Americans are just getting to know quinoa, but this grain-like seed has been a staple for South Americans since the time of the ancient Incas. Harvested from the Chenopodium quinoa plant, quinoa is gluten-free, high in fiber and an excellent source of essential nutrients like potassium, zinc, iron, magnesium and the B vitamins thiamin, vitamin B-6 and riboflavin. Quinoa is also the only grain that is a complete source of protein. If you're on the Zone diet, you can use a serving of quinoa to fulfill your carbohydrate requirement in meals.
Zone diet followers are instructed to plan their meals so that they consist of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein. When you're choosing carbohydrates, you're encouraged to focus on foods that have a low glycemic index. These are foods that are digested slowly and don't cause your blood sugar level to sharply spike, then drop, causing you to feel hungry not long after eating. Foods with a glycemic index of 55 or less are considered to be low on the glycemic index. Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, making it a highly recommended source of carbohydrates on the Zone diet.
On the Zone diet, carbohydrates are portioned into "blocks" based on how many grams of carbohydrate they contain. A single block of carbohydrate is a serving of food that contains 9 grams of carbohydrate. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 14-gram, approximately 0.5-ounce serving of uncooked quinoa contains 9.2 grams of carbohydrate, making this amount a one-block carbohydrate serving for Zone dieters. A 0.5-ounce of uncooked quinoa is about 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa.
The average woman on the Zone diet is instructed to have three meals and two snacks a day. Each meal should contain three blocks each of protein, carbohydrate and fat, and each snack should consist of one block from each category. Since 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa is equivalent to one carbohydrate block, a woman could have this amount with a meal along with two other blocks of carbohydrate; having 2/3 cup of quinoa would fulfill two of her carbohydrate blocks for that meal. Although quinoa is also a good source of protein, it doesn't contain enough per serving to be counted as a protein block.
An example of a Zone diet lunch for the average woman containing quinoa might be a salad of 2 cups of mixed greens topped with 3 ounces of grilled chicken breast, 1/4 cup each of diced cucumbers and green peppers, 1/4 cup of diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup of black beans, 1/3 cup of cooked quinoa and several tablespoons of salad dressing. In this meal, the three blocks of carbohydrates are provided by quinoa, black beans and vegetables. Dinner for a woman on the Zone diet might be baked fish served with quinoa, vegetables and a salad.
- Whole Grains Council: Quinoa - March Grain of the Month
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Nutrient Data for 20035, Quinoa, Uncooked
- MayoClinic.com: Glycemic Index Diet - What's Behind the Claims
- Harvard Health Publications: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods
- CrossFit Journal: Meal Plans
- Whole Foods Market: Learn to Cook - Quinoa
- Catalyst Fitness: ZONE Food Blocks
- CrossFit Impulse: The Zone Diet Explained
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.