Quinoa and Diabetes: 7 Ways to Eat It and 5 Reasons Why You Should

This versatile “super grain” can help you manage your blood sugar and blood pressure and is easy to incorporate into a diabetic meal plan.

Quinoa Plantation in ArgentinaQuinoa is a seed that is high in protein, low on the glycemic index and full of fiber. Enough fiber in fact to slow down the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream and help prevent dangerous spikes in your blood sugar levels. In Northern Argentina it's grown in huge fields. (Photo: 123rf)

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is prepared and eaten just like any grain, but it’s not the same type of grain as, say, wheat or barley, which are actually kernels that grow on specific types of grasses. Quinoa is the seed of a different type of non-grassy plant, in the same botanical family as amaranth.

For that reason, quinoa is sometimes referred to as a “pseudo-grain” or “pseudo-cereal.” From the perspective of a diabetes diet, however, quinoa is a carbohydrate, and a grain food that provides the same nutrients and health benefits as any other whole grain.

What’s In It For You

The American Diabetes Association counts quinoa on it’s list of “superfoods,” those that are especially good for your health because they are rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and may help prevent disease. Here are some great reasons you can go crazy for quinoa:

High in protein. It’s the quality of protein in quinoa, even more than the quantity, that is most notable. All whole-grain foods contribute proteins to the diet but quinoa is unique in that it contains complete proteins.

Normally, plant foods provide only some of the of nine essential amino acids that make up a complete or whole protein required for human health. Quinoa provides all nine. One cup of cooked quinoa provides 8 grams of protein.

Low on the glycemic index. A cup of cooked quinoa provides 39 g of carbohydrate, comparable to other grains, but it also has a low glycemic value, which means that, compared to higher glycemic carbohydrates, it may have only a minimal affect on your blood sugar.

That’s because quinoa’s high protein and fiber content help slow down the rate at which the grain is digested and absorbed into your bloodstream. Since quinoa is typically prepared with other ingredients and eaten with other foods, it’s absorption rate is likely to be even lower.

High in fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa supplies 5 g of fiber. That’s enough fiber to slow down the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream and help prevent dangerous spikes in your blood sugar levels after you eat.

Gluten-free. If you avoid wheat and other grains that may contain gluten, quinoa can fill in both the nutrition and satisfaction gaps in your diet. Satisfying, because it’s hearty and filling like other grain foods and, in addition to being high in protein and fiber, quinoa is nutritionally comparable to wheat and other grains.

Full of vitamins and minerals. Quinoa supplies a healthy dose of B vitamins, including folate, and vitamin E, plus the minerals iron, calcium, and manganese. It is also higher potassium than any other grain, a benefit for anyone who is trying to control their blood pressure.

Cooking Quinoa

Be sure to check package directions, which may vary somewhat from product to product, but the general ratio for cooking quinoa is 2 cups liquid for every 1 cup quinoa. The liquid can be water, water mixed with tomato juice or other vegetable juice, broth, white wine mixed with broth, or the liquid leftover from rehydrating dried mushrooms mixed with broth or water.

Heat the liquid to a boil in a 1-quart pot, stir in the quinoa, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. For richer flavor, before cooking, toast quinoa in olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat until golden brown, stirring constantly to avoid burning.

One cup of uncooked quinoa yields 3 cups cooked. (You can also cook quinoa in large batches and freeze leftovers in 1/2 to 1-cup portions for even faster future use. Thaw container overnight in the refrigerator before using.)

Serving it Up: 7 Delicious Ways to Enjoy Quinoa

quinoa and lentil salad in wooden bowlThe versatility of quinoa makes it ideal for adding to salads, soups, side dishes and as a stuffing, too. The next time you're looking to add more fiber and protein to a dish, consider quinoa.

These everyday ways to enjoy quinoa demonstrate it’s versatility and ability to mingle with just about any other ingredients you have on hand. Quinoa comes in many colors—beige, black, purple and red—and they are all interchangeable, so if you have a choice, just take your pick! And like most grains, quinoa is a neutral base that can take on just about any herbs, spices, seasonings or other flavor combinations. Here are 7 was to try quinoa today:

#1. In Soups and Stews

Whether you prepare soups (or stews) from scratch, package or can, a little quinoa adds extra substance and boosts the nutrition value of your dish. Use quinoa in place of pasta, rice or potatoes called for in chicken soup, minestrone-style vegetable soup, meat stews or other recipes. Cook quinoa separately and add toward the end of cooking time.

#2. In Salads

Fruit and vegetable salads get both a nutrition and flavor boost from the addition of quinoa. Try it cooked, cooled, and combined with chopped apples and orange sections, toasted almonds or walnuts or pecans, and unsweetened shredded coconut. Dress with light olive oil and fresh lemon juice. For a savory salad, combine warm or cooled quinoa with diced cucumber and celery, roasted red pepper, sliced scallion, feta cheese and pitted kalamata olives. Dress with olive oil, white wine vinegar, and a pinch or two of ground cumin.

#3. In Bowls

If you like to have an assortment of foods, both warm and cold, arranged separately but together in one dish, then bowl food is for you, and quinoa can easily fit in. Try a Tex-Mex combo of warm quinoa and black beans, diced tomatoes, avocado and mango, and shredded or crumbled Cheddar, Manchego or Cotija cheese. Dress with lime vinaigrette and top with finely chopped cilantro. You can also substitute chicken, shrimp or other protein for all or some of the black beans.

#4. As a Side Dish 

For a pilaf-style side dish, add cooked quinoa to any combination of sautéed non-starchy, thinly sliced and finely chopped vegetables, such as mushrooms, zucchini, tomato, sweet green or red pepper, carrots, spinach, kale, and broccoli or cauliflower florets. Add plenty of seasoning vegetables like onion, celery and garlic, and herbs like rosemary, parsley, sage, chives or cilantro.

#5. As a Stuffing

Halved and scooped out sweet peppers, tomatoes, acorn squash, yellow summer squash and zucchini all make tasty containers for grain stuffings. Fill with quinoa-vegetable pilaf mixture combined with grated Parmesan or other cheese, or cooked quinoa mixed with browned, seasoned ground poultry or meat. Place the stuffed veggies in an oiled baking dish and bake at 350°

#6. As a Wheat Substitute

If you’re a fan of taboulleh, the Middle-Eastern grain salad typically made with bulgur or cracked wheat, try it with quinoa instead. Substitute quinoa flour for wheat flour in baked goods, and quinoa pastas and noodles for wheat and whole-grain varieties. A variety of quinoa products, including crackers and chips, can be found in health food stores and large supermarkets.

#7. As a Breakfast Cereal 

Use quinoa flakes (similar to oatmeal) and low-fat milk or alternative such as almond or coconut milk for your cooking liquid. Add chopped fresh fruit or berries; sunflower seeds, chopped nuts or nut butter; and a pinch of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice mixture, if you like.

Updated on: March 28, 2019
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