Quinoa: Gold of the Incas

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I am a huge fan of whole grains, but quinoa (KEEN-wah) is my absolute favorite.

This staple of Incan culture (their army swore by it and considered it as valuable as gold) is a nutritional powerhouse which is finally sharing shelf space with rice, cous cous, and pasta at general supermarkets after years of taking a backseat in specialty health food stores.

Quinoa is not really a grain; it actually belongs to the same family of dark leafy green vegetables as spinach, but due to its texture and cooking method, it is referred to as a grain (thus, it is technically a pseudograin).

And what a pseudograin it is! Quinoa is the only complete plant protein (meaning it has all eight essential amino acids; many plants proteins are missing the amino acid lysine).

Containing very high levels of blood-vessel-relaxing magnesium — half a cup provides 50% of the daily requirement for a 2,000-calorie diet — quinoa helps treat hypertension and, some recent research suggests, migraine headaches.

One cup of cooked quinoa packs 503 milligrams of potassium — another key mineral in preventing hypertension and offsetting the problems of too much sodium. To give you an idea, that’s as much potassium as a large banana (15% of the recommended amount)!

This South American superstar leaves many others grains in the dust.

Compare one cup of quinoa with one cup of white rice:


Calories: 254

Fiber (grams): 4

Protein (grams): 9

Potassiums (milligrams): 503


Calories: 205

Fiber (grams): 0.6

Protein (grams): 4.3

Potassium (milligrams): 55

It gets even better! Quinoa is a prebiotic, meaning it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in our intestinal tracts. The healthier our bacteria, the better chance we have of warding off infections and fighting back and disease-causing bacteria.

And, as if all that wasn’t enough, quinoa is gluten-free, so celiacs can enjoy it — and all its benefits — with no side effects.

Interested in trying some? Find unflavored quinoa in your supermarket (in the same aisle as rice) and go to town. Cooking it is easy. Simply mix in a pot with water, bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the water is evaporated.

Remezcla contributor Andy Bellatti is a Buenos Aires native pursuing his Master’s in Nutrition at NYU. He lives in Brooklyn with  his cat Tyler. This column is adapted from Andy’s nutrition blog Small Bites where he brings “fad-free nutrition to the web, one post at a time” in a fun, informative way.