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October 11, 2016
Quinoa the superfood

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has officially recognized quinoa as a food with “high nutritive value” and impressive biodiversity. After the report «Quinoa: An Ancient Crop to Contribute to World Food Security» presented at the 37th Conference of FAO in July 2011, the year 2013 was officially declared as the International Year of Quinoa.

Known as the "golden food" of Incas, Incas themselves called it "mother grain" and was considered as a mainstay food, along with potato and maize. Quinoa’s nutritional properties are well known nowadays and is assumed to be an excellent choice of food, due to its various health benefits.

Quinoa has been cultivated across the Andes for the last 7,000 years, with remarkable adaptability to different agro-environmental conditions. For example, it is grown at altitudes up to 4,500 m in Bolivia, as well as at sea level, in Chile.

Its scientific name is Chenopodium quinoa and belongs to pseudocereal, i.e. plants classified as those that have the same nutritional value to cereals. In addition, their seeds can be ground and used in the same way.

Nutritional Value

  • Quinoa has higher nutritional value than common cereals

A high-quality protein is determined by assessing its essential amino acid composition. Amino acids that cannot be synthesized in the body are described as essential, meaning that they need to be consumed in our diets. Quinoa in fact, is the only plant source that contains all the essential amino acids.  Its protein content ranges from 13.8% to 16.5%, with an average of 15%.

It also contains significant quantities of minerals and vitamins (such as vitamin E and B vitamins). It’s a source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. Indeed, because of its calcium content, quinoa is widely used by vegetarians and those who are lactose intolerant.

Quinoa has a low glycemic index, is gluten free and more digestible than other grains. It contains a significant amount of fiber, which contributes to the regulation of our digestive system, reduces cholesterol absorption and offers greater saturation.

Quinoa’s high content of antioxidant phytonutrients is of particular importance. These substances contribute significantly to our health, especially to the protection of cell membranes, with consistent positive results in neuronal brain function.

Quinoa can provide valuable amounts of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid with cardioprotective effects, and also amounts of linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6).  Both of these fatty acids are needed for growth and repair and can be used additionally for the synthesis of other fatty acids.

Given this higher fat content, it is expected that quinoa would be more susceptible to oxidation. However, quinoa's fatty acids are well protected by the presence of vitamin E, which acts as a natural antioxidant. Thus, scientific studies have shown that the processes of boiling, simmering, and steaming do not appear to significantly compromise the quality of quinoa's fatty acids.

Functional Food

Quinoa is an example of a “functional food” that supports the prevention of various diseases. Its functional properties result from the nutrients it contains.

Studies have shown that quinoa consumption can benefit high-risk groups, such as children (particularly children who suffer from asthma), the elderly, high-performance athletes, lactose intolerant individuals, women prone to osteoporosis, people with anemia, diabetes, dyslipidemia and obesity. Furthermore, quinoa consumption seems to be associated with cardiovascular health enhancement, a lower incidence of migraines, a possible memory enhancing effect and stress reduction.

Nutritional value per 100 g

As presented in the USDA food database (United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28)

Calories: 368 Kcal   

Water: 13,28 g

Calcium: 47 mg

Thiamine: 0,360 mg

Protein: 14,12 g

Iron: 4.57 mg

Riboflavin: 0,318 mg

Total Fat: 6,07 g

Magnesium: 197 mg

Niacin: 1,520 mg

Saturated: 0.706 g

Phosphorus: 457 mg

Vitamin B-6: 0,487 mg

Monounsaturated: 1.613 g

Potassium: 563 mg

Folic acid: 184 μg

Polyunsaturated: 3.292 g

Sodium: 5 mg

Vitamin  Α, RAE: 1 μg

Carbohydrates: 64,16 g

Zinc: 3,10 mg

Vitamin Α, IU: 14

Dietary Fibre: 7g


Vitamin Ε: 2,44 mg


Eva Kontopodi, Applied Nutrition, Researcher, Copenhagen University, Food Scientist AUTH.

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