Secret Food Series - Quinoa (6 of 10)

#6 of 10 Quinoa


What it is…

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been a long time staple ingredient dating back to pre-Columbian civilizations in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. Once referred to as the “mother of all grains”, and believed to be sacred. Quinoa is a grain crop, what we eat are the tiny seeds from the grain plant. So, it’s basically a seed! However, we do eat it similarly to a grain, andis counted as a whole grain food.There are hundreds of varieties of quinoa, including the most popularwhite,red and black varieties. You may even see it turned into flour or pastas.


Why it’s important…

Quinoa has been named one of the world’s healthiest foods by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and for a good reason! Quinoa is one of the few non-animal sources that is a complete protein. This means, it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids which cannot be made by the body, and must be obtained from food. It’s a great way to incorporate a healthy protein in your diet, whileboosting iron and fiber intake. Quinoa is an excellent plant-based protein source for vegetarians, vegans and carnivores alike!


Top 5 Health Benefits

1. Very high in protein (8 grams in 1 cup). Quinoa has double the protein of most other grains. Adding this lean protein to your diet is a great way to build lean muscle and recover from tough workouts.

2. Rich in magnesium. This mineral is required for athletes to function well. It helps support optimal metabolism, cardiovascular function and blood flow. Plus, magnesiummay be effective in preventing osteoporosis.

3. Contains quercetin and kaempferol. That’s okay if you cannot pronounce these. Do know, however, that these are effective molecules with anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antiviral and antidepressant effects.

4. High in iron. One cup adds 15% of the RDA, a great boost to your system. Protein is not the only thing your muscles need to properly function and grow. It also requires other nutrients, such as iron. Iron is essential for muscle growth, plus helps the body produce energy and carry oxygen throughout your body.

5. Healthy for your skin. Antioxidants are super important for keeping skin healthy. Zinc, found in quinoa, has a supporting antioxidant role in protecting against free radical-induced oxidative damage. Zinc also protects against UV radiation and enhances wound healing.


How To Enjoy It

Awesome! You want to include this grain in your diet to unleash the warrior within. But, how?

First, I would recommend rinsing the quinoa before cooking it. This will remove thesoapy coating over the seed that protectsit from pests, called saponin. Saponin is not dangerous, howeverhas a bitter soapy taste. Most commercial quinoa is already washed, still it is a good idea to rinse just in case there is residue. To rinse: place in a strainer and rinse with cold water for about 1 minute.


How To Cook It

Basically: 1 part quinoa to 2 parts liquid (1C quinoa, 2C wateror broth). Place both quinoa and liquid in a saucepan, bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, stir, cover and cook for 10-16 minutes, or until water is absorbed. The seed will be translucent when it is done.


Top 5 Ways to Eat Quinoa


1. For breakfast! Add chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon and honey to cooked quinoa with (Super-secret food mixture!)

2. On top of cold salads. If you have leftover quinoa, sprinkle it generously over a green salad the next day.

3. Create a quinoa power bowl: top quinoa with chicken, beans, spinach and salsa!

4. Substitute for rice or pasta when making your favorite vegetable soups.

5. Stuff into vegetables. Mixed cooked quinoa with beans and other flavors for a great meal for many days. For example, add black beans, lime and cilantro to cooked quinoa. Stuff into a bell pepper and then bake in the oven.


I hope you are enjoying the secret foods! Eat power food, be powerful. If you need any questions answered, shoot me an email at


Lindsay Wexler, RDN, LD

Clinical Dietitian at the University of Nevada, Reno