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Quinoa high in protein, vitamins, minerals

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Kathy Kolasa

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Kathy Kolasa

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Q: I was served a quinoa salad recently and thought it was pretty good. Tell us about it please. — W.H., Winterville

A: I first enjoyed quinoa about 40 years ago in the mountains of Ecuador when we were studying how the diets of rural people changed as they moved to the city. I was delighted when it finally found its way to the U.S. and is now grown in a few places here and Canada.

Julia Firnhaber is studying nutrition at North Carolina State University, and she wanted to share her enthusiasm for this wonderful, nutty tasting, high-protein plant. Here is what she wants you to know.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has gained popularity in the U.S. and is sometimes referred to a “superfood.” Although there are no criteria for calling a food super, the nutrition profile that quinoa brings certainly makes it super. In 1 cup of cooked quinoa, there are 222 calories and 8 grams of protein, double the protein content of a serving of pasta.

The average adult needs around 50 grams of protein per day. Protein is not only important for building strong muscles but also helps the body repair damage, regulate hormones and support a healthy immune system. The protein in quinoa, along with  the 4 grams of unsaturated fat (“good fat”) per serving, work to help keep you fuller longer.

One serving also has 5 grams of fiber, which also contributes to the full feeling. The fiber in quinoa is insoluble fiber, which is important for giving digested food bulk, helping it to move easier through the digestive tract.

Quinoa is packed with vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of manganese, magnesium and phosphorus. The Food and Drug Administration gives a food an excellent source if it provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value. One serving of quinoa provides more than half of your daily need of manganese, which helps make enzymes that work together with functions of the nervous and digestive systems. One serving also has about one-third of your magnesium requirement, helping keep both blood glucose and blood pressure normal. There is almost one-third of your needed phosphorus too, which is important in forming strong bones and teeth.

The food is also a good source of folate, copper, iron, zinc and some of the B vitamins. That means it has at least 10 percent or more of your daily need for those nutrients. Folate is important for making new DNA, which tells the body how your cells should grow and divide. Folate is important for pregnant women to consume because it helps prevent birth defects. Copper helps keep your blood vessels healthy, as well as your nervous and immune systems.

There aren’t many plant foods that are good sources of iron, but quinoa is and that iron helps get oxygen to all the cells in the body. Zinc keeps your immune system strong, and a cup of quinoa is a good source. It also is a good source of Vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin) and B6, which are important in the body’s metabolism.

Quinoa is technically a seed, but is cooked and eaten as a grain. You can cook it like you cook rice, boiling it in water or low-sodium broth, using 2 cups of liquid for every 1 cup of dry quinoa. Once boiling, cover and simmer until all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. But read the directions because cooking time can vary depending how it has been prepared for sale. It easily can be substituted for rice or other grains or seasoned and eaten on its own.

The seed is versatile, with recipes calling for it in cold salads, side dishes, wraps and breakfast dishes. My favorite way to eat quinoa is to cook it, squeeze some fresh lemon slices over it and top with half of an avocado — a quick and easy 345-calorie main dish you can pack for lunch or serve for dinner. This dish also contains 16 grams of fat, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein. The protein, fiber and healthy fats work together to keep you full for a long time while also helping you reach more than 20 percent of the recommended daily amounts of iron, vitamin K, folate, copper and vitamin C.

Quinoa is a great choice not only for vegetarians, but also for anyone wanting to eat less meat as it is a complete protein. It is also gluten-free and budget-friendly, costing 20 to 30 cents per ounce, so one serving costs about 50 cents. It comes white, black, red or as a mix. Red and black are a bit nuttier and chewier and have more fiber but less fat and protein. White is most commonly used and has a light taste and fluffy texture. 

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.

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