Food 101: Quinoa

Quinoa is a gluten-free whole grain that has recently become very popular in North America for its rich nutrient content and delicious versatile taste. Quinoa is native to Peru as it thrives in the high altitude of the Andes but also grows in southern Canada and northern United States. There are many different types of Quinoa but the three most popular are red, white and black grain with all three having very similar nutrient profiles and delicious nutty taste.

Health Benefits

Quinoa is a superstar among grains and offers many different important nutrients that other grains like wheat and rice do not. The nutrients listed below, found in significant amounts in quinoa, not only help to support optimal health but also help to prevent chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.


Most grains such as wheat, oats and rice are considered to be incomplete proteins because they lack two essential amino acids, which are the building blocks for protein in our body. However quinoa contains all essential amino acids causing its protein profile to be similar to that of meat and dairy, making it a great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians.


Fibre is important for keeping your bowels regular and healthy and is beneficial to help to lower your blood cholesterol levels and keep your blood sugar levels stable. Recommended intake for fibre is 25-30g/day and 1 cup cooked quinoa provides 3-4g fibre.


Manganese is an important trace mineral that helps your body to form connective tissue, bone, blood clotting factors and also plays an important role in fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Manganese is also considered an antioxidant because it helps to fight free radicals in your body.


Iron is a mineral crucial for red blood cell formation, helps to carry oxygen throughout the body and is important for a healthy immune system.


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and helps to maintain healthy bones and teeth, clot blood when you have a cut, and is important for proper muscle contraction/relaxation (including your heart muscle!).


Second to calcium, phosphorus is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is crucial for bone formation and also plays an important role in how the body stores and uses energy.


Magnesium is also an important mineral for bone and teeth formation but most importantly it activates enzymes, contributes to energy production, and helps to regulate calcium levels in the body.


Zinc is an important trace mineral that is necessary for cell growth and division, a healthy immune system, fertility and plays a crucial role in many enzymes in the body.

Where to find and how to store

With quinoa gaining in popularity these days it can typically be found in regular grocery stores in the bulk foods area, natural foods aisle or with grain products. If you cannot find it at the regular grocery store, look for it in the natural foods store. The most common type of quinoa is white but other types such as red, black and tricolor are now gaining in popularity. Store quinoa in a dry, airtight container in a cool area where it will stay fresh for up to 6 months.

How to prepare

Cooking quinoa is very easy. Simply combine one part quinoa to two parts liquid (water, broth, milk etc.), bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes until all water is absorbed. Let stand for 5 minutes and fluff with a fork just prior to serving.

Different ways to use quinoa

Quinoa is such a versatile grain that can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Here are some ideas for how to include quinoa in your meals:

  • Use quinoa in place of rice or pasta at supper time
  • Cook quinoa with milk and add vanilla, cinnamon and fruit for a delicious hot cereal in the morning
  • Add cooked quinoa to your salads
  • Combine cooked quinoa with beans, legumes, veggies, fresh herbs and your favorite low-fat salad dressing for an easy lunch
  • Stuff bell peppers with a mixture of quinoa, salsa, black beans, dash of cumin and onion, top with a sprinkle of cheese and bake at 350 for 25 minutes  for a delicious Mexican inspired meal
  • Add cooked quinoa to soups, stews or casseroles

Yield: about 5 cups

Adapted from Oh She Glows

For the salad

  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1 (14oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red pepper chopped
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
  • 2 green onions chopped
  • ½ cup chopped cucumber or zucchini
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 1 small avocado chopped into 1 inch pieces

For the dressing

  • 4-5 tbsp of lime juice
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½  tsp ground cumin


Cook 1 cup quinoa according to package directions.

While quinoa is cooking, prepare the chopped vegetables and whisk together the dressing.

Allow quinoa to cool after cooking for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add the beans and vegetables and toss well.

Dress salad with dressing to taste and season with ground pepper. Serve salad cold and keep extra salad fresh in a sealed container for 1-2 days.

Read more about Nutrition.

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