Whole grains have gained a lot of attention lately. They have been shown to promote heart health and are good sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals. One of the key recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans updated earlier this year was replacing at least half of our refined grains with whole grains. Oatmeal, barley, buckwheat and corn are all pretty common; examples of less common whole grains include amaranth and bulgur. Another whole grain that has been steadily increasing in popularity is quinoa.
Although considered a grain product, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is actually a seed native to South America. While it has been appearing more and more in steadily in American supermarkets recently, quinoa has been grown and harvested for thousands of years—it was once was a staple food for the Incas. Quinoa is high in protein, with 9 grams in each cup (cooked). It’s also a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids the body needs to function but can’t produce on its own (meat, dairy products and soy are also complete proteins). And, because it doesn’t contain gluten, a protein found in many grain products, quinoa is ideal for someone on a gluten free diet.
In addition to being high in protein, quinoa is also a good source of iron and folate, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin) which the body uses when converting food into energy. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, a mineral necessary for many of the body’s day to day functions from repairing cells to maintaining a regular heart beat.
Quinoa is easy to prepare, usually simmered in hot water like rice, and cooks quickly—ready to serve in 12-15 minutes (compare this to 30+ minute cook time for brown rice). Just remember to rinse your quinoa well before cooking to remove the seeds’ bitter coating.
Looking to try a new side dish? Try this quinoa salad recipe recommended by one of our nutritionists:
Orange Quinoa Salad
(Recipe adapted from Cooking Light)
1-1/3 cup quinoa, uncooked
2-3/4 cup water
¼ cup orange juice
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 tbsp reduced fat (2%) buttermilk
2 tsp honey
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 cup scallions, sliced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds (or pepitas)
Place uncooked quinoa in a large skillet and cook 4 minutes on medium heat, stirring frequently. Next, place quinoa in a sieve and rinse under cold water. Repeat rinsing procedure a second time (this removes quinoa’s natural bitter coating). Combine quinoa and 2-3/4 cups of water together in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the quinoa boils, cover and reduce heat; cook for about 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Meanwhile, whisk orange juice, olive oil, buttermilk, honey, salt and pepper together in a bowl and set aside. When quinoa is cooked through, remove from heat and let cool. Toss quinoa with orange juice mixture, scallions, cranberries, parsley and pumpkin seeds and serve room temperature.
Yield: (10 servings; 1/2 cup each)
NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SERVING:
CALORIES: 185 calories
PROTEIN: 5 g
SODIUM: 155 g
Iron: 2 g
CARBOHYDRATE: 30 g
FIBER: 3 g
FAT: 6 g Sat Fat: 1.0 g