Written by guest blogger Emily McGourty
Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, originated in South America, and has gained popularity in the United States over the past few years. Though it is considered a grain, quinoa is technically in the same family as leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard. It looks and tastes like a cross between rice and couscous, but has a slightly nutty flavor. Quinoa is gluten free, which makes it safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, and is higher in protein than other grains, making it a good choice for vegetarians. Quinoa is actually a complete protein (it contains all nine of the essential amino acids) has several anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, and is high in antioxidants.
In addition to boasting all of these nutritional benefits, quinoa also boasts a bigger price tag: depending upon the brand you purchase (and whether or not you choose organic), quinoa can be anywhere from two to five times as expensive as rice. So is it worth it?
Here is how quinoa stacks up against white and brown rice (comparison of 1 cup cooked grains)*:
|Calories||Carb (g)||Protein (g)||Fiber (g)||Iron (mg)|
|White Rice (enriched)||240||53||4.5||0.5||2.8|
*from the USDA National Nutrient Database
Comparisons of additional nutrients:
|White Rice (enriched)||0.030||180||24||69||54||0.78||3.4|
In 2013, quinoa was officially named The International Year of Quinoa. The recent boom in sales of quinoa has also lead to major changes for the growers of this grain. Due to the popularity and demand, farmers in Bolivia and Peru are able to sell their quinoa crops at much higher prices. Though this increase in profit may sound good, it isn’t without negative consequences. Quinoa was once a staple in these farmers’ diets, but now that they can sell them for a larger profit, they’ve stopped eating as much and have instead started consuming diets reflecting a Western influence (less nutrient dense foods such as white rice and pasta). The increased demand for quinoa has also caused a shift in the agriculture, with less emphasis on sustainable crops and less space for the llamas to roam.
Bottom line: Both brown rice and quinoa have several health benefits. The best diets are those that include a wide variety of nutrients from different sources. If you’ve been holding out on trying quinoa because it seems too trendy, or because you just don’t know what to do with it, I’d suggest you give it a try. If sustainability is a concern to you, consider incorporating quinoa into your diet occasionally instead of frequently.
Recipe Ideas for Quinoa:
Consider trying your favorite recipes that use rice, couscous or pasta with quinoa instead.
To save time, make a big batch of quinoa at the beginning of the week and use in various dishes.
-Hot cereal – add sliced fruit, nuts, milk, and maple syrup (a great alternative to oatmeal with endless topping possibilities)
-Top quinoa with scrambled eggs and sautéed vegetables
-Toss quinoa with salad for added carbohydrate, protein and fiber boost
-Make taboule with quinoa instead of couscous
– Top quinoa with stir fry
-Make stuffed peppers with a mixture of quinoa, cheese, and vegetables
-Bean & quinoa burritos
-Add to soups, stews, and casseroles
-Mix in toasted walnuts and dried cranberries for a festive side dish
If you just do not like quinoa, worry not. The real nutritional punch is in the veggies and protein-rich foods that you eat with the quinoa. Focus on a incorporating a spectrum colors into your diet from a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Guest blogger Emily McGourty is a nutrition student at Simmons College in Boston and an aspiring dietitian.