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Monday, June 7, 2010

Quinoa - One of My New Favorite Foods!

Giving up the high carb junk food is one thing but giving up rice is quite another. Before I was diagnosed as a diabetic, I used rice in many meals, especially since I do a lot of stir frying. Brown rice does have fewer net carbs than white rice but not by much so I started searching for a better substitute. Wow, did I find a winner.

I have gleefully discovered quinoa. It is "grain" that looks like a grain, tastes like a grain, and cooks like a grain, but it isn't really a grain at all. Quinoa is actually a seed from a plant that is related to spinach plants. It was a food staple for the Inca Indians that lived in the Andes. However, when the Spaniards came in they burned the quinoa fields and forced the Incas not to grow it anymore. It barely survived total extinction because it was grown by peasant farmers in the country.

It turns out that this "grain" has more protein than any other grain AND the protein is a complete protein, having all 9 essential amino acids. Not only that, it has all 9 amino acids in high quantities. It is considered such a perfect high quality food that NASA is seriously considering using it for long-flight space travel. Don't be surprised if Quinoa is cultivated on Mars in our lifetime.

In addition to being high in protein, Quinoa is much lower carb than every other grain known. For comparison, a cup of dry white rice has about 150 grams of carb (short grain has a little more than long grain) and brown rice abut 138 grams of carb. By contract, dry quinoa has only 97 grams of net carbs per cup. That's about a third less carb.

You cook quinoa just like rice. You put one part quinoa in 2 parts water with a little salt, bring to a boil, and then let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. To me, texture wise, it seems most like medium ground bulgar wheat which I also love. In fact, I made a tabouli