Healthy Grains: Quinoa
What’s the deal with this oh-so-popular grain, quinoa? While it’s popularity may feel like a fad, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a super food that should never go away. It’s high in fiber and protein, which means this grain will help you stay full and satisfied for longer periods of time than rice, potatoes, or pasta.
When comparing 1 cup of cooked quinoa to 1 cup of cooked white rice, you’ll notice that quinoa has more calories and fat than rice. Traditionally, this would create cause to raise our red flags. However, when reading nutrition labels you need to look at the whole picture. Let’s dig a little deeper as to why quinoa’s fat, protein, and fiber are a worthwhile addition to your diet.
First, let’s talk fat. We need small portions of fat to help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. Fat also takes longer for your body to break down, so your blood sugar won’t spike as high after eating a carbohydrate with small amounts of fat. Like fat, protein decreases the immediate spike in blood sugar and takes longer for your body to break down, which prevents hunger from striking too quickly post-meal. Whether it’s plant-based or animal-based, protein allows you to feel satiated, promoting weight loss and weight maintenance.
Last but not least, let’s talk about fiber. Fiber is one of the most important nutrients and can be easily over looked. We need about 25-35 grams of fiber a day. The best way to get your intake is from whole grains, vegetables, and fruit. There are plenty of products that have loads of fiber added to them, which is okay, but at best be cautiously optimistic; many times these items have a lot of added sugar. Getting fiber from whole foods is also easier for your body to digest. Load up on foods that are naturally high in fiber like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like quinoa, barley, whole wheat bread, amaranth, and buckwheat.
Quinoa is easy to cook - similar to how you cook rice or grits. For every cup of dry quinoa, you need roughly 2 cups of liquid. All you need to remember is the 1:2 ratio. I personally enjoy cooking quinoa with vegetable or chicken broth mixed with water.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then add the dry quinoa and turn the stove down to a simmer. Stir every couple of minutes. You’ll know the quinoa is done when it’s fully absorbed the liquid and it’s nice and fluffy.
Easy Quinoa Recipe
2 cups quinoa
3 cups water
2.5 cups broth
1 onion chopped (any variety)
¼ cup fresh basil chopped
1 red bell pepper chopped
¼ cup corn (optional)
2 cups chopped spinach
1 tsp of minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste In a separate pan sauté chopped onion and bell peppers.
Once they’re somewhat soft add fresh basil, spinach, corn and minced garlic. When all the vegetables are soft mix them with the cooked quinoa. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with avocado or goat cheese for an easy side dish or snack!
Quinoa has become quite popular because it’s a tasty grain substitute for pasta, rice, or potatoes, but it offers so much more nutrition to a meal in comparison to its counterparts. It has a nutty flavor (which I personally love) and the texture is similar to couscous, grits, or polenta. The flavor isn’t so strong so as to overpower your other dishes, but I recommend keeping an open mind if you’re expecting it to taste like rice. Make your favorite soup, stew, curry, or ratatouille and douse it over a bed of quinoa. You can’t go wrong.
Written and Photographer by: JoAnn Gruener MPH, RD
JoAnn Gruener is a Registered Dietitian for the City of San Francisco, Department of Public Health and is passionate about helping people better understand why we should eat certain foods and stay away from others. She's inspired to teach people how to choose better foods and create a healthy lifestyle that leads to a better quality of life. She's constantly learning new things about the field of nutrition from research and from practice and hopes to share some useful nuggets with the Scrumpt Community along the way! You can visit her blog at http://pepperedred.com/