First things first, the term “superfood” is not a scientific term. It is not regulated by the FDA or any other agency. It’s a buzz word created by the food industry to market certain food products. While I am not a fan of hyped up marketing ploys, I do certainly believe some foods contain a unique combination of nutrients to warrant a dietitian’s “seal of approval”. So, before I go any further about superfoods, I want to remind you what my qualifications are for a food to be labeled a superfood. It must be:
- Nutrient Dense
- Easily Accessible
- Easy to Prepare
The last superfood spotlight was on spinach. This time we are going to take a look at quinoa.
Superfood Spotlight: What is Quinoa?
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) is typically thought of as a grain, much like barley, rice, or couscous. However, quinoa is actually a seed from a leafy vegetable similar to spinach. For this reason, many researchers refer to quinoa as a “pseudocereal”. This just means that it is cooked and prepared like many other grains, but is much more nutrient dense.
Quinoa is fairly new to the food scene. Just in the past ten years, has it gained popularity among nutritionists and food enthusiasts. I say new to the scene, but really just new to us here in the States. Quinoa originates in South America where it has been a part of ancient cuisine there since the beginning of it all.
Superfood Spotlight: Quinoa’s Nutrient Density
Quinoa is one of the healthiest superfoods out there because it is a complete protein in a grain-like package. In fact, it has more protein and more fiber than any other grain. And it is extremely unusual for a plant-based food to contain all nine essential amino acids.
Quinoa’s protein content is similar to dry milk, except that it also provides fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. It is not genetically engineered (aka GMO) and it has not been hybridized. Furthermore, it is gluten and wheat free, which makes it a perfect food for those with wheat allergies or Celiac disease.
Quinoa contains iron, lysine, and fiber. Iron promotes the creation of red blood cells. Lysine is an amino acid that is essential for tissue growth and repair. And fiber relieves constipation, helps prevent heart disease by reducing blood pressure and diabetes, as well as lowers cholesterol.
RECOMMENDED READING: Why Fiber and How Much?
Superfood Spotlight: Quinoa’s Availability
Quinoa is not at all hard to find anymore. Not only will you see it at most health food specialty markets like Trader Joes or Earth Fare, it’s readily available at most grocery chains. But the big warehouse clubs are catching on too. You’ll save big time if you buy it at Costco!
Superfood Spotlight: Quinoa’s Versatility
Quinoa certainly fits the bill in the versatility department. Just Google “quinoa recipes” and you’ll find countless ways to prepare it. Quinoa can also be served cold or hot, as a main dish or in a salad. Quinoa can even replace pasta and rice in many dishes. See why I like it so much?
Superfood Spotlight: Quinoa’s Appeal
I have to admit, the fact that quinoa doesn’t take long to prepare only adds to quinoa’s appeal. It is very similar to rice. For every one part quinoa, add two parts water. Bring to a boil then cover and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. You’ll know it’s done when the outer shell of the “grain” appears translucent.
Quinoa has a very mild and slightly nutty flavor that works well in a variety of dishes: use it as a substitute for noodles in macaroni and cheese; chill it in the refrigerator and add to fresh vegetables; use quinoa as a substitute for rice pilaf for a nice side dish. The list goes on.
My favorite way to prepare quinoa is during the summer months when tomatoes and cucumbers are available at farmer’s markets. I prepare the quinoa per the directions on the box, slice up tomatoes and cucumbers, and add some mozzarella cheese.
Then I toss the quinoa salad with my own homemade vinaigrette and chill in the frig. Oh my! It is delicious and two of the four kids like it too. (That is pretty good odds with my picky eaters.) I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Here are a few of my favorite quinoa recipes:
Keri’s Summer Vegetables and Quinoa Salad (Just came up with the name. Ha!)
- ½ cup quinoa prepared as directed on box
- 1 cup tomatoes (I love grape tomatoes)
- 1 cup chopped cucumbers
- ½ cup fresh cubed mozzarella cheese
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup tarragon wine vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp Tabasco
Directions: Whisk dressing ingredients together. Use about ½ vinaigrette dressing and toss with vegetables, cheese, and quinoa. Refrigerate and serve chilled. Save leftover dressing and use within a few days.
Broccoli and Quinoa Casserole
- ¾ cup quinoa
- 1 ½ cups water
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1/3 cup of mayonnaise
- 10oz can condensed cream of broccoli (or mushroom)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 ¼ cups shredded cheddar or colby-jack cheese
- 1 tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp pepper
- dash nutmeg
- 2 cups cooked broccoli
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Bring quinoa, water, and salt to a boil. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray 8 x 8 casserole dish in olive spray.
- In a large bowl combine the soup, mayonnaise, milk, shredded cheese, sugar, pepper, and nutmeg until well mixed.
- Stir in the quinoa and broccoli.
- Spoon mixture into casserole dish.
- Sprinkle on a couple of tablespoons of parmesan cheese and bake for 35-40 minutes.
Makes 8 generous ½ cup servings.
Quinoa and Avocado
- ½ avocado, mashed
- ½ cup cooked quinoa, prepared as directed on box
- pinch or two of feta cheese
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Directions: Stir to combine. Serve warm or chilled, as a side dish or main dish.
Superfood Spotlight: Quinoa Conclusion
So there you have it. Quinoa is available at most every grocery store from Wal-Mart to Kroger to Whole Foods.
It is not very expensive at less than 75 cents per serving (and even cheaper at wholesale clubs!).
As you can see, quinoa is easy to prepare, only taking about 20 minutes to fully cook.
Dense in nutrients with a serving having 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, as well as many vitamins and minerals such as iron, folate, and zinc. And last but I feel most importantly, it tastes good and can be used in a variety of ways. Hopefully I have convinced you to give quinoa a shot if you haven’t tried it yet. You may discover a new favorite!