Quinoa has been grown for over 7,000 years in the Andes, but only very recently has been introduced to the rest of the world. And the rest of the world was quick to christen it a “superfood” due to its crazy-high nutritional benefits.
Your grocery probably shelves quinoa with various cereals and grains, but technically speaking quinoa is a “pseudocereal” and has more in common botanically with spinach and tumbleweeds than it does with wheat and barley.
Independent of all its nutritional value, quinoa is prized by modern foodies for being naturally gluten-free. It also contains more fiber and protein than just about any grains. Significantly, quinoa contains complete proteins, which is exceptionally rare for a plant-based food. It's high in lysine, methionine and cysteine, which are some of the amino acids that plant foods usually have in short supply.
In one study, quinoa had the highest antioxidant capacity of any other grain tested. Another study found that consuming just under 1 ounce of quinoa daily increased levels of the important antioxidant glutathione by 7 percent.
Antioxidants are also known for their anti-inflammatory effects, but quinoa has its own super powers in this area, independent of its already high level of antioxidants. It contains saponins, botanical compounds that fight inflammation. Research has found that the level of saponins found in quinoa can inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory compounds by 25 to 90 percent in isolated cells. Some saponins have even been shown to help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Beware, however, as saponins can prevent the absorption of zinc and iron.
If you have high cholesterol, you should get to know quinoa. One study showed how total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol could be lowered by eating the pseudocereal daily for six weeks.
There are various types of quinoa, with the most popular three each color-coded for your convenience, and they're not all created nutritionally equal. Black quinoa has the lowest fat content and the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoid contents. Black and red both have nearly twice the the vitamin E content of white, and in general, the darker the quinoa, the higher the antioxidant levels. Note that sprouting the seeds of any color quinoa can increase its antioxidant level.