Fact or Myth: Is Quinoa a Grain?

This is a MYTH.

If it tastes like a grain and cooks like a grain, then it must be a grain…right? Wrong! Which is good news for those looking for a gluten-free alternative to grains like brown rice, cereal, and oats. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is actually in the same family as spinach, beets, and chard. We typically eat the seed of the quinoa plant—recognizing its superfood properties the Incas called it “The Mother Seed”—but the leaves are just as edible. You can add quinoa to salads and soups…eat it as a side dish…enjoy it as a porridge…you can even pop it like popcorn!

Quinoa in three colorsQuinoa’s Remarkable Health Benefits

2013 was declared the “International Year of the Quinoa,” and while its reign as plant of the year may have ended, its status as a superfood has not. Quinoa is a complete protein comprised of all nine essential amino acids. Our body cannot manufacture these amino acids, and depends on adequate dietary sources like quinoa. Quinoa pretty much matches the protein composition of milk, and puts rice, millet, and wheat to shame.

Rich in phytonutrients like quercetin and kaempferol, quinoa is a natural anti-inflammatory that wards off infection and illness. With twice the amount of calcium and fiber as whole grains, quinoa helps to balance blood sugar levels and relieve digestive ailments. Its low glycemic index makes it the perfect nutritive source for diabetics, and its high-fiber content helps lower cholesterol and curb appetite, making quinoa the perfect food for weight loss. Quinoa is also rich in riboflavin (B2), which helps stimulate metabolism, as well as spurs energy production in brain and muscle cells, thus helping to reduce the frequency of migraines.

There are over 120 known varieties of quinoa, of which red, white, and black are the most popular. Red quinoa holds up well in salads, while black quinoa has a nuttier, sweeter flavor. You can substitute quinoa flour for traditional white flour in many recipes, and take advantage of heart-healthy quinoa oats. Quinoa is coated with a toxin called saponin, so be sure to rinse thoroughly before consuming.