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imageFood is one of the most important aspects of existence of life besides oxygen and water. Generation after generation, we are making our food choices narrower and narrower. This trend has relegated a vast number of plants as “Neglected and Underutilized Species” (NUS). One of them is Chennopodium quinoa. It is known as the rice of the Incas in South America. Generations of Andean farmers have preserved the seed for the present generation.


Two scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA, Dr. Greg Schlick and Dr. David L. Bubenheim, put quinoa back on the map when they concluded in their research that “quinoa has desirable food qualities for long term space missions – high protein and desirable amino acid composition”. The year 2013 was declared as the United Nation's International Year of Quinoa by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to recognize the “crop's resilience, adaptability and its potential contribution in the fight against hunger and malnutrition”. It appears quinoa can be beneficial to reduce malnutrition and obesity.

image SCIENTISTS HAVE DISCOVERED a powerful new drug that may help doctors cure all chronic illnesses. It is a drug you take every day. What is it? Well, you can find it at the end of your fork. It's called food.


Mounting research shows that there is no magic bullet to treat heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, allergies, digestive disorders, headaches, fatigue, or any of the myriad problems we suffer from in the 21st century. But increasing evidence also shows us something else. It shows that food is the most powerful “drug” we have not just to prevent, but also treat, cure, and reverse most chronic illnesses.


Dr. Jim Gordon, founder of Center for Mind-Body Medicine, was the chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, pioneered this course more than seven years ago. The course stresses areas such as nutrigenomics, the idea that food is information that speaks to our genes and turns on messages that create health or disease. It also explores the role of stress, nutrition, hormone balance, the health of our gut, and the importance of detoxification, and food.


According to Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the leading researchers in the world in nutrition, “It is time to end the confusion. 'Food as Medicine' presents the best current scientific evidence for Physicians, Nutritionists, and other Health Professionals who want to counsel patients and teach students".


Remember what Hippocrates said: “Leave your potions in the chemist's crucible if you can handle your patients with food.”

Its nutritional value has recently been rediscovered through scientific studies revealing its numerous hidden nutritional merits, and today FAO affirms that quinoa could make a major contribution to world nutrition and agriculture.


The nutritional value of quinoa has been reviewed in the literature since the 1990s, in part by FAO itself – Tapia (1990, 1992, 2000) and Ayala et al. (2004)–but also in other independent studies and reviews, such as Galwey (1993), Schlick and Bubeheim (1996), and more recently Jancurova et al. (2009), Vega-Gálvez et al. (2010) and Rojas et al. (2010). FAO (2011) is the document laying the foundation for the declaration of 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa. It documents trial crops and commercial productions of quinoa in various regions of the world outside Central or South America, including NorthAmerica, Europe,AsiaandAfrica, and it states that cultivation can be extended to other regions with climates and photoperiods that are very different from those of its origin. Evidence of this is provided by the experimental crops in Mali, a sub-Sahelian region with a very hot and arid climate and where rainfall is concentrated in the summer months (Coulibaly et al., 2013).

imageQuinoa has more proteins than the other grains mentioned (Table 2), and its grains contain all the essential amino acids (tryptophan has the lowest concentration). The presence of essential amino acids has also been confirmed in the less well known varieties of quinoa, such as those pertaining to Coastal ecotypes from central and southern Chile (Miranda et al., 2012a). As mentioned, quinoa is similar to rice in terms of culinary uses, transportation and storage, but once processed quinoa grain offers superior nutritional quality. In most countries, rice is consumed mainly as “white rice”. White rice differs from the wholemeal rice because it has been dehusked, a process which results in a significant reduction in protein content (Table 3). On the other hand, in the case of quinoa, while peeling and/or washing is often necessary to remove the saponins from the epicarp (few varieties are sweet or lacking in saponins), far fewer proteins are lost than in the case of rice, where 16–17% of high quality proteins are lost during the peeling process. In contrast, with quinoa, removal of the outer seed layer , which is rich in saponins, fibre and flavonoids, but protein-poor, results in the consumable grain gaining roughly.


