Why Quinoa Is One of The World’s Healthiest Foods
By Taylor Jones
Quinoa is an ancient South American grain that was largely ignored for centuries.
Interestingly, it was only recently noticed by the rest of the world and hailed as a "superfood" due to its high nutritional content.
Quinoa is an ancient South American grain that was largely ignored for centuries.iStock
It is now considered a specialty food by foodies and the health conscious.
This article takes a look at what quinoa is, where it comes from and why it's so good for you.
What Is Quinoa?
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is the seed of the Chenopodium quinoa plant.
Botanically speaking, it's not a grain. However, it's often called a "pseudograin" because it's similar in nutrients and eaten the same way as cereal grains (1).
Quinoa was first grown for food 7,000 years ago in the Andes. The Incas called it "the mother grain" and believed it was sacred (2).
Although it's now grown around the world, the majority is still produced in Bolivia and Peru. It was largely unknown to the rest of the world until very recently (1).
Since then, it has experienced a huge surge in popularity because of its high nutrient content and health benefits. It is also easy to grow in a range of conditions.
In fact, the year 2013 was named "The International Year of Quinoa" by the UN because of its valuable qualities and potential to fight world hunger.
Quinoa is also popular because it's a gluten-free grain. This means people with celiac disease, wheat allergies or those who avoid gluten can consume it.
Bottom Line: Quinoa is a seed classified as a pseudograin. Nutritionally, it is considered to be a whole grain and is also gluten-free.
Types of Quinoa
There are more than 3,000 varieties of quinoa (2).
However, the most widely grown types are red, black and white. There is also a tricolor variety, which is a mixture of all three.
This is what the three types look like:
Quinoa can also be rolled into flakes or ground into flour, which can then be used for cooking and baking.
White quinoa is the most commonly consumed variety and is what you'll usually find at the store. Interestingly, the different types also have varying nutrient contents.
Red and black quinoa also have nearly twice the vitamin E content of white quinoa.
The same study analyzed the antioxidant content of each type and found that the darker the color, the higher the antioxidant capacity.
Bottom Line: There are many types of quinoa, but red, black and white are the most popular. They vary in both color and nutrient composition.
Quinoa Is Loaded With Nutrients
This grain is also popular because it's very nutritious.
Just one cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa is a great source of the following nutrients (4):
- Manganese: 58 percent of the RDI.
- Magnesium: 30 percent of the RDI.
- Phosphorous: 28 percent of the RDI.
- Folate: 19 percent of the RDI.
- Copper: 18 percent of the RDI.
- Iron: 15 percent of the RDI.
- Zinc: 13 percent of the RDI.
- Thiamin: 13 percent of the RDI.
- Riboflavin: 12 percent of the RDI.
- Vitamin B6: 11 percent of the RDI.
The same cup provides only 220 calories, in addition to 8 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat and at least 5 grams of fiber.
Adding quinoa to your diet is a great way to increase your daily intake of important vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Bottom Line: Quinoa is loaded with vitamins and minerals and contains more fiber and protein than most other grains.
Quinoa Contains Complete Proteins
Proteins are made of amino acids, which can either be made by your body or found in certain foods.
Nine of the amino acids are essential amino acids, meaning your body cannot produce them and you must get them from your diet.
Complete proteins contain all nine amino acids in significant amounts. While all animal sources of protein are complete, the majority of plant proteins are not. As a complete plant protein, quinoa is one of the exceptions.
This is one of its most unique qualities and makes it a very valuable source of protein, especially for someone whose diet is mostly plant-based.
While it's possible to get all of the essential amino acids from a plant-based diet, it does require eating a variety of plant-based proteins.
Quinoa is especially high in lysine, methionine and cysteine, which are some of the amino acids that plant foods are frequently low in (5).
Bottom Line: Quinoa is one of the few plant proteins that is a complete protein. This means it contains all of the essential amino acids you need.
It Contains Beneficial Plant Compounds
Quinoa is very high in beneficial plant compounds. Some examples are saponins, phenolic acids, flavonoids and betacyanins (6).
Many of these compounds may act as antioxidants, which means they can neutralize the free radicals that damage your body on the molecular level.
One study examined 10 types of grain from Peru. It found that quinoa had an antioxidant capacity of 86 percent, which was higher than all the other grains analyzed (7).
While all varieties of quinoa are high in antioxidants, the darkest seeds contain the highest amounts. This means black quinoa contains more antioxidants than white (3).
Also, sprouting the seeds can increase the antioxidant content even further (8).
However, a high antioxidant capacity in the lab does not necessarily translate to a higher antioxidant capacity in your body.
This shows that it really can help your body fight oxidative damage from free radicals.
Bottom Line: Quinoa contains beneficial plant compounds. Many of them act as antioxidants and protect your body from free radicals.
It May Improve Blood Sugar Control
Quinoa is considered to be a whole grain.
Several studies have linked whole grain intake to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and improved blood sugar control (10).
One large review found that consuming just 16 grams of fiber from whole grains per day was linked to a 33 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (10).
However, there aren't many studies on the specific health effects of quinoa.
Nonetheless, one rat study found that it could reverse some negative effects of a high-fructose diet, including high blood sugar (11).
It also appears to contain compounds that inhibit alpha-glucosidase, one of the enzymes involved in digesting carbs. This could delay the breakdown of carbs, causing a slower release of glucose into the blood stream (13).
