What’s small, round and ideal as an ingredient for a salad or a side dish? Quinoa, a whole-grain food that packs a nutritional punch, is the answer. But if you are trying to categorize quinoa -- pronounced keen-wah -- as either a carbohydrate or protein, you may have difficulty. That’s because quinoa contains both.
Quinoa is a crop the people of Bolivia, Chile and Peru have eaten for more than 5,000 years. The word quinoa is comes from the Incan word for “mother grain.” While most grains come from grassy plants, quinoa is a seed-like plant that closely resembles a legume or seed, but is not. This makes quinoa similar to buckwheat and amaranth, two seed-like grains.
Quinoa contains carbohydrates in each serving, some of which comes from fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 30 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fat, 3 grams of dietary fiber and 5.5 grams of protein, according to “Savvy Vegetarian,” a website dedicated to healthy vegetarian choices. Quinoa is a whole-grain food, meaning the quinoa is more slowly digested than refined-grain counterparts. The result is you feel full for a longer period of time and your blood sugar is more stabilized, which prevents fluctuation in your energy levels. The nutrients found in quinoa can be compared to that of dried whole milk, according to Purdue University.
Fitting It In
If you’re ready to swap refined grains such as white rice for whole grains such as quinoa, you have lots of options for preparation. Quinoa can be cooked much like rice. Always give it a rinse before cooking to reduce its bitterness, recommends “Cooking Light” magazine. You can incorporate this healthful, carbohydrate-rich food into dishes such as pilaf, casseroles and salads. Quinoa also can be ground into flour for making breads and biscuits.
Before you write off quinoa simply because it contains carbohydrates, consider how nutrient dense the grain is. Quinoa contains needed minerals such as calcium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, potassium, iron and copper. The grain is also a source of protein, which helps promote a healthy immune system and skin. This makes quinoa a healthier choice than refined grains such as white flour, which does not have as many nutrients.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.