The nutritional value of quinoa recognized in every literature review over the last 20 years can only be confirmed and enriched further by more research. The high quality proteins contained in its seeds are little affected by the cultivation conditions, particularly in water-deficit situations. This makes the plant very resilient, a useful quality where agriculture faces problems of aridity, degraded or salinized soils, and even excess greenhouse gas emissions. The 20 amino acids often maintain their proportions in different cultivation conditions, with little impact on the quality of their proteins. Their minerals (P, K, Ca, Mg, Mn, Zn), oils, vitamins (B1, B2, B3, C, E) and flavonoids seem to combine with each other synergetically, to give this plant highly nutritional and antioxidant qualities, maintained even under processing at high temperatures. Its advantages over rice, its similar culinary uses and post-harvest processes, and its low water demand, suggest that quinoa grains could be at least a partial replacement for rice, with excellent benefits for human health, in both deficit populations and in populations where nutrition problems arise from excess.

  • Protein: Quinoa has a higher protein content than barley, oat, rice and maize. Due to a property of its storage proteins, Quinoa is a safe gluten-free option. According to the FAO and WHO, Quinoa protein can supply over 180 percent of the daily recommended intake of the 10 essential amino acids for adult nutrition.
  • Carbohydrate and Fiber: Quinoa contains 10 percent total dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is essential for digestive health, and can promote satiety, reduce cholesterol absorption, and reduce risk and severity of gastrointestinal infection and inflammation. Its soluble fiber content also serves as a prebiotic.
  • Lipids: Quinoa seed oil contains polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with a higher omega-6 to omega-3 ratio than other plant oils. Other essential fatty acids in quinoa contribute to brain development, insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, immunity, inflammation and membrane function.
  • Vitamins: Quinoa is rich in VitaminsA, B, C, and E. These vitamins play a major role in metabolism, regulating cell growth and development, and improving vision.
  • Minerals: Quinoa contains sufficient amounts of calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Its mineral content is higher than that of rice, wheat and other cereals.
  • Saponins: Saponins, found in the outer seed coat of quinoa, are useful in producing organic crops because they protect crops from microbial infection and from being eaten by insects and birds.
  • Photoecdysteroids: Found in quinoa, phytoecdysteroids can help us build muscle and reduce stress. Other benefits include promoting growth, healing wounds and serving as an antioxidant and antidepressive.
  • Phenolics: Phenolics are compounds found in quinoa that serve as antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic, anti-obesity and cardioprotectiveeffects.
  • Betalains: Betalains are what give quinoa their yellow, red and black colors. They contain a range of healthpromoting properties and serve as a natural dye for foods. Betalains are approved by the U.S. FDA and EU as a safe, natural alternative to synthetic color ingredients in foods.
  • Glycine betaine: Glycine Betaine is an Amino Acid in Quinoa that has been involved in the treatment and prevention of diabetes, obesity and Cardiovascular Diseases.

image Weight loss potential of quinoa The incidence of overweight and obesity is steadily increasing with an estimated 39% of the global population overweight and a further 13% obese ( ). This is particularly concerning due to the strong correlation between weight gain and increasing the risk of developing chronic lifestyle diseases such as Type II Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). These conditions are known to place enormous stress on the public health system, which has both economic and social implications. The consumption of energy-dense foods that lack important nutrients is one of the major reasons for this increasing level of overweight and obesity.


Effect on Weight Gain

It appears that saponins can change the way the intestine functions, leading to a decrease in the ability of the intestine to absorb digested food, which decreases the amount of energy that is absorbed from the food. A secondary characteristic of saponins is their bitter taste, which can decrease the palatability of the food and result in a decrease in overall consumption. Therefore, there would be a reduction in the quantity of food consumed and this would be coupled with a decrease in the amount of available energy due to changes in intestinal absorption. Other naturally occurring compounds, such as 20- hydroxyecdysone present within the quinoa seed may also have beneficial properties among overweight populations. Particularly the reduction in inflammation, which is commonly higher among overweight and obese individuals (Rodríguez-Hernández H, 2013). This suggests that the consumption of quinoa may have a dual role in decreasing the rate of fat storage and simultaneously decreasing the expression of inflammatory markers displayed by overweight and obese individuals.


The effect on low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, more commonly known as bad and good cholesterol respectively were more difficult to ascertain. It is possible that quinoa can lower LDL cholesterol, however longer-term feeding studies are necessary before this can be concluded. The overall effect of quinoa consumption on the lipid profile did however appear to be quite positive. Taken in combination with the weight loss potential, there appears to be a growing body of evidence to suggest that quinoa could complement dietary interventions that seek to decrease the modifiable risk factors associated with chronic lifestyle diseases.


Conclusion Quinoa appears to be a promising food source packed full of nutrients and bioactive compounds.