This superfood has been in the news a lot lately, and with good reason: It's an excellent source of folic acid, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus; and a good source of copper, fiber, iron, protein, and vitamins B-1 and B-6. It's also one of few plant-based foods with complete proteins -- meaning it has all the essential amino acids.
"I call it a 'bang-for-your-buck' food," says Erin Dubich, a Chicago-based registered dietitian. Though technically a seed, it's cooked as a grain, and it has benefits that outstrip other whole grains. Originally from South America, quinoa was considered sacred by the ancient Incas. (It's pronounced kin-wah or keen-wah.) Just in case you need a little inspiration to try this amazing food, here are six great health reasons to add it to this week's shopping list:
1. Quinoa can help you lose weight.
It's a pretty simple notion: When you feel full, you eat less. Thanks to high protein and fiber, quinoa is wonderfully satiating. Swap quinoa for a side dish like potatoes or rice, and it'll help you control your cravings and eat less.
2. Quinoa is great for managing diabetes.
"Quinoa is low on the glycemic index," says Dubich. "That means you can eat quinoa and not have your blood sugar jump up." This is because quinoa's high fiber content helps slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the bloodstream. This means quinoa helps you control existing diabetes, and prevent diabetes, too.
3. Quinoa fights cancer and inflammation.
You've heard of vitamins and minerals -- but do you know about phytochemicals? These are smaller and greater in number in the foods we eat. One phytochemical found in quinoa is saponin -- and this is what gives quinoa its anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
4. Quinoa helps prevent gum disease.
"Any time you eat something high in fiber, it helps clean debris in the oral cavity," says Dubich. Quinoa is high in fiber, so it's a great teeth-cleaner. At the same time, quinoa's blood-sugar-lowering effects help your mouth, since there's a known connection between blood sugar and gum disease.
5. Quinoa helps prevent constipation.
You already know that fiber helps with digestive health. What you may not know is that quinoa is a monster in the fiber world. With 2.5 grams of fiber in just a half cup of cooked quinoa, this little grain can do a lot to keep you regular. (Added bonus: Fiber can help reduce your risk of gallstones, too.)
6. Quinoa can help your heart.
Magnesium and potassium are linked to better-controlled blood pressure, says Dubich. And quinoa has both (and more potassium than any other whole grain).
Whipping up a batch of quinoa is super-easy. You can pick up a package, or just get some white quinoa from the bulk aisle. Put 2 cups of water or chicken broth in a pot, add a cup of quinoa, and bring to a boil; then turn down the heat to a simmer, and cover. In about 10 minutes all the liquid will be absorbed and you'll be able to fluff it with a fork.
So this week, give quinoa a try. Serve it in place of rice, pasta, potatoes, or couscous. Make a big batch and sprinkle it on your salads or on yogurt. If you're feeling creative, look online for fun recipe ideas -- you'll find ideas for including this versatile superfood in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even dessert. Dubich recommends incorporating quinoa into several meals each week. Pretty soon, you'll be making it a regular part of your menu -- and your body will thank you for it.