Monday, November 15, 2010

Eat Your Way to Better Health with Quinoa

We Canadians certainly love our staple foods. When it comes to complex carbohydrates, we frequently chow down on potatoes, oats, rice and foods made from wheat including pastas, crackers, bread. But more recently, in part due to a boom of individuals suffering from gluten intolerance (an allergy to wheat), it seems that ancient grains are making a comeback in a big way, and are regularly being resurrected onto our dinner plates.

Some experts argue that over-exposure to particular foods can cause our bodies to develop an immune response to particular proteins within the foods, producing antibodies against these antigens, resulting in an allergic reaction to the foods in question. Whether or not over-exposure is the cause is hotly debated, but this gives us even more reason to mix up what we consume on a daily basis - which is the goal if we want to maximize the variety of nutrients we consume each week. This is where ancient grains can help.

You may or may not have heard of quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), but there is a lot to be said about this ancient powerhouse grain that has been around for centuries. NASA astronauts have definitely heard of it, as they've been taking it to space for a while due to it's amazingly complete nutritional profile and they're actually considering including it as part of a program to grow crops in space. Hey-when you've got to pack light, this tiny grain packs a huge nutritional punch. Described as the 'perfect grain', not only is this grain gluten-free, is good source of calcium, iron, vitamin E, phosphorous and some B vitamins and it contains all the essential amino acids and more protein than just about any other grain (almost 2x that of rice or barley). Cooking quinoa is simple - in fact you cook it just like you would rice, buckwheat or any other grain, but it only takes about 15 minutes. The main difference is that you have to soak it and rinse it for a little bit at first.

The outside of the quinoa grain contains a compound called saponin, so if you don't rinse and agitate the grain before cooking it, you will end up with a bitter, soapy flavour which you can bet tastes horrible. Don't worry, though, it only takes a few minutes to rinse, and once the firm little coating comes off, they're good to cook! You can do anything with quinoa that you would with any other grain - have it at breakfast (porridge), in salads, soups, or paired with your meat and veggies. Quinoa is so common now that you can find it literally in any store - so go on, get yourself some. It might even become a new staple food in your kitchen.