Although we have been telling you repeatedly that most grains such as wheat and corn are the worst things in the modern western diet, Quinoa is a great alternative that is not actually a grain. It's a superfood seed that's high in complete protein (unlike other grains which are usually incomplete protein), it's gluten-free, and also has loads of other important nutrients.
Quinoa is making an appearance in grocery stores and restaurants these days, often as a substitute for rice and wheat, or in pilafs, stuffing, or as a breakfast.
What exactly is quinoa?
Quinoa, is actually an ancient favorite of the Incas and the Native South Americans of Chili, Peru and Bolivia. The Incas prized it so much it was considered a sacred seed. But quinoa was all but wiped out when the Spanish conquerors attempted to destroy all traces of quinoa, and forbid the cultivation of this seed, instead forcing the South Americans to grow corn.
Quinoa was revived in the U.S. when a couple of Americans began to grow and cultivate it, and since then it has started to catch on as a healthy alternative to grain. While quinoa is often called a grain, it is actually a seed and a member of the same family as beets, chard, and spinach. These little nutty tasting seeds are actually full of nutrition and rich in amino acids.
Nutrition of quinoa - a superstar
Quinoa is a very good low glycemic carbohydrate source, and rich with manganese, magnesium, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorus, vitamin E, and several B vitamins.
The protein in quinoa is superb; in fact it contains an almost perfect balance of all 8 essential amino acids needed by humans. It is also very high in the amino acids, lysine, cystine, and methionine -- amino acids that are typically low in grains. It makes an excellent complement to legumes, which are typically low in methionine and cystine.
I personally recommend quinoa over anything made with wheat and corn, because quinoa doesn't contain the detrimental anti-nutrients that wheat and corn contain. Plus quinoa is nutritionally superior to most grains in terms of protein quality as well as overall nutrient content, in addition to being gluten-free.
Ideas, recipes, and methods for cooking and eating quinoa
Cooked quinoa is excellent in casseroles and soups, stews, stir-fries, pilafs, or cold in salads. The seeds can be cooked in about 15 minutes.
Quinoa can be substituted for rice (for higher protein and fiber content) in many dishes. Try dry roasting quinoa in a pan or in the oven before cooking to give it a toasted, nuttier flavor. I often cook quinoa in free-range chicken broth for added taste.
Try a cold salad with cooked quinoa, and your favorite veggies chopped up. I like to add parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, chopped tomatoes, some sweet onion, and chopped zucchini. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, some sea salt and pepper and viola! a tasty nutritious salad.
Quinoa can also be a great breakfast substitute for oatmeal. It can be cooked and mixed with fruit, nuts, stevia, cinnamon, etc to your tastes. Have a couple whole eggs on the side for additional protein and healthy fats and you now have a perfect nutritionally balanced fat-burning breakfast!
Quinoa seeds can be sprouted and eaten as raw, live food for snacks or in salads and sandwiches. To sprout the seeds, soak about 1/3 cup seeds in a jar for 2 to 4 hours, then drain and rinse the seeds twice a day for 2 to 4 days. When the sprouts are about 1 inch long, place them near a window which will give them a vibrant green color. Another fascinating way of using quinoa is to "pop" the seeds in a dry skillet and eat them as a dry cereal.
Baking with Quinoa - the healthier substitution
Quinoa flour is a much more nutritionally beneficial way to bake compared to typical wheat flour that's used in almost all baked goods.
I personally like to use a blend of quinoa flour, almond flour, and coconut flour to get a lower starch content and higher protein and fiber content in my baked goods (plus to make sure the recipe is gluten-free) -- this combo of 3 flours is AMAZING in banana bread, zucchini bread, or carrot cake bread or muffins, but will work with anything if you use your creativity in baking.
Quinoa and quinoa flour are not quite yet mainstream grocery store items, but usually can be found in the health food section of your grocery store or at a health food store. If you want a healthier grain alternative that's higher in protein, high in fiber, and gluten-free (as well as delicious), give quinoa a shot!
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Mike Geary & Catherine Ebeling
co-authors - The Fat Burning Kitchen: Your 24-Hour Diet Transformation to Make Your Body a Fat-Burning Machine
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