Despite its relative youth with the North American health food(ie) crowd, quinoa’s history dates back thousands of years. Originally grown in the Andes in South America, the Incas revered quinoa as the mother of all grains. In fact, it was so integral to their culture that the Spanish conquistadors forbade the growing of it as a way to control and suppress them. Lucky for us, quinoa love has come full circle and the UN has actually declared 2013 as the international year of quinoa!
You may be wondering why this unassuming little grain is such a nutritional superstar, but the answer is because it’s actually not a grain at all. Quinoa is the seed of a plant belonging to the same family as other favored super-veggies including spinach, swiss chard, and beets.
So, what’s so great about this tiny seed? To start with, it’s one of the most nutritionally dense foods available. Unlike most vegetarian forms of protein, quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids, and plenty of them! It also contains twice the fiber of most other grains. Foods high in fiber and complete proteins help your digestion and your body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar, which means a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Quinoa is also packed with iron and magnesium, both of which are vital to the proper functioning and well-being of everyone. Lacking in either of these essential nutrients can have a huge effect on mental clarity, energy levels, and muscle function.
As good as all of the aforementioned benefits are, here’s even more good news: Ounce for ounce, quinoa has twice the calcium as whole wheat, and delivers almost 20% of the daily value of folate. If you’re worried about strong bones, want to improve your memory or are thinking about getting pregnant, start throwing quinoa into your soups, salads, and side dishes now!
While all of this scientific data shows why you should eat it, the taste alone is what’s most likely to guarantee you'll chow down on it. Fifteen minutes is all you need to whip up a delicious dish of quinoa — light and fluffy with just a hint of a nutty flavor, it can be mixed with savory and sweets, alike.
If you’re new to 2013’s superfood of the year, try this quick and healthy dinner and you’ll be hooked!
1/2 cup onions
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water or organic vegetable broth
1 cup arugula
Saute onions and shiitake mushrooms until tender. Add a cup of quinoa and toast for three minutes. Add water or organic broth, and simmer until the quinoa becomes translucent (about 10 minutes). Turn off heat, and toss in a handful or two of arugula. Enjoy!
Got a health or nutrition question for Dr. Lipman? Tell us in the comments below and we'll have him answer it in a future column!
Photographed by Christine Ting