Quinoa's high fiber and protein content may also contribute to its positive effects on blood sugar. However, it is a grain and is still relatively high in carbs (7).
Bottom Line: Whole grains like quinoa appear to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Quinoa may also help with blood sugar control.
Other Health Benefits
May Improve Metabolic Health
Quinoa is a good choice for people who have high blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides).
One study found that eating 50 grams (1.7 oz) daily for 6 weeks lowered total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol (14).
However, the effects were small and it lowered the levels of the "good" HDL cholesterol too.
Another study compared quinoa and corn flakes. It found that only quinoa significantly reduced triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (9).
This is preliminary, but suggests quinoa could help improve metabolic health.
May Help Fight Inflammation
Although studies have not shown consistent results, a diet high in antioxidants is thought to help fight inflammation in the body (15).
Quinoa appears to be very high in antioxidants, yet may help fight inflammation in other ways as well.
Saponins are one of the plant compounds found in quinoa. They give it a bitter taste and some people rinse or soak quinoa to try and remove this taste (16).
However, saponins also seem to have some positive effects. In addition to acting as antioxidants, they appear to have anti-inflammatory effects.
One study found that saponins could inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory compounds by 25–90 percent in isolated cells (16).
Read this article for even more information about the health benefits of quinoa.
Bottom Line: Quinoa appears to help lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides. It may also reduce inflammation.
It Does Contain Some Antinutrients
However, quinoa is very well tolerated and antinutrients are not a big concern for healthy people with a well-balanced diet.
Saponins can have both positive and negative qualities.
On one hand, they have beneficial antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Some saponins have even been shown to help reduce blood cholesterol levels (5).
However, saponins also have a bitter taste and can prevent the absorption of certain minerals, such as zinc and iron.
Some varieties are lower in saponins than others. Rinsing, scrubbing with water or soaking can also help reduce their levels if desired.
While oxalate does not cause problems for most people, those who are prone to developing these types of kidney stones may want to avoid foods that are high in it.
Phytic acid is found in a range of foods, including nuts, seeds and grains (17).
It can also be both positive and negative. On one hand, phytic acid has antioxidant effects and can block kidney stone formation.
On the other hand, it can also block mineral absorption. This might raise the risk of deficiencies in an unbalanced diet.
Bottom Line: Like other grains and legumes, quinoa contains some antinutrients. However, they do not cause problems for most people.
How to Eat Quinoa
Quinoa is very versatile and easy to prepare. It has a nutty flavor and a chewy, fluffy texture. You can cook it just like rice, with two parts liquid to one part quinoa.
Simply bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Fluff and serve.
Try using broth instead of water or adding different seasonings for even more flavor.
Watch the video below for a demonstration of how to cook quinoa:
Quinoa can be used like any other grain. It can be served plain, as a side dish or incorporated into other recipes. Quinoa flour can also be used in baking.
Here's a list of some ways to enjoy quinoa:
- Mix with chopped vegetables, served warm or cold.
- Season and serve as a side dish.
- Cook into breakfast cereal with bananas or blueberries.
- Mix with veggies and stuff into bell peppers.
- Add to chili.
- Toss into a spinach or kale salad.
Take Home Message
Quinoa is a delicious whole grain packed with nutrients, fiber, protein and plant compounds. It has a unique flavor and is an easy way to add variety to your diet.
It's particularly great for vegans, vegetarians and people on a gluten-free diet.
However, its impressive nutrient profile and health benefits make quinoa an excellent addition to any diet.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.
- 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster ... ›
- Oil Spill Disasters: How to Limit Environmental Damage - EcoWatch ›
- These Danish Companies Plan to Decarbonize Transportation ... ›
- Massive Oil Spill Turns Brazil's Beaches Black, Kills Marine Life ... ›
- Shipping Industry Could Replace Diesel Fuel With Ammonia to ... ›
Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
Imported frozen food in three Chinese cities has tested positive for the new coronavirus, but public health experts say you still shouldn't worry too much about catching the virus from food or packaging.
- COVID-19 and the Global Food Supply: Big Lessons From the ... ›
- Three Ways to Support a Healthy Food System During the COVID ... ›
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
An "explosive" wildfire ignited in Los Angeles county Wednesday, growing to 10,000 acres in a little less than three hours.
- 10 Wildfires Ignite Around Los Angeles in Unseasonable Wind and ... ›
- 550,000 Acres on Fire in Alaska in Latest Sign of the Climate Crisis ... ›
- Sonoma County Wildfire Spreads 7000 Acres in Less Than Five Hours ›
- What Should We Know About Wildfires in California - EcoWatch ›
- California's Rainless February Points to Dangerous Drought, Early ... ›
By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Human Activity Caused Latest European Heat Wave, Scientists Say ... ›
- Antarctica Experiences First Known Heat Wave - EcoWatch ›
- Intense Heat Wave Bakes Much of the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
Thailand has a total population of 5,000 elephants. But of that number, 3,000 live in captivity, carrying tourists on their backs and offering photo opportunities made for social media.
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
- Wild-Caught Elephants Can Die Up to 7 Years Earlier - EcoWatch ›
- Thailand's captive elephants face starvation amid COVID-19 tourism ... ›
- Thai Tourist Park Sets Captive Elephants Free to Focus On ... ›
- Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism ›
- Captive Elephants in Thailand May Starve as Tourist Camps Close ... ›
- The Complicated Business of Saving Elephant Tourism: A Skift ... ›