Friend or Fad:
Is Quinoa the Perfect Gluten-Free Grain?
By Eric Zielinski, DC Student
Grains have gotten a bad rap recently and everyone seems to be going “Paleo!” Yet, like any diet fad or food movement, I have my suspicions that eating like our cavemen ancestors just isn’t the best option for everyone.
Omitting grains from your diet can be a great way to give your digestive system a break. If you’re fighting cancer or a chronic disease like type II diabetes, then yes, I could see the benefit of not eating grains for a season. But for the average healthy person seeking the Abundant Life, I personally view grains as a healthy addition to someone’s diet. The point of this article isn’t to bash the Paleo movement, but to offer a more balanced approach to how we eat today.
Here’s the bottom line: Considering the recent push toward a grain-free lifestyle, it is vital to remember that for millennia, people consumed grains as their primary source for nutrition. Native Americans had their corn, Incas ate quinoa, people in the Far East lived on rice, and Mediterranean countries consumed an exorbitant amount of wheat products like couscous and unleavened bread. Meat was (and still is in many countries) a delicacy reserved for the rich and the common folk lived off the land.
This is NOT to say, however, that everyone should be loading up on wheat and other gluten-rich foods. If I were writing this 100 years ago, I would have nothing bad to say about it as gluten sensitivity was relatively non-existent. Today, that’s a different story.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat endosperm that both nourishes plant embryos and makes baked goods chewy. Not only in wheat, gluten is contained in many grains like rye, barley, spelt and even oats. Up until the 20th century, people lived on wheat and gluten products with no documented problem. Then, in the mid-20th century, reports starting springing up about people having sensitivities to wheat and other grains and the issue has escalated so much that in 2009, researchers revealed that celiac disease (gluten allergy, not just gluten “sensitivity”) increased by 400% since the 1950s! Today, it has been suggested that up to 3% of people worldwide cannot digest gluten properly.
Why? What could have happened in the early to mid 1900s that could have led to this dramatic increase in celiac disease?
The answer, quite honestly, is speculative, but there is great reason to believe that it’s because of unnatural mass farming practices, genetically modifying grains and the simple fact that that the grains we have in our stores are a shadow of what pure grains once were.
According to research conducted by the Whole Grains Council, “Different types of wheat have different numbers of chromosomes, and some studies show that the older wheats, with fewer chromosomes, tend to have lower levels of gliadins, the type of gluten proteins that seem to cause most sensitivities. Einkorn, the oldest known type of wheat in our current food supply, has just 14 chromosomes, and is called a diploid wheat. Durum wheat (the kind most often used for pasta) and emmer are tetraploid wheats, with 28 chromosomes. Common wheat (used for most everything) and spelt have 42 chromosomes and are known as hexaploid wheats. Research shows that different tetraploid and hexaploid wheat varieties differ widely in gliadin levels, and it’s possible to select “individual genotypes with less Celiac Disease-immunogenic potential.”
Essentially, the grains widely on the market today have been scientifically modified and bred to be rich in gluten to improve taste, prolong shelf life, and to give foods a more appealing texture. This, mind you, has all been done at the expense of our health! Gluten in most grains today is like glue to our colon and has been linked to a variety of health concerns:
• Autoimmune disease
• Type II diabetes
• Learning disorders
• Heart disease
• Digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea, gut inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut)
This is not to say, however, that all grains are bad. In the words of the Whole Grains Council, “Even if you’re not gluten-sensitive, you may want to consider some of the ancient grains. Research shows that Kamut has higher levels of antioxidants than some modern wheats, and that healthy plant sterols are higher in tetraploid wheats than in hexaploid wheats.”
My personal favorite grain is quinoa. Held to be sacred by the Incas, researchers have recently taken a close look at certain antioxidant phytonutrients in quinoa and two flavonoids, quercetin and kaempferol, are now known to be abundant in concentrated amounts. In fact, the concentration of these two flavonoids in quinoa can sometimes be greater than their concentration in high-flavonoid berries like cranberry or lingonberry. Recent studies are also providing us with a greatly expanded list of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in quinoa. In an environment where inflammation runs rampant and has been linked to many disease processes, it is imperative that we eat anti-inflammatory foods as much as possible. In addition to being one of the most protein-dense foods and containing almost twice as much fibers as most other grains, the nutrients in quinoa are:
• Manganese (43%)
• Tryptophan (21.8%)
• Magnesium (20.9%)
• Folate (19.5%)
• Phosphorus (19.4%)
Probably the most common way people eat quinoa in America is to serve it up plain as a side dish, similar to rice or couscous. I like to make a meal out of it by boiling it in a big ol’ pot with curry and some diced carrots, onions, garlic, raisins, apples and nuts. Sometimes, when I have leftovers, I like to make a leftover quinoa porridge similar to rice pudding for breakfast the next day. It’s great with plain quinoa or the curry mixture that I like to make. Here’s the recipe:
Mama Z’s Quinoa Porridge
Ever wonder what to do with that left over quinoa from lunch or dinner? Here’s a great idea you and your family will love. Mix your left over quinoa together with a little maple syrup and butter or coconut oil, and you get a delightful warm cereal alternative. Use the leftovers for the recipe below.
• 2 large eggs
• 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
• 1 can coconut milk
• 1 1/2 cups Blue Diamond Almond Breeze
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/2 honey granules or coconut crystals
• 1/2 raisins or chopped dried fruit
• 1/2 teaspoon Finely Ground Pink Himalayan Salt
• 1/2 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
• Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
• In an un-greased 1 1/2 quart casserole, beat eggs and stir in ingredients in the order listed above.
• Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Top of porridge may be wet and not set (be careful not to over bake as the porridge may curdle).
• Stir well. Let stand at least 15 minutes. The more time the porridge has to settle and cool, the more liquid will be absorbed. To reach ultimate, creamy goodness, place in fridge overnight. Serve warm or cold.