Quinoa

Native to the Andes in South America, quinoa (uttered as Keen-wah or Kee-no-uh) is basically a type of goosefoot that is mostly cultivated as a crop for its edible seeds and has been an essential fare for the people in the Andean expanse for over 6,000 years. Spelt as Quechua in Spanish, this goosefoot is not a true cereal as the plant is not classified under the grass category. In addition to the plant's seed, people in the region also consume the leaves as a vegetable. The plant does not require fertile soil, irrigation or a preferred climate to thrive and is acclimatized to higher altitudes. This makes it possible to grow quinoa on the Andes even at an altitude on 4,000 meters above the sea level. However, for best yields the plant needs to be grown in well-drained soils and needs a comparatively long period to grow. When grown in the eastern parts of North America, quinoa is vulnerable to leaf miner, or larvae of different types of insects that live as well as eat the plants' leaf tissues. While the leaf miner is likely to spoil the crop yield, it also impinges on the common weed and its intimate family member Chenopodium album. Nevertheless, compared to the quinoa, the C. album is more resilient to the leaf miner invasion.

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Much before the cultivation of maize became widespread in North America, people commercially grew different species of Chenopodium, including Pitseed Goosefoot (biologically known as Chenopodium berlandieri) and Fat Hen (scientific name, Chenopodium album) in what was called the Eastern Agricultural Complex. In fact, the Fat Hen is extensively cultivated in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere for its edible seeds as well as the green leaves that are consumed as vegetable.

In antiquity, when cultivation of real cereals was yet to be initiated by the people, natives of the Inca civilization called the quinoa 'mother grain' and held it in the highest regard as something blessed. The reverence of the people of the Inca civilization towards the quinoa is reflected from the fact that during the sowing season every year, the head of the Incas planted the first quinoa seed with a golden shovel. The plant seeds were so important for the Incas that their army sustained on these for days. When they were on stride for days, the soldiers survived eating a mixture of quinoa seeds along with fats that they called 'war balls'. Later, following the conquest of Spain in the beginning of the 1500s, the region witnessed a sharp decline in quinoa cultivation and yield for almost 400 years. Ever since, quinoa became an insignificant crop for the people and was only cultivated by few farmers in the far-flung areas of the region. Moreover, the cultivation of quinoa was mainly for consumption by the local populace.

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Uses

Although the primeval people in the Andes region of South America used quinoa as their main grain, scientists have now 'rediscovered' this pseudo cereal indigenous to South America. Over the years, quinoa had virtually become an insignificant grain and people left cultivating it for other crops. The new interest in quinoa is primarily owing to the fact that it is not only rich in protein content, but also provides complete protein - including all the nine amino acids. It is important to note here that quinoa not only contains all the amino acids, but they are proportionately balanced and serve as an ideal protein supplement of vegetarians concerned about their regular protein ingestion. In addition, quinoa has rich contents of amino acid lysine that is virtually indispensable for the development of body tissues and their refurbishing. Apart from being a valuable source of protein, quinoa also encloses several other nutrients that are essential for our well being. As quinoa is a rich and valuable resource of different essential minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, this pseudo cereal is effective in treating people suffering from diabetes, migraine or splitting headaches, and atherosclerosis - a condition where the arteries are narrowed owing to deposit of plagues.

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Aid for migraine headache

Anyone susceptible to regular migraine attacks may get relief from the splitting headaches by supplementing quinoa in their daily diet. The magnesium content in quinoa is effective in soothing or calming down the blood vessels thereby helping to thwart any restriction or widening of the blood vessels that are distinguishing features of migraine headaches. During clinical researches involving people suffering from splitting headaches, the respondents have affirmed that ingestion of enhanced amount of magnesium helps in decreasing the rate of recurrence of migraines in the patients. In addition to being an effective medication for migraines, quinoa also possesses rich contents of riboflavin (also known as vitamin B2) that is essential for appropriate and adequate production of energy inside the cells. It may be noted here that apart from aiding in generating energy in the cells, riboflavin has also be found to be useful in decreasing the rate of occurrence of migraine attacks among the patients. Scientists are of the view that riboflavin is able to reduce the migraine attack rate probably by enhancing the process of energy use or burning by the body, especially in the brain and muscle cells.

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Cardiovascular wellbeing

As mentioned earlier, quinoa has rich contents of magnesium, a vital mineral to sooth the blood vessels. It has been found the low intakes of this valuable mineral is often associated with greater frequency of high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease or IHD (a condition distinguished by decreased blood supply to the heart muscles) and heart arrhythmias (an ailment where the heart beat becomes irregular). In such cases, quinoa may be used by people enduring the above mentioned problems to take care of their cardiovascular health. Especially, people suffering from atherosclerosis will get enough relief owing to the manganese content in this 'grain'.

