I received a question on Facebook today that dove-tailed nicely with a blog post I had already partially written on a quirky little grain named Quinoa. It was the perfect excuse to finish this post for you all!
Happy Monday – Let’s dive in!
Q: How do you pronounce Quinoa?
A: Like this: KEEN-wah.
Q: What IS Quinoa?
A: It’s a tiny seed, although based on the breathless articles written by health & fitness writers, you’d think the discovery of quinoa was on par with achieving peace in the Middle East or Healthcare.gov actually working.
It’s like – MIRACULOUS, GROUNDBREAKING, LIFE-CHANGING STUFF, this quinoa.
Or is it?
Q: I keep reading that Quinoa is ‘packed with protein’ and ‘high in protein’? Is that true?
A: Let’s go to the numbers:
Here’s the macronutrient breakdown for half a cup of cooked quinoa (no butter or other cooking fat added):
1.8 g. of fat
20 g. of carbs
2.6 g fiber
4 g. of protein
I’m not a mathematical genius, but 20 is bigger than 4 right?
If there are more grams of carbohydrates than grams of protein in a food, then that food is predominantly a carbohydrate. Just because a non-meat food has protein in it, that does not mean it is “high in protein” or “packed with protein.”
Wild salmon is packed with protein. So is turkey breast. And beef, too. But not quinoa.
This is the same flawed logic and bad nutrition advice that has people eating giant bowls of beans and lentils and tossing back handfuls of nuts because they heard some health guru say “beans and nuts are LOADED with protein” – also, not true. Beans are primarily carbohydrates, and nuts are primarily fat.
Quinoa is highest in CARBOHYDRATES.
While it does contain SOME protein, the amount of quinoa you’d have to eat to get a significant amount of protein would require you to eat several cups of the stuff. You’d consume well over 100 g. of carbs, which is around what most people need in one DAY, not one meal.
Eating too much of ANY grain – oats, brown rice, quinoa, etc. – causes a spike in insulin levels, causing excess carbohydrates to be converted and stored as fat.
Quinoa is best used as a source of starchy carbohydrates – not protein – and the amount you need is individual to you, based on your activity level and your unique metabolic tendencies. Professional athletes, endurance runners, etc. obviously need far more carbohydrates than someone who works a 9-5 desk job.
For fat loss, most people do best with 25-35 g. of carbs at their 3 main meals, so have about half a cup of quinoa, and then round out your meal with lots of non-starchy carbs (green vegetables) and some lean animal protein.
Q: How do you soak Quinoa?
A: Here is the basic formula I follow:
1 c. quinoa
1 c. warm filtered water
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s)
1 c. filtered water
1/2 tsp. salt
1. In a glass bowl, combine quinoa, 1 c. warm filtered water, and 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar. Cover and let rest in a warm place for 12-24 hours.
2. Strain the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve and rinse it well until the water runs clear. (I do this for a few minutes under running tap water, shaking the quinoa around gently in the sieve.)
3. Add quinoa, 1 c. filtered water (cold is fine here), and salt to a medium pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Let it cook for 12-15 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy. Let cool and serve.
Q: Why should I soak quinoa?
A: Like many grains and seeds, quinoa contains a protective coating designed to protect it from birds and other predators in the wild. While quinoa may look like birdseed, birds won’t TOUCH this stuff because it contains sapponins. Think of it as a low-grade toxin or “natural pesticide.”
(Isn’t nature cooooool?!)
Rinsing quinoa may help remove some of the sapponins, but to really make quinoa digestion-friendly, soak it for 12-24 hours. I start mine in the evening and make it the next morning. It’s very easy and then the quinoa cooks in 12-15 mins!
After 12-24 hours of soaking, the quinoa will sprout (you’ll see the seeds increase in size and start to “unfurl”). Soaking grains and seeds reduces lectins and phytic acid – two anti-nutrients that can damage the lining of the intestinal wall and bind to other important nutrients in your body.
Q: What is all the hype about?! Is Quinoa really a ‘miracle food’ and a ‘super food’?
A: Perhaps it’s due to the booming “gluten free” trend, but quinoa (which IS gluten-free) is cropping up more and more in recipes and on restaurant menus.
Every day, some food, fitness, or health writer proclaims it the new “it” food and tells us we should be eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner because of it’s supposed health benefits.
In researching articles for this post, I found dozens of “hypes” about quinoa, including this one from AskMen.com:
“Forget meat or protein shakes; quinoa contains more protein than any other grain.”
Ahem. Let’s take a step back and focus on the last bit there: ‘THAN ANY OTHER GRAIN…”
Sure, that’s true, but if you want more protein in your diet, then EAT MEAT AND DRINK PROTEIN SHAKES.
Is that not shiny, hype-y and sensational enough for you, America? Too bad. It’s true.
But if it makes you feel virtuous and trendy to Instagram a photo of your quinoa-amaranth-kale bowl with chia seeds on top, washed down with green juice (obviously) then please, go on with your bad self. That just means more steak for the rest of us.
Q: What ARE ‘Super Foods’ and ‘Miracle Foods’?
A: I wouldn’t worry so much about chasing down miracle foods and super foods if I were you.
Ignore the buzz-word-filled articles containing top 10 lists of weird foods you’ve never heard about but MUST start eating if you want to be cool and healthy. (Or, do what I do and read them for laughs…)
A popular Paleo food blogger recently spoke about the superiority of almond flour in baked goods because almonds are “super foods.”
While almonds may have health and nutrition benefits for some people, I also know plenty of women who have out-grown even their stretchiest yoga pants by eating too many nuts, nut butters, and treats baked with almond flours.
There is such a thing as “too much of a good thing,” and everything should be filtered through YOU, your body, and your goals above all else.
Here’s the real test of a what foods you should be eating:
If YOU like it, if your body does well on it, and it doesn’t trigger over-eating or cravings, and it gives you steady energy – then sure, you can call it a Miracle, Super Food. Even more so if it helps you meet your goal (fat loss, muscle building, performance, etc.)
Here’s how I define a “Miracle Food” – take it or leave it:
Your miracle foods aren’t goji berries, chia seeds, or quinoa.
They are foods that taste amazing, satisfy you, balance HEC (hunger, energy, cravings) and help you meet your goals.
Q: “Is Quinoa Paleo?”
A: Here’s my short answer: I don’t give a $hit*.
*Pardon my unladylike language there, but I am SO over this “Is ____ Paleo?” question.
Here’s my longer answer:
There are now Paleo doughnuts, Paleo coffee cakes, and Paleo bread, so I don’t know what “Paleo” means any more, although it used to refer to the diet consumed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors millions of years ago. From the looks of things, they ate LOTS of icing-covered pastries made with coconut and nut flours and smeared bacon, avocado, and Justin’s nut butter on everything.
Q: “BUT IS QUINOA PALEO!?”
A: I don’t know. Nor do I care.
Bigger question: Why do you care?
It’s food. Eat it or don’t eat it. Either way, no one’s coming to give you a gold star or a Paleo cookie.
Also, if questions like these are really keeping you up at night, you may want to reevaluate your relationship with food and see a mental health professional about your obsession with what paleolithic-era man did or didn’t eat.