas recently took a close look at and explained the specific nutrients and phytochemicals that make quinoa so healthy. They reported their findings in the July issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. If quinoa is not a part of your diet here are several reasons why you may want to consider adding it.
Glycine betaine is an amino acid in quinoa that has been involved in the treatment and prevention of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Quinoa has a higher protein content than barley, oat, rice and maize. Due to a property of its storage proteins, quinoa is a safe gluten-free option. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization, quinoa protein can supply over 180 percent of the daily recommended intake of the 10 essential amino acids for adult nutrition.
Betalains are what give quinoa their yellow, red and black colors. They contain a range of health-promoting properties and serve as a natural dye for foods. Betalains are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety-European Commission as a safe, natural alternative to synthetic color ingredients in foods.
Quinoa contains 10 percent total dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for digestive health, and can promote satiety, reduce cholesterol absorption, and reduce risk and severity of gastrointestinal infection and inflammation. Its soluble fiber content also serves as a prebiotic.
Phenolics are compounds found in quinoa that serve as antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic, anti-obesity and cardioprotective effects.
Quinoa seed oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids with a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio than other plant oils. Other essential fatty acids in quinoa contribute to brain development, insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, immunity, inflammation and membrane function. These fatty acids may exert beneficial physiological effects as well.
Found in quinoa, phytoecdysteroids can help build muscle and reduce stress. Other benefits include promoting growth, healing wounds and serving as an antioxidant and antidepressive.
Quinoa is rich in Vitamins A, B, C, and E. These vitamins play a major role in metabolism, regulating cell growth and development, and improving vision.
Saponins, found in the outer seed coat of quinoa, are useful in producing organic crops because they protect crops from microbial infection and from being eaten by insects and birds.
Quinoa contains sufficient amounts of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Its mineral content is higher than that of rice, wheat and other cereals.