Do you know how to pronounce quinoa? Click on this link and you’ll hear it. It sounds like “keen-wa.” The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) decided last year that 2013 should be the International Year of the Quinoa because it is such a highly nutritious food. That certainly made it trendy and it suddenly became cool to serve it to guests. Recipes like quinoa tabbouleh (instead of bulgur wheat), salads of every description, soups, and even meatballs (using pork), all became the rage.

Quinoa is a gluten-free grain. It is now becoming enormously popular even though it has been around for over 4,000 years! One reason is that it has twice the quantity of protein as rice. It also has no less than nine amino acids. However, it must be said that it is not as rich in protein when compared to one serving of lentils, which contain 13 grams. Quinoa contains about half that, while a beef steak has 26 grams.

Here are 7 surprising health benefits of quinoa:

1. Helps reduce cholesterol

Take one cup of this grain (185 grams). You will be surprised to discover that it contains 0 mg of cholesterol and a very small amount of salt (13 mg, which is just 1 percent). Cutting down on meat and dairy, which raise cholesterol levels, will reduce your chances of getting a heart attack or a stroke. You can easily opt for a quinoa salad instead of bacon and eggs.

2. Contains twice as much fiber as other grains

If you have enough fiber, you are going to avoid a lot of health problems such as constipation, diabetes and obesity. Compared to other grains such as wheat, barley and farro, quinoa has twice the amount of fiber.

3. It’s a great source of riboflavin

Quinoa has loads of vitamins but it has one in particular that is really useful in maintaining energy levels. This is vitamin B2 and is also known as riboflavin. It can help to break down the carbohydrates and fats. If you get enough vitamin B2, you will be more energetic and also have better skin, sharper vision and stronger nerves.

4. High levels of magnesium

This marvelous grain has high levels of magnesium. If you suffer from cramps in bed, like I do, then lots of magnesium is the answer. This happens to me in hot weather and the reason is that my levels of magnesium are depleted through sweating. This affects the nerves, which contract the muscles. You need anything from 300mg to 600mg of magnesium a day. Just another reason to add quinoa to your diet on a regular basis.

5. Helps in the weight-loss battle

As I mentioned above, the high fiber content makes you feel fuller on a lower number of calories.

One typical serving of quinoa has about 170 calories, which compares very favorably with a serving of pasta at about 370 calories. You can keep the calorie count low by adding salad or vegetables. You can still get up from the table feeling reasonably full but with a much lower energy intake. You are getting all the nutritional value of quinoa as well in that its range of vitamins and minerals is second to none.

6. Keeps your blood sugar levels steady

In order to avoid getting diabetes, it is imperative that you keep your blood sugar (glycemic index) levels low. It is shocking to realize that 6 million out of the 24 million  Americans who have diabetes, are completely unaware that they have this disease.

Simple carbohydrates (like bread, cakes and pasta) will increase your blood sugar levels and you will get cravings for more sweet things. But if you use a whole grain like quinoa, then the fiber content slows down the whole process and there are no spikes in blood sugar. That means that the insulin process is under no strain. Your chances of getting diabetes are therefore reduced.

7. It improves memory

Our brains love sugar and fat to keep them going. In fact, the brain is made up of 60% fat, but we need to feed it the right types of fat (olive oil, fish and nuts) and other minerals to keep dementia and loss of memory at bay. But the best brain-protecting compounds are flavonoids. Fortunately, quinoa was found to have a very high levels of this vital brain food. Add quinoa to your diet to keep your memory sharp.

Have you tried quinoa yet? What did you think of the grainy, nutty flavor? Let us have your favorite recipes too in the comments below.

Check out: 12 Can’t-Miss Quinoa Recipes

Featured photo credit: Quinoa, Black Beans and Mango Salad/Tomatoes and friends via flickr.com

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