In Food item, Information by Sue Marshall

Ancient advice as an old grain makes a comeback.

Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America. Often referred to as both an ‘ancient grain’ and ‘queen of grains’, there is evidence that it was domesticated 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence shows it could have been part of pastoral herding as far back as 7,000 years ago.

It’s not obvious at first glance, but quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroot and spinach. Being a member of the Amaranthaceae family, it is related to and resembles another pseudocereal, amaranth. Pseudocereals are so-called as true cereals are from the grass family.

Quinoa is unusual as it’s both high in protein (around 14%) Although high in protein, quinoa is not as high as most beans and legumes yet he protein content per 100 calories is higher than that of brown rice, otatoes, barley and millet. The only grains to beat its protein content are wild rice and oats. Unlike wheat or rice, quinoa is a complete protein, containing all eight of the essential amino acids. It has been recognised by the United Nations as a ‘supercrop’ for its health benefits as it’s packed with dietary fibre, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Its even been called a ‘perfect’ ingredient.

Quinoa lacks gluten, so it’s great for those with coeliac disease and also vegetarian and vegan diets, as well any one else’s.  It’s also naturally low in fat. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 3.4 grams of fat and is generally considered easy to digest.

Queenly status

The Incas considered the crop to be sacred and it was they who referred to it as the ‘mother of all grains’. Quinoa has become increasingly popular in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, China and Japan where it is not typically grown. That’s meant that the crop value between 2006 and early 2013 tripled. That does not make it an expensive option, but it will be more expensive to buy than rice or potatoes, by weight.

The name quinoa is thought to have come from the Spanish spelling of the native name, pre-Columbian word for it, kinwa. Before being treated, the  seeds have a bitter-tasting coating. After harvest, the seeds are processed to remove the coating then the seeds are cooked the same way as rice and can be used in a wide range of dishes.

Quinoa is a versatile ingredient great in stuffings in pilafs as a substitute for rice and can even be used in breakfast cereals or puddings. It’s easy to prepare and has a fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavor. When cooked, it quadruples in size and become almost translucent.

As it has a relatively low GI means that quinoa is unlikely to give your blood sugar spikes, making it a much safer alternative for people with diabetes to consume compared to most simple grains. According to med-health.net quinoa’s high magnesium content can help to cut down on the risk of hypertension. Because quinoa is very high in protein and dietary fibre, one serving can make you feel quite full so you are less likely to binge on other foods. Quinoa is also low in calories so you can eat two or three servings and still consume fewer calories than you were to eat, say, a serving of pasta.

Nutritional value

100g of cooked quinoa has 370 cals, 65g carbs. For all that it’s a tiny grain, quinoa seeds contain essential amino acids such as lysine, as well as quantities of calcium (5%), phosphorus (65%), Magnesium (55%), zinc (33%) and iron (35%). There’s 28% fibre, 25% vitamin B-6, 6g fat and zero cholesterol, Percentages are based on a normal healthy 2,000-calorie diet.

Food features and recipes like this appear in the Desang Diabetes Magazine, our free-to-receive digital journal. We cover diabetes news, diabetes ‘kit’ and information on food suitable for maintaining good blood glucose control or a diabetic diet, including a regular Making Carbs Count column.

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