Quinoa - a pseudo-grain with real benefits

Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Author Martin Cheifetz

What exactly is quinoa?

Quinoa: It’s not easy to say (keen-wah) but it is easy to prepare, delicious, and a real nutritional powerhouse. Quinoa is an ancient South American crop, easily confused with grains like bulgur wheat or couscous because it is often prepared and served in a similar fashion. However, quinoa is not a grain….it is a seed, and it comes from the same plant family as beets, chard, and spinach; hence the term “pseudo-grain”.

As it is not a grain, it is also naturally gluten-free, which is one of the many reasons it has become so popular in the last decade. In fact, 2013 was named Year of the Quinoa by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization due to the crop’s incredibly high nutritional profile. Regardless of your genotype, this is a fact that will serve you well on any trivia quiz!

You can find white, red, and black quinoa sold as separate varieties or in mixed packages in most supermarkets or health food stores. Nutritionally, there’s no major differences, so the choice is down to color preference and availability. A mix of all 3 colors is a very nice presentation on the plate, and the black and red varieties offer particular visual interest in your food pairings.

Adding it to your diet

Everyone has different levels of culinary skills, but two popular ways to eat quinoa that are easy enough for anyone who can operate a heating element and spoon: Try quinoa either as a change from oatmeal or paired with a protein for dinner: For my oatmeal substitute, I make a 50/50 mix of multi-colored quinoa and buckwheat. 1 part buckwheat groats + 1 part multicolored quinoa + twice the amount of water as the total dry ingredients (i.e. 1 cup buckwheat + 1 cup quinoa + 4 cups water). Bring the pot to a boil for 1 minute, stir, cover and turn off the heat. Let it sit covered for an hour to absorb all the water and voila! You then have a variety of colors, textures, and flavors, and this will blow away any prepackaged breakfast cereal in terms of nutrient profile. Depending on your genotype and taste buds, you can then add in coconut or olive oil, cinnamon, chia seeds and top it with some blueberries. Make a big batch….it keeps for days in the fridge. If you eat salads for lunch or dinner, this gluten free, protein rich pseudo-grain mixture is great to toss in with a spinach salad too.

The other easy way to enjoy quinoa is to pair it with a protein source (fish, chicken, lamb, etc) for a simple, balanced dinner that makes a beautiful presentation on the plate. We’ll use salmon in this example. Prepare your quinoa as above, but with salmon, try to find black quinoa for greater visual effect. Simply prepare your salmon….pan fried, grilled, steamed, etc. Make some steamed or stir-fried vegetables (broccoli and red peppers for instance). On your big dinner plate, arrange fresh baby spinach leaves at the bottom, a big scoop of black quinoa on top of the spinach, place your cooked salmon on top of the black quinoa with a lemon wedge, and then around the perimeter of the plate, you can arrange your steamed or stir-fried vegetables. Drizzle some nice peppery extra virgin olive oil over the whole deal, a few turns of your salt and pepper mills, and you’re done. The plate will look amazing. The food is delicious and incredibly nutritious….and if this takes more than 20 minutes from start to finish, we need to chat. ;-) You can reach me at martin.cheifetz@fitnessgenes.com for cooking lessons. I’m happy to help…..really.

My talented colleague Leilah has created and photographed another beautiful way to enjoy quinoa with this week’s feature recipe, butternut quinoa protein bowl.  Also try our Lentil, Quinoa and Herb Garden Salad or our Quinoa Garden Bowl. You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with Leilah's Apple and Quinoa Crumble

From yet a third FitnessGenes kitchen, check out Dr. Dan's 4 Quinoa Recipes for Quick and Easy Meal Prep

Nutritional value and health benefits

Now that we’ve given you several great ways to enjoy quinoa, here’s the nutritional rationale for why you should incorporate it into your meal planning:

Nutritional Profile of 1 cup cooked quinoa (185 grams):

  • 222 calories
  • Protein: 8 grams
  • 39 grams of carbs (of which 5g is fiber)
  • 4 grams of fat (of which 0.4g is saturated fat)
  • Manganese: 58% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
  • Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA.
  • Folate: 19% of the RDA.
  • Copper: 18% of the RDA.
  • Iron: 15% of the RDA.
  • Zinc: 13% of the RDA.
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
  • Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B6

Health benefits of quinoa:

  • Unlike many plant-based options, it contains all 9 amino acids and is therefore a complete protein source. Protein is essential for the normal functioning of your muscles. It is also very high in fiber to help with the smooth running of your digestive system. Foods rich in protein and fiber are also good to increase satiety levels and reduce overall calorie consumption
  • Plant based, heart-healthy fats and antioxidants
  • Rich in essential minerals vital for proper cellular function, cardiovascular and circulatory, and digestive health.
  • High levels of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients like quercetin
  • Low glycemic index, so very good for blood sugar control
  • Low in allergens and easy to digest

Any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to get in touch with me directly at martin.cheifetz@fitnessgenes.com or at https://twitter.com/martincheifetz

Sources and for further reading on quinoa:






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