Quinoa: What Are Its Real Health Benefits?
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah)
What is it?
An edible seed from a grain plant that is native to the Andes in South America. It comes in different varieties – white, red and black quinoa.
The health claims?
- Quinoa has a lower glycaemic index than rice i.e. it doesn’t cause the energy spike and crash associated with white rice
- It also has a lower carbohydrate content than rice
- Quinoa is easily digestible, making it a healthful choice for people with digestive complaints
- It’s a great plant-based source of protein
The scientific facts??
- Foods high on the glycaemic index (GI) are quickly broken down into sugar and dramatically raise blood sugar after eating. This leads to increased fat storage (as sugar in blood is turned into fat for storage). Cooked quinoa (150g) has a noticeably lower GI score of 53 compared with the same amount of cooked white rice, which has a GI rating of 89. But brown rice is lowest on the GI, with a score of 50.
- Quinoa is lower in carbohydrate than rice, with 19g of carbs per 100g of cooked quinoa versus 28g of carbs in the same amount of cooked white rice. It’s lower in carbs than brown rice too.
- Quinoa is gluten-free, making it suitable for people with coeliac disease and gluten-sensitivity.
- It’s claimed that quinoa can help with digestive disorders like irritable bowel disease, but there is no scientific proof to support or disprove this.
- Quinoa really is a superfood plant-based protein. It contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source.
- In fact, it’s this unique protein profile along with the fact that it contains fat, protein and carbohydrates, as well as being a good source of iron, magnesium and vitamin B6, that has led to researchers calling quinoa a functional food i.e. one that optimises health.
Nutritional facts – Rice versus quinoa
Rice is the best known alternative to white quinoa. Here’s how 100g of the cooked superfood of the Andes compares with the same amount of white and brown rice:
- Kcals: Quinoa 114 v White rice 130 v Brown rice 112
- Protein: Quinoa 4.4g v White rice 2.7g v Brown rice 2.3g
- Carbohydrate: Quinoa 19g v White rice 28g v Brown rice 24g
- Fibre: Quinoa 2.8g v White rice 0.4g v Brown rice 1.8g
- Vitamins and minerals: Quinoa is higher in magnesium, iron, calcium and vitamin A than white and brown rice
Winner: Quinoa – it’s lower in carbohydrates but higher in fibre, protein and key vitamins and minerals than rice.
Worth the hype?
Yes – for people with carbohydrate rich diets, switching from rice and pasta to quinoa is an effective way to cut carbs, while boosting the protein and fibre levels in your diet. It does have one big drawback – the price tag. A 500g bag of quinoa (8 servings) costs around £5-8. A good compromise could involve switching the rice or pasta in a dish for quinoa 3-4 times a week.