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    What is quinoa? Understand if it’s a rice or grain and health benefits

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    When it comes to healthy foods, few are as popular as quinoa. It’s a staple on the menu of any health-conscious restaurant, is frequently recommended by nutritionists, and celebrities like Eva Mendes, Zoe Saldana and Katy Perry have all publicly discussed their love of the food. 

    And though it hasn’t gained as much traction as other whole grains yet, quinoa’s market size reached a staggering $382 million last year and is expected to grow further still. “Delicious, nutritious, and versatile, quinoa has gained popularity over the last few decades as a high protein, gluten free, whole-grain base for many dishes,” says Dr. Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard-trained nutritional biologist behind “Calm Your Mind with Food.”

    What is quinoa?

    Quinoa is a type of edible seed that comes in a variety of colors including black, red, yellow and white, per Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It’s been cultivated for more than 5,000 years and is indigenously found in the Andean region of South America, says Naidoo. 

    It’s both mechanically harvested and harvested by hand and is known for being a good source of antioxidants and vitamins and minerals such as folate, manganese, phosphorous, iron, vitamin B1 and magnesium

    Quinoa is also often touted as being a high-protein food, “although I don’t consider it to be a high quality source of protein as it contains only 8 grams per cup,” says Abby Langer, a clinical nutritionist, registered dietitian and founder of Abby Langer Nutrition. “Considering that most healthy people should be consuming 25-30 grams of protein at each meal, the volume of quinoa we’d have to eat to achieve that would be huge,” she explains.  

    Additional benefits that quinoa is known to have include its versatility and the fact that it doesn’t take long to prepare. “It takes only about 15 minutes to cook, and it can be the base of a nourish bowl, a porridge such as oatmeal, a side dish, or an ingredient in recipes like stuffed peppers,” says Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, a Virginia-based registered dietician and author of “Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.”

    Is quinoa a rice or a grain?

    One bit of confusion surrounding quinoa is its classification. “Though quinoa is a technically a seed, we classify it as a whole grain because its nutrient profile is similar to other whole grains,” explains Weisenberger. 

    And unlike some whole grains such as barley, rye, and wheat, quinoa is gluten free. It’s also better for glucose management than refined grains like white rice. “Because it contains protein, fiber and micronutrients, quinoa has less of an impact on you blood sugar,” Naidoo explains. 

    Is it OK to eat quinoa every day?

    Weisenberger praises quinoa as “super nutritious,” and as a good source of dietary fiber and the aforementioned vitamins and minerals, but she suggests keeping caloric content in mind when eating it regularly. “Like other grains, a cup of cooked quinoa has about 225 calories, so portion control will be important for anyone watching their weight,” she advises. 

    Naidoo similarly touts the nutritional benefits of quinoa but notes that “even relatively healthy foods are meant to be eaten in moderation and as part of an overall balanced diet.” With this in mind, she suggests enjoying quinoa only “a few times a week” and mixing it up with other healthy foods. “Focus on adding in satiating fiber-rich vegetables, leafy greens, healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and plenty of lean proteins,” she advises. 

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