QUINOA: Gluten-Free Ancient Grain Supports Bowel Health

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Quinoa is an oddball superfood.  Most of us think of quinoa as a type of cereal grain; however, quinoa is not a grain at all, but the seed of a plant more closely related to beet and spinach than to wheat and oat. Being the oddball isn’t necessarily a bad thing – quinoa is one of the only grain-like foods that is a balanced and complete protein source.

Quinoa is relatively rich in the amino acid lysine, which is absent from other cereal grains like rice, wheat, and oat. Lysine is an essential amino acid, meaning that humans must consume lysine from food; our bodies cannot produce it on their own. Lysine is needed for protein synthesis and is particularly important for collagen formation, recovery after injury, calcium absorption, and muscle building. Numerous studies have also found lysine to play a role in quelling anxiety.

Quinoa is also rich in fibre, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, and is gluten-free. These attributes make quinoa an ideal grain-like food for those who are allergic to gluten (celiac), as well as vegans or vegetarians. The unique protein complement of quinoa and its high nutritional value even captured the interest of NASA in the early 1990s. NASA published an article explaining that quinoa would be an ideal food in their Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS), supporting the nutritional needs of astronauts on extended space flight missions.

In addition to its nutritional value, quinoa may also help prevent chronic diseases by reducing the harmful effect of diets high in the sugar fructose. In December of last year, the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition published a study investigating the effect of quinoa on cholesterol, triglyceride, and glucose levels in the blood. The study was performed on a group of rats who were fed a diet high in fructose. The rats on the high-fructose diet were then given quinoa. The addition of quinoa effectively reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose. The authors also noted that the addition of fructose had caused good cholesterol/ HDL levels to drop, but when quinoa was added, the drop in HDL levels was inhibited.

This study demonstrates that the inclusion of quinoa in the diet may help  prevent some of the biochemical damage caused by high-fructose products such as soft drinks, store-bought fruit juices, and “junk food.”

Individuals looking for healthy weight loss strategies often have a difficult time balancing calorie intake with satiety. A 2005 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that when compared to white bread, bread made with quinoa flower offered the same amount of energy, but scored higher in satiating efficiency. This means that one would need to eat more white bread in order to feel as satisfied as when eating less bread made with quinoa.

There are some important things to take note of in the preparation and cooking of quinoa. Raw quinoa is coated with saponins (a soap-like substance), which would make it very bitter to taste and could have a mild laxative effect on the digestive system. To remove the saponin coat, soak quinoa in water for a few hours and then rinse under cold water through a fine strainer. Most commercially-sold quinoa, however, has been pre-washed and might only require a quick rinse before preparing. Instructions on the package should indicate the necessary preparation steps.

Quinoa is usually cooked much like rice or oats by boiling one cup of quinoa in two cups of water for 15 minutes. Once cooked, quinoa can be made into sweet or savoury salads, porridges, or eaten as a side dish on its own.

In its raw form, quinoa can also be germinated or sprouted. Germination activates natural enzymes, which help digestion, and can multiply its vitamin content. Once sprouted, the quinoa becomes soft and is suitable for adding to salads or eaten on its own. Enjoy your quinoa at home, in space, or wherever you are!

Curried Quinoa Salad Recipe

(From: https://www.wasabimon.com/archive/curried-quinoa-salad-recipe/)

Serves six as a side or four for lunch.

1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
2 tsp yellow curry powder
1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1-1/3 cups uncooked quinoa
2 mangoes, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch chunks
1 fresh serrano chile, seeded and minced
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews or peanuts, chopped

1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together yogurt, lime juice, curry powder, ginger, salt, and pepper. Slowly add oil, whisking until fully combined.

2. Rinse quinoa in a bowl for three minutes, using fingers to agitate grains. Quinoa has a coating of bitter saponin that needs to be removed before cooking, and agitating while rinsing will help remove it.

3. In a 5-quart pot, bring four cups of water to a boil with 1/2 tsp of salt. Add in quinoa and cook for 15 minutes, until grains are cooked through but still just a touch crunchy. Pour into a sieve, rinse with cold water, and let sit to drain for 15 minutes.