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Lignans guard against cardiac ailments

Lignans or chemical compounds present in plants, especially flax seeds, are among the various phytonutrients (compounds derived from edible plants) found plentifully in whole grains like quinoa. Helpful vegetation in our intestines alters these phytonutrients to mammalian lignans. According to scientists, one such important mammalian lignin is enterolactone that seems to be effective in guarding us against various types of cancers, including cancer of the breast and those dependent on hormones, as well as cardiac ailments. Apart from the whole grains, numerous other items such as nuts, seeds and berries are rich in lignan content, while even vegetables, fruits, and some drinks like tea, coffee and wine also enclose significant amounts of plant lignans. A study conducted by Danish researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Nutrition, on 800 women enduring post menopausal phase found to measure the intensity of enterolactone in blood found that women consuming more whole grains like quinoa possessed higher levels of this defensive plant lignan. The researchers also found that women eating more cabbage and other leafy vegetables too possessed superior levels of enterolactone in their blood.

Whole grain breakfast to avoid heart failure

It has been established that eating whole grains, products made from them and nutritional fiber had a direct link with lower cases of hypertension and heart attacks. Keeping this in view, scientists at the Harvard University undertook a study to explore the consequences of cereal ingestion on hazards related to heart failure and examined as many as 21,376 people in the Physicians Health Study for a period of approximately two decades (19.6 years to be precise). Having tinkered with several confusing aspects like age, vegetable intake, utilization of vitamins, work outs, alcohol use and an account of cardiac ailments, the researchers discovered that people who had a simple breakfast of a bowl of unprocessed whole grain or cereal faced 29 per cent less peril of enduring a heart failure.

Cardiovascular advantages for women in postmenopausal stage

Women in the postmenopausal stage having high cholesterol levels, hypertension or any symptoms of cardiovascular disease (CVD) may benefit significantly by consuming plateful of whole grains like quinoa taken for a minimum of six times each week. The findings of a three-year-long research involving more than 200 women with cardiovascular disease and in the postmenopausal phase that was published in the American Heart Journal's July 2005 edition established that that those who consumed whole grains servings for a minimum of six times a week went through the following benefits:

  • They experienced a sluggish development of atherosclerosis - the condition caused by an enhanced rate of plaque formation narrowing down the blood vessels affecting blood circulation, and
  • Reduced development of stenosis - a condition in which the diameter of the arterial tubes is constricted affecting the blood circulation from the heart.

However, the researchers found that consumption of dietary fiber from vegetables, fruits and processed grains had no effect, whatsoever, in reducing the advancement of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Antioxidant fortification

Being a rich source of two valuable minerals like manganese and copper that function as joint aspects for superoxide dismutase enzyme that is a vital antioxidant protection in almost all cells that come in contact with oxygen. In fact, superoxide dismutase is an effective antioxidant (any substance that slows down reactions supported by oxygen or peroxides) and aids in shielding the mitochondria, also known as the 'power house of cells' from damages caused in the course of energy generation and also protects other cells, including the red blood cells (RBC), from harms inflicted by the free radicals or reactive atoms and molecules.

Quinoa, other whole grains reduce type-2 diabetes peril

For the uninitiated, whole grains like quinoa are loaded with the valuable mineral magnesium that functions as a joint aspect for over 300 enzymes. And this takes into account all enzymes that are associated with our system's utilization of glucose and insulin discharge. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States only sanctions marketing of food products that enclose a minimum of 51 per cent of whole grains in weight having small fat, saturated fat and cholesterol content. The FDA had adopted this policy with a view to demonstrate a health statement that is related to lessening hazards of having a cardiac ailment and specific types of cancers. While this has been known for quite some time now, new studies indicate that eating whole grains on a regular basis also lowers the peril of having type-2 diabetes.

It is pertinent to mention here that scientists have discovered that compared to people used to ingesting less amount of foodstuff that are rich in magnesium content, the perils of having type-2 diabetes was 31 per cent less in black women who regularly consumed whole grains and products made from them. When the researchers only considered the benefits of consuming magnesium as a part of the women's diets, they found that women consuming more magnesium rich food had 19 per cent less chances of having type-2 diabetes. From this, the researchers came to the conclusion that foods rich in magnesium content, especially whole grains such as quinoa, were responsible for regulating the blood sugar effectively. They also found that ingestion of low fat content dairy products was also effective in reducing the hazards of type-2 diabetes by at least 13 per cent. Hence, it is advisable that everyone should avail the advantages of whole grains such as quinoa and low fat dairy products by having a plate of the ancient pseudo cereal with a small amount of low-fat cheese daily. You may try adding some crushed feta (cheese prepared from goat or sheep milk) or parmesan cheese, a little amount of pine nuts, parsley (a kind of tough biennial herb) and some onion slices to put in some zing to your quinoa serving during lunch or dinner. Be assured, it will not only prove to be beneficial vis-à-vis your well being, but also a tasty meal.

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