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Approximately 90 percent of the world’s calories are provided by less than one percent of the quarter million known edible plants. The big three are wheat, corn, and rice, the reliance upon which may be unsustainable, given the ongoing climate crisis. This has spurned new interest in underutilized crops like quinoa, which might do better with drought and heat.
Quinoa has only been introduced into the Northern hemisphere recently, but humans have been eating quinoa for more than 7,000 years. Is there any truth to this “superfood” designation, or is it all just marketing hooey?
Quinoa is a “pseudograin,” since the plant it comes from isn’t a type of grass. Technically, it’s a seed-like fruit. It does have a lot of protein, and also lots of vitamins and minerals, but so do all whole grains. Yeah, it has more protein than other grains, but since when do we need more protein? Fiber is what we’re sorely lacking, and its fiber content is relatively modest, compared to barley or rye. Pretty strong on folate and vitamin E, and leads the pack on magnesium, iron and zinc. So, nutritious? Sure, but when I think superfood, I think some sort of special clinical benefit. So, broccoli is a superfood; strawberries are a superfood; garlic is a superfood. But what about quinoa? Consumer demand is up, thanks in part to perceived health benefits. In lab animals, it has all sorts of purported benefits, but there have been very few human studies.
The first trial was a before-and-after study of quinoa granola bars that showed drops in triglycerides and cholesterol, but with no control group, you don’t know how much of that would have happened without the quinoa. This is the kind of study I wanted to see: a randomized controlled trial. And about a cup a day of cooked quinoa for 12 weeks led to a 36 percent drop in triglycerides. That’s comparable to what one gets with triglyceride-lowering drugs or high-dose fish oil supplements.
Which is better, regular quinoa or red quinoa? Well, red does have about twice the antioxidant power, leading the investigators to conclude that red quinoa might significantly contribute to the management and/or prevention of degenerative diseases associated with free radical damage––though it’s never been put to the test. What about black quinoa? Both red and black quinoa appear equally antioxidant-rich, both beating out the more conventional white.
The only caveat I could find is to inform your doctor before your next colonoscopy, else they might mistake it for parasites. Colonoscopy revealed numerous egg-like tan-yellow ovoid objects of unclear cause, but it was just undigested quinoa.
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