Healthy Eating with Michael

April 20, 2012

WFM Sandy Springs' healthy eating specialist, Michael Laidlaw, has been with Whole Foods Market for nearly a decade, during which time he's dedicated himself to "spreading the health around." In his new monthly column, he offers sage advice to those working towards a healthier lifestyle.

In his inaugural post, Michael speaks to the benefits of eating quinoa -- and finally clears up how to pronounce it!

Photo by Sarah Shatz

- Michael

Can You Say "Quinoa?"

As a vegan, I am often asked, "Where do you get your protein?" One of my best sources is an often-mispronounced food named quinoa (keen-wa). Still making its way into many American kitchens, quinoa is a protein-rich seed (sometimes referred to as a grain) that has a fluffy, crunchy texture and a nice nutty flavor. One of the great things about quinoa's protein is it is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. Quinoa also carries with it a number of other important nutrients. These include manganese, phosphorus, copper, iron, and magnesium. Magnesium can be especially important for people with migraine headaches as it works to relax your blood vessels. Although white (or gold) quinoa is the most commonly sold form, there are also purple, red, orange, and black varieties. The variance in color, however, does not present a material variance in nutrition. 

As a defense mechanism against birds and other creatures interested in consuming it, quinoa produces a toxic coating of saponins, making it inedible prior to cultivation and processing. While processing removes much of the coating, it is still a good idea to rinse off your quinoa before cooking it. One thing quinoa does not contain is gluten. This makes it a great "grain" choice for people who are gluten intolerant. Quinoa flour is available for baking, and is also used to make pastas, providing gluten-free options in those categories as well.

Cooking quinoa is quick and easy. It is done much like white rice. Just add one part quinoa to two parts liquid (water or vegetable broth) in a saucepan. After bringing it to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. This step usually takes about 15 minutes. When fully cooked, the quinoa will appear translucent, and you’ll see a small white spiral with your seed. You can produce an even nuttier flavor by dry roasting it before cooking. Simply place quinoa in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir continuously for four to six minutes. Quinoa's versatility allows it to be used in salads, side dishes, soups, mains, and even high-protein breakfasts.

If you are into sprouting, quinoa's easy cooking also translates into easy sprouting. Sprouting is a great way to release natural enzymes and increase nutritional value, giving you more bang for your buck when it comes to your food. You’ll find that after only three hours of being in a glass of water, quinoa will begin its sprouting process and release more of its enzymes and nutrients. This is compared to 12 to 24 hours (or more) for other grains, nuts, or seeds.

Because of its status as a superfood (it contains fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fat, carbohydrates, and protein), quinoa would be a great answer to the often-asked question, "What food would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?" The next time you’re shopping -- whether you have plans for getting stranded or not -- pick up some of this incredible seed and see how many different ways you can incorporate it into your diet. 

Have you tried quinoa? Share your favorite ways to enjoy it in the comments section below.

Stop by for cooking advice!

Do you need help maintaining a healthy diet? Drop by WFM Sandy Springs to chat with me about plant-strong cooking tips and how to stock a better pantry.

Michael is the healthy eating specialist at WFM Sandy Springs, and encourages everyone to play with their food -- perhaps because his mother never told him not to.

michael laidlaw

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