2013 – The international year of quinoa
Quinoa (pronounced keen – wah) is one of the latest trendy foods that is being splashed across magazine pages, name dropped on television and heavily promoted in stores. Many restaurants and cafes have embraced its use in their menu items whether it is used in salads, muffins or as an accompaniment to a main meal.
What is Quinoa?
Some interesting background: Despite its recent popularity, quinoa is actually an ancient grain! The crop is native to the Andes Mountains of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. It has been a major component in the South American diet for thousands of years now, referred to as ‘Inca rice’. To the Inca people, quinoa means ‘mother grain’ and it remains a staple food for them and their descendents.
Unfortunately due to the new demand for quinoa, many of the countries that are responsible for the bulk of its production have limited supplies left for themselves. The crops are much smaller than that of major, common staples such as potato and wheat. Crops are currently being tested for growth in Western Australia and Tasmania so Australian supplies can be produced.
Despite being referred to as a grain, quinoa is not actually a cereal grain, it is a seed. Quinoa is in fact related to spinach. This is why it differs nutritionally from other grains. Quinoa resembles couscous and is available in red, black, pink and grey varieties with white being the most common.
2013 – The year of quinoa! This was declared by the United Nations…So what is all the fuss about?
- Firstly, quinoa is a great source of vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre AND iron! Compared to other grains:
- A high iron content is particularly impressive for a “grain”
- Both the protein quality and quantity are higher in quinoa
- The fibre content substantially exceeds the majority of other cereal grains
Table 1: Nutrition content of quinoa compared with other grains.
The above table was adapted from the University of Minnesota1
- Quinoa is gluten free! This provides individuals who are wheat intolerant or coeliac with more options and variety. It is a great swap for couscous and is very versatile to cook with.
- Quinoa is also a good option for people with diabetes and for weight management. This grain has a low glycaemic index (GI) compared to couscous and brown rice. It is therefore absorbed slower, causing less of a peak in blood glucose levels and keeping you fuller for longer!
Table 2: Comparison of the GI of quiona and couscous
|Food name||GI||Serve (g)||Carbohydrate per serve (g)|
The information in the table above has been sourced from the University of Sydney’s Glycaemic Index database2
- It is a complete source of all your essential amino acids (what is left after protein is digested), making it a ‘complete’ protein food. This is important because essential amino acids cannot be made by the body and must come from the diet. Protein is a building block for all body parts and processes.
This is excellent news for vegetarians and vegans! Normally the only source of complete protein is from animal products like meat and dairy. The amino acid content of quinoa has been compared to that of casein (a protein found in milk).
- Quinoa has negligible salt and is low fat.
- Quinoa is extremely versatile and can be used in breakfast cereal, biscuits, salads, flour and is a great substitute for rice or couscous.
After researching this “pseudo-cereal” grain, it is safe to conclude that it is an excellent source of nutrients and would play a valuable role as part of a balanced, healthy diet.
For further information on a healthy, balanced diet or any other diet related queries, make an appointment with our dietitian Belinda Elwin on 1300 123 368.
1. Oelke E, Putnam D, Teynor T, Oplinger E. Alternative Field Crops Manual: Quinoa. Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota. Last updated April 2013.
2. The University of Sydney. GI Foods Advanced Search. The University of Sydney. Last updated June 2012.