Wheat Retreat: Quinoa

Learning how to listen to the messages our bodies send us about food.

Wooden spoon with quinoa.Digestive illnesses have a tendency to make people think a lot about the food they eat. How each food interacts with the digestive system becomes a common concern, and one of the most discussed topics in IBD life. Regardless of the underlying cause, we all notice how foods affect us.

Grain Refrain

Grains are a focus of dietary attention that we often hear about. Regardless of whether celiac disease (gluten intolerance) is diagnosed, many patients find it helpful to avoid wheat, or, at the very least, to experiment with wheat-free diets. Gluten is found in wheat and its genetic relative, spelt, as well as a number of other foods—some that contain it naturally, and some that don’t.

Oats, for example, contain no gluten naturally, but are commonly processed in facilities that also process wheat, and as a result are often contaminated with gluten.

When I experimented with grains in my diet, I found that my body was much happier with alternatives. I ate a lot of rice and felt good, and suddenly it occurred to me there might be a reason I so frequently craved Asian food. Our bodies send us messages all the time, the key is to learn how to listen. But rice isn’t the only alternative. There are plenty of other options.


One such example is quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). It is a grain (technically, a seed) that looks much like millet—little round balls, khaki in color, with a white flake of bran. It grows well at high altitudes and is commonly found in the Andes Mountains of South America. High in protein and essential amino acids, it is an extremely healthy food… plus, it’s delicious.

Quinoa is available in some grocery stores, but the better tasting varieties come from the bulk section at the co-op or natural foods grocer. It can be used in salads, casseroles, and substituted wherever you would cook with rice or other whole grains—even for breakfast, like oatmeal. It can be ground into flour so you can use it for baking. There is even a popular pasta brand made from quinoa flour.

Cooking Quinoa

Using a 2-to-1 ratio of water-to-grain, I cook mine in a rice steamer. You can also boil it just like rice; cooking instructions are the same. It does take a bit of pre-treatment, however. It needs to be rinsed several times before cooking to wash off the bitter coating (a natural defense to limit its “predators”). I rinse mine in a strainer.

If you’d like to try it before you commit to cooking it, visit your local natural foods deli; there’s likely to be at least one quinoa salad. But remember, like pasta salads and potato salads, there’s no shortage of varieties, so if you don’t like one, try another—or make your own! Or try some quinoa pasta.

Next time… my not-so-secret, yet highly-coveted quinoa tabouli salad recipe. Stay tuned.

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Tags: Coping tools , Tips ('How-Tos')

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.