4. Once quinoa is fully drained, mix with curried yogurt and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Serve at room temperature.

Sprouting Instructions

(From: https://www.sproutpeople.com/seed/quinoa.html)

Yields approximately 1 Cup (1/2 lb.) of Sprouts

Put 2/3 Cup of seed* into a bowl or into your Sprouter.

Add 2-3 times as much cool (60-70 degree) water.

Mix seeds up to assure even water contact for all.

Allow seeds to soak for 20-30 minutes.

Empty the seeds into your sprouter if necessary.

Drain off the soak water.

Rinse thoroughly with cool (60-70°) water and drain thoroughly. Set anywhere out of direct sunlight and at room temperature (70° is optimal) between rinses. Rinse and drain again in 8-12 hours. And, perhaps once more…Rinse and drain in 8-12 hours.

We usually stop here. We like our sprouts small.

Note: Quinoa can be sprouted quite a bit longer but its texture changes profoundly, going from a soft, crunchy sprout to a very soft sprout. If you sprout it long, you’ll have to use it soon, as it won’t keep well.

Depending on the climate and the time of year you are sprouting – and most importantly, your personal preference – you may rinse and drain again at 8-12 hour intervals for several days. However, we prefer to sprout only to the point where most of the seeds have sprouted tiny (1/4 inch) roots, which is typically after just 2 or 3 rinse and drain cycles.

Your sprouts are done 8-12 hours after your final rinse. Be sure to drain them as thoroughly as possible after that final rinse.

The goal during the final 8-12 hours is to minimize the surface moisture of your sprouts – they will store best in your refrigerator if they are dry to the touch.

Transfer your sprout crop to a plastic bag or the sealed container of your choice – glass is good – and put them in your refrigerator (if you can keep from eating them all first!)


1. Effect of quinoa seeds (Chenopodium quinoa) in diet on some biochemical parameters and essential elements in blood of high fructose-fed rats. Paśko P, Zagrodzki P, Barton H, Chłopicka
J, Gorinstein S. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Dec;65(4):333-8. PMID: 21104320 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article

2. Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.), an ancient Andean grain: a review. Vega-Gálvez A, Miranda M, Vergara J, Uribe E, Puente L, Martínez EA. J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Dec;90(15):2541-7. PMID: 20814881 [PubMed – in process]

3. Effects of roasting and boiling of quinoa, kiwicha and kañiwa on composition and availability of minerals in vitro. Repo-Carrasco-Valencia RA, Encina CR, Binaghi MJ, Greco CB, Ronayne de Ferrer PA. J Sci Food Agric. 2010 Sep;90(12):2068-73. PMID: 20582934 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

4. Study of some physicochemical and functional properties of quinoa (chenopodium quinoa willd) protein isolates. Abugoch LE, Romero N, Tapia CA, Silva J, Rivera M. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jun 25;56(12):4745-50. Epub 2008 May 20. PMID: 18489119 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

5. Effect on appetite control of minor cereal and pseudocereal products. Berti C, Riso P, Brusamolino A, Porrini M. Br J Nutr. 2005 Nov;94(5):850-8. PMID: 16277791 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

6. The nutritional quality of an infant food from quinoa and its effect on the plasma level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in undernourished children. Ruales J, de Grijalva Y, Lopez-Jaramillo P, Nair BM. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2002 Mar;53(2):143-54. PMID: 11939108 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

7. Nutritional quality of the protein in quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, Willd) seeds. Ruales J, Nair BM. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1992 Jan;42(1):1-11. PMID: 1546052 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

8. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): composition, chemistry, nutritional, and functional properties. Abugoch James LE. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2009;58:1-31. Review. PMID: 19878856 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

9. [Foods formulation for people with celiac disease based on quinoa (Chenopoduim quinoa), cereal flours and starches mixtures]. Del Castillo V, Lescano G, Armada M. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 2009 Sep;59(3):332-6. Spanish. PMID: 19886520 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

10. NASA. Technical. Paper. 3422. 1993. National Aeronautics and. Space Administration. Ames Research. Center. Moffett Field, California 94035-1000. Quinoa: An … ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi…nasa…/19940015664_1994015664.pdf

Write a Comment

view all comments