Quinoa is a food grain which has been used for several centuries by South Americans, especially those who live in the mountainous Andean regions of Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia.
This ‘mother grain’ as the Incans call it is now being cultivated and cooked in many regions of North America, Europe, Australia and other countries.
Quinoa is highly nutritious and its nutritional quality is comparable to dried whole milk by the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization).
The protein quality in quinoa is higher than that of other cereals. For example, the lysine content is higher than wheat and essential amino acid content is similar to casein.
Hence, quinoa is a great food choice for vegetarians. Quinoa is high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and phosphorous.
It also has a low sodium and high soluble fiber content. A great advantage of quinoa is that it is a versatile grain and can be used in recipes for soups, casseroles, breakfast cereals, baked dishes, salads etc. Apart from quinoa grains, you get quinoa flour, quinoa flakes and quinoa pasta in health food stores.
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder. When we eat food, it breaks down to form glucose that is a fuel required by the body. In order for glucose to pass into the blood and be used by the body, it requires the hormone insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas.
In people with normal metabolism, sufficient quantities of insulin are produced and this helps in the process of moving glucose from the blood to the cells.
Those who suffer from diabetes have too less or no insulin produced or the cells are damaged such that they do not utilize the insulin that is produced appropriately. The glucose which is unused gets built up and is excreted through urine out of the body. Thus the body loses its fuel source without utilizing it optimally.
There are 3 types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a disorder where the immune system attacks and destroys cells which produce insulin in the pancreas.
Those who suffer from this autoimmune disease need to take insulin daily for survival. Type 2 diabetes is the most widely prevalent type of diabetes. Almost 90-95% of those who suffer from diabetes have the type 2 variety.
Those who suffer from this are usually senior citizens, obese people, those with a family history, those who do not exercise and certain ethnic groups.
Gestational diabetes affects pregnant women – especially those of a particular ethnic group or with an ancestral history of diabetes.
Quinoa for diabetes
Quinoa benefits those with diabetes in several ways. According to a study conducted on rats on a high-fructose diet, inclusion of quinoa helped to reduce their blood sugar levels by as much as 10%.
Their total cholesterol levels reduced by 26% and there was a 11% reduction in triglyceride levels. However, since the rats were fed a high-fructose diet, quinoa could not prevent the side effects of this diet.
Quinoa can help control appetite and this could help diabetic patients. In a study comparing various alternative grains like quinoa, buckwheat and oats to conventional grains like rice and wheat, it was found that the alternative grains produced greater degrees of satiety than conventional grains.
This helped to control appetite and can aid in weight loss. Since most diabetes patients are obese, quinoa can help with their treatment as a weight-loss grain.
In another study on high fructose-fed rats, it was noted that those fed quinoa were able to maintain normal enzyme activity for some enzymes and lower levels of malondialdehyde which is an oxidation byproduct.
The rats demonstrated increased anti-oxidation capacity of the heart, kidney, blood, pancreas, lungs and testes and lower oxidation of blood lipids.
Quinoa – the Peruvian Andean variety – has shown to be an excellent grain for managing symptoms of type-2 diabetes. This variety is rich in quercetin – an antioxidant and is an effective dietary tool.
Quinoa recipe for diabetics
Since diabetic patients need to be careful about their diet, here is a good recipe (Moroccan Quinoa) that incorporates quinoa.
- Quinoa – 170g
- Water – 240ml
- Chicken broth – 240ml (get the low sodium variety)
- Olive oil – 2 tsp
- Red onion – 160g diced
- Cumin – ½ tsp
- Turmeric – pinch
- Cinnamon – ½ tsp
- Ground ginger – pinch
- Almonds – 25g flaked (toasted)
- Raisins – 40g
- Fresh mint (if needed)
Rinse quinoa thoroughly, place it in a saucepan with water and chicken broth and boil. Cover and cook for at least 15min until all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff the quinoa.
Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, sauté onions and when they caramelize, add cumin, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric. Add raisins and almonds. Add quinoa to the mixture and toss thoroughly until the dish is heated through. Garnish with mint if you like.
This dish provides 274 calories, 9g fat with only 1g saturated fat, 80mg sodium, 38g carbohydrates, 9g protein and 5g dietary fiber.
It has a delicious North African flavor and considering it also helps to keep blood glucose levels low, it is a great addition to a diabetic diet.
Precautions while using quinoa
The seed coats of quinoa are covered by saponin – a bitter chemical compound. This is mildly toxic and must be removed before quinoa is used for human consumption.
Some manufacturers use deresination which involves removing the saponins and seed coats using chemical or mechanical methods but preserves the nutrient content. The white seeds free from saponin are then used for cooking.
You also get pre-soaked and pre-washed quinoa grains. Try to buy grains with these labels. Even so, always wash quinoa grains thoroughly before consumption and taste a few to make sure it is entirely free of saponin.
Overall quinoa does not produce any kind of side effects and is well tolerated by those with diabetes. It does have traces of oxalate and hence anyone who needs to follow a diet without oxalate should to be cautious.