Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has recently become popular in the United States as a nutritional powerhouse. When compared to many other grains, quinoa has more protein, antioxidants, minerals, and fiber. It’s also gluten free, which makes it a healthy alternative for people who are sensitive to glutens found in wheat.
There is also evidence to suggest that eating more quinoa — or supplementing it in recipes that call for other grains — can help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels and possibly prevent other conditions.
While it may be relatively new to supermarkets, quinoa has been a large part of the South American diet for many years, dating all the way back to the Incas. It grows in the Andes Mountains and is capable of surviving harsh conditions. While it’s eaten like a grain (in fact, the Incas called it “the mother of all grains”), quinoa is actually a seed.
There are over 120 varieties, but the most popular and widely sold are white, red, and black quinoa.
Only in the past three decades have researchers begun to discover its health benefits. Because of its high fiber and protein content, it makes you feel full for longer. Although more research is needed, there is also reason to believe that it can help lower your risk for high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Part of living with diabetes is managing your diet to help control your blood sugar. Foods that are high on the glycemic index are associated with raising blood sugar. Healthy meal plans for people with diabetes often focus on choosing foods with a medium to low glycemic index. Quinoa is on the low end of the index, meaning it won’t cause a spike in blood sugar.
Most grains don’t have all the amino acids needed to make a protein, but quinoa has enough to be considered a complete protein. The dietary fiber found in quinoa is also higher than many other grains. This means that quinoa can be particularly beneficial for people with diabetes, because both nutrients are considered important for keeping blood sugar under control.
One study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food showed that a diet of Peruvian Andean grains including quinoa can help manage type 2 diabetes and the high blood pressure associated with it.
The American Diabetes Association recommends picking grains with the highest nutritional value for your carbohydrate servings, which makes quinoa a good option. Your daily or weekly serving may depend on whether you’re using the glycemic index or the exchange system to keep track of meals. Generally, 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa counts as one carbohydrate serving. If you’re not sure how quinoa will fit into your meal plan, a dietician can help.
Like many other grains, quinoa can be bought in packaged containers or from bulk bins. It naturally grows with a bitter coating to discourage pests. Most varieties sold in grocery stores have been prewashed to get rid of the bitter taste. A quick rinse at home with cold water and a strainer can remove any leftover residue.
If you can make rice, you can make quinoa. Just combine it with water, boil, and stir. Wait 10-15 minutes for it to become fluffy. You can tell it’s done when the small white ring separates from the grain. You can also make it in a rice cooker, which is a quick and easy way to prepare the grain.
Quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor, which can be made stronger by dry roasting it before cooking. Once you’ve cooked it, add any fruits, nuts, veggies, and seasonings you’d like. There are many healthy quinoa recipes that range from morning meals to dinner’s main course. The “ancient grain” can also be found in pastas, breads, and snack mixes.