Eat right, live well: Put protein-rich quinoa on your plate

  • Quinoa flakes and fresh pears make these individual crumbles a healthy and elegant choice for holiday dessert.

    Quinoa flakes and fresh pears make these individual crumbles a healthy and elegant choice for holiday dessert. courtesy of Matthew Reeves

 
Updated 12/2/2014 6:11 AM

When you think of protein, I'll bet a juicy burger comes first to your mind. But, there are important protein food sources beyond beef, chicken, pork or fish. Today I want to focus on an all-star plant-based protein that is also a grain -- a grain that is easy to find right at your local grocery store and that doesn't involve fussy preparation. Quinoa, pronounced (KEEN-Wah), is a whole grain that's cooked just as you cook rice, and quinoa cooks even faster.

Quinoa originated in the South American Andes, where it was domesticated more than 3,000 years ago. Most often the grocery store sells white quinoa, the most common quinoa, but specialty supermarkets will also carry red quinoa which tends to hold its shape better after cooking, and works better when used in salads or other dishes where you would like to see the definition of the grain. Black quinoa can also be found in specialty stores. This variety is sweeter than the other varieties, and the black color remains after cooking adding its unique color to your dish. Please note: if the packaging does not say pre-rinsed, you will need to rinse quinoa before cooking to remove saponin, a coating that is naturally produced to protect the seed as it is growing. If you don't rinse the quinoa it may have a bitter taste.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In addition to containing essential B vitamins, fiber and potassium, it is a good source of iron and magnesium. One of the nutrients that set this whole grain apart from others is the protein content. One cup cooked quinoa contains 222 calories, 8 grams protein, 4 grams fat, 39 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber and 319 milligrams potassium. Just like rice, quinoa contains no gluten.

Its mild flavor makes quinoa easy to work into your menu. Enjoy it as a hot breakfast cereal, in soups, served as a side dish combined with nuts and dried fruits or with julienne vegetables, tossed into a salad, added to any stir fry or incorporated into dessert.

With all its health benefits and ease of preparation, you may find quinoa as the perfect addition to your holiday meal.

Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies" and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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