7 Health Benefits Of Eating Quinoa, The Nutrient-Dense, Gluten-Free Seed
Quinoa dates back 3,000 to 4,000 years, when the Incas in South America first realized that the seed was fit for human consumption. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) was believed to increase the stamina of Incan warriors and was referred to as chisaya mama, or the "mother of all grains."
However, quinoa is not technically categorized as a cereal grain (which include oats, wheat, barley, rye, corn, rice, sorghum, and millet). Quinoa, along with amaranth and buckwheat, is a "pseudo-cereal grain" because it is not harvested from a cereal grass but instead from a tall leafy plant that is a relative of spinach, beets, and chard. Simply put, quinoa is a starchy seed with super health benefits!
Health benefits of quinoa:
Now that we have established that quinoa is not a cereal grain, it follows that it is also free of gluten. If you fall on the spectrum of gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, quinoa is a great addition to a gluten-free diet.
As with any packaged products, it is always important to read the label and choose a quality brand. Although quinoa is technically gluten-free, Beyond Celiac does caution that it is at risk for contamination because it is often grown, processed, and cooked with gluten-containing grains like wheat and barley. Take the time to ensure quinoa products are truly gluten-free and inform restaurants if you have an allergy.
It's a whole-grain food.
Despite its status as decidedly not a cereal grain, quinoa is still considered a whole grain. Whole grains, unlike refined grains, remain intact and are not processed or stripped of their nutrient-rich bran and germ.
According to the USDA, at least half the grains you eat each day should be whole grains. That's because they provide important nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.
Because many who adopt a gluten-free diet miss out on whole grains, quinoa is an important way to meet your nutritional needs.
It's one of the most protein-rich plant foods.
Quinoa is a plant-protein powerhouse with a whopping 8 grams of protein per cup1. Not only that, but quinoa is considered a complete protein—containing all nine essential amino acids. Adding quinoa to a diet rich in a variety of plant-based protein sources will ensure an optimal balance of amino acids in order to meet your body's needs.
4. It's high in fiber.
While all grains are a good source of fiber, you get the most bang for your buck when it comes to quinoa. One cup of quinoa contains 5 grams of fiber, while a slice of whole wheat bread2 has just 2 grams of fiber.
Best known for its role in promoting regular digestion, fiber is good for more than just relieving constipation. Fiber has cardio-protective effects3 by helping to reduce high blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
It's a good plant-based source of iron.
Iron is a mineral that is required for the proper function of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood to cells throughout the body. Plus, iron is necessary for functions4 like neurotransmitter synthesis, regulation of body temperature, enzyme activity, and energy metabolism.
The daily recommended amount of iron is between 8 and 18 milligrams per day, depending on age and sex. Quinoa is one of the notable plant-based sources, providing around 3 milligrams of iron per cup.
It provides a quarter of your daily magnesium needs.
Magnesium is an electrolyte that helps to relax blood vessels. Magnesium also may reduce type 2 diabetes5 by promoting healthy blood sugar control. Other health benefits of magnesium include transmission of nerve impulses, body temperature regulation, detoxification, energy production, and the formation of healthy bones and teeth. Magnesium deficiency is linked to headaches, muscle cramps, and insomnia.
It meets half of your daily requirement for manganese.
Manganese is an antioxidant, which helps to maintain healthy mitochondria during energy production and protect cells from free radical damage. It is also important for bone development7 and wound healing.
The daily adequate intake level of manganese is set at 2.3 milligrams. A cup of quinoa will get you more than halfway there with 1.2 milligrams of manganese.
Overall, quinoa is an excellent choice for a healthy diet with quite an impressive nutritional profile. Whether you make a colorful quinoa bowl or simply eat it on its own by the spoonful, you'll be sure to get your fill of essential vitamins and minerals. How's that for functional nutrition?
Sarah Ellis is a lifestyle and wellness writer, as well as the co-host and producer of society and culture podcast, Subtext. She received her bachelor's degree from Belmont University and a Master of Arts in Journalism at New York University. Sarah covers the intersection of wellness, feminism, and pop culture and has previously written for Elite Daily, Greatist, and Rewire.News. She has also been featured on WNYC's Midday Show for her investigative reporting on male birth control research.