When I was a kid my staple weekend winter morning breakfast was a big bowl of cream of wheat. Since taking grains out of my diet, nothing I’ve made has been a true substitute for the rich warm heartiness of a bowl of hot cereal. So, I decided to compromise. I wouldn’t go back to my cream of wheat roots (gluten and I do not play well together) but I would give a certain gluten free pseudo-grain quickly gaining popularity a try.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is the seed of the quinoa plant. Despite quinoa’s common classification as a whole grain, it is not a traditional cereal grain like wheat, corn and oats just to name a few. It is actually a pseudocereal. Quinoa’s pseudocereal designation comes from the fact that it does not come from a grass as true cereal grains do, but a completely unrelated broad leafed plant. Quinoa, a chenopod, is actually more closely related to beets, spinach, Swiss chard and tumbleweeds.
So, why is quinoa referred to as a “whole grain”? It is lumped in with traditional cereal grains because, in both cases, the seed of the plant is consumed as food, it can be ground into flour, and both the seed and flour is often used in very similar manners.
Why Should I Try Quinoa?
Well, that depends. If you are following a strictly grain-free diet, then the answer is no. Although quinoa is a pseudograin, it still contains the phytic acid, saponins, and lectins present in traditional cereal grains.
Why is phytic acid an anti-nutrient? Read more here.
Despite the fact that gluten is getting all the press when it comes to grains and their effect on your health, many people choose to lead a grain free life because of something called Leaky Gut. Though not a disease itself, Leaky Gut is believed to be the root cause of many inflammatory diseases like arthritis, acne, psoriasis, IBS and Crohn’s. Even more surprising, however, is the association between Leaky Gut and seemingly unrelated conditions like depression and chronic fatigue.Learn more about Leaky Gut here. What role does grain consumption play in creating a Leaky Gut? Read more here. Do I have a Leaky Gut? Take a quiz to find out here.
However, if you are following a gluten free diet, then quinoa may be a welcome addition to your food choices. Here are a few reasons why quinoa deserves a chance on your plate or in your bowl:
- Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids. This includes the amino acid lysine which is essential for tissue growth and repair. Unlike traditional cereal grains, quinoa is a complete protein, though not particularly protein dense. The best place for protein is still, and will always be, a piece of meat.
- Quinoa contains Iron. Iron is the basis of hemoglobin formation which allows our red blood cells to transport oxygen to our body cells. Adequate levels of iron are essential to proper brain function because the brain takes in about 20% of our blood oxygen. Iron is also necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis, regulation of body temperature, aids enzyme activity and energy metabolism. Non-heme, or plant based iron sources are best absorbed in the presence of Vitamin C, so have some tomatoes, or slice up a citrus fruit to dress your quinoa.
- Quinoa is rich in magnesium. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels and promotes healthy blood sugar control, two essentials in maintaining good cardiovascular health. Magnesium also helps reduce stress, improve energy production, and promotes healthy bone and teeth formation.
- Quinoa is high in Riboflavin (B2). B2 improves energy metabolism within brain and muscle cells and is known to help create proper energy production inside all body cells.
- Quinoa has a high content of manganese. Manganese is an antioxidant, which helps to prevent damage of mitochondria during energy production as well as to protect red blood cells and other cells from injury by free radicals.
- Quinoa is alkaline-forming. Unlike traditional grains, which acidify you body as they are digested, quinoa helps keep your body at a desired 7.1, or slightly alkaline pH.
What are the benefits of having a pH balanced body? Learn more here.
Often served in the place of rice during an evening meal, I’ve found quinoa makes more sense to me in my breakfast bowl. Try it as a rice substitute in any recipe (wonderful in soups and stews), as a side dish at dinner, or make it your new hot cereal substitute, like I do. The recipe below is ripe for your own modifications and enhancements. I’d love to know how you dress up your quinoa for breakfast!
- 1 c coconut milk
- 1/3 c raisins
- 1 t vanilla extract
- 2 c cooked quinoa
- 1/3 c slivered almonds
- cinnamon to taste
- maple syrup to taste
- pinch of salt
- Cook quinoa according to instructions on package.
- Reserve 2 c of cooked quinoa, store the rest in the fridge for a snack later.
- In a skillet bring 1 c of coconut milk to a low simmer.
- Add the raisins, salt, and vanilla extract.
- Simmer for 3-5 min or until the raisins have begun to puff and soften.
- Add quinoa and almonds.
- Stir until coconut milk begins to bubble.
- Add maple syrup and salt to taste.
- Serve immediately.