In the midst of a new trend in food is a grain you might have heard of as quinoa. But is quinoa healthy enough to also receive the name of a superfood? The tiny grain is similar to rice and has been part of the food culture of South America for thousands of years. However, now it is exploding in popularity through the rest of the world.
There are virtually no dangers that might come with the food when you properly prepare it. But is quinoa healthy enough to warrant the attention it has been receiving?
What Is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a grain that is native to the Andean region of South America. It can be found in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, and its name comes from the Incan phrase for mother grain. For more than 5,000 years, the people of South America have subsisted on a diet with quinoa as one of its main pillars. Quinoa, pronounced KEEN-WAH, is exceedingly nutritious. Some have compared it to whole milk in terms of nutritional value.
As a versatile crop related to cereal grains, you can use it to make a number of different food products, including breakfast cereal, soup, flour, and alcohol. In the United States, quinoa is typically a side dish. The popularity of quinoa as a food source has started to spread in light of the research into its nutritional value. But then again, is quinoa healthy enough to completely replace any other food, or is it simply a trend that will eventually pass?
Items that Contain Quinoa
Since this crop is a grain that you can use to produce a number of different food products, there’s a wide range of items that could contain quinoa. The grain is basically interchangeable with rice in many recipes, and more often than not it is simply prepared on its own to compliment another dish. Below is a brief list of some foods that can contain quinoa:
- Breakfast cereal;
- Whole-grain bars.
In each example from the above list, the specific product will state whether or not it was produced with quinoa or traditional wheat and other grains. In many cases, it will be quite obvious if quinoa is present in the item because producers understand that many customers specifically look for products based on quinoa.
Dangers of Quinoa
- Quinoa is technically a seed, and the pericarp, or seed coat, contains a compound called saponin. This is a natural pesticide that makes the seeds taste very bitter. Research is still necessary to determine how toxic the substance is to humans. But initial findings indicate the substance is non-toxic in small doses. Fortunately, quinoa is thoroughly washed and machine processed before it is sold to remove these potentially harmful compounds.
- Some people not only eat the seeds of this crop, but they also eat the leafy greens for added nutrition. The leaves contain a low concentration of saponins. While the concentration is thought to be low enough to prevent side effects, it is possible that a diet consisting primarily of quinoa leaves could breach the threshold for what would be considered dangerous.
- One non-nutritional danger associated with quinoa is the inflated cost. Many people believe that such inflated costs are not worth the additional nutritional value, and if they are correct, that would mean that the food is overall inefficient as a source of sustenance. Inflated costs are due to the fact that most quinoa is imported and sold at high-end gourmet shops, so consumers should be wary about overspending.
Is quinoa healthy? While that question is important, it doesn’t necessarily negate potential dangers or downsides to the food.
Are there Benefits for Quinoa?
- There are clearly some benefits to quinoa since it is so popular. But is quinoa healthy enough for those benefits to override any additional cost? Quinoa is an excellent source of many nutrients, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and potassium.
- The crop is so packed with nutrients that it outranks corn, wheat, and barley in concentrations of the above elements. It also has higher concentrations of crucial amino acids than wheat and soy.
- Another obvious benefit is the utility of the product. Quinoa can be made into many different food items. Its versatility puts it into the same category as other common grains. The fact that it also contains more nutrients is certainly a big factor in the popularity of the crop.
Is quinoa healthy? The answer is a resounding yes. It might actually be healthy enough to replace other similar grains like rice or wheat. The world expands its production of quinoa in response to the increased demand. Consequently, prices will stabilize such that anyone could afford to make the switch from more common grains.
It is very possible that quinoa could grow to become one of the largest and most valuable food crops in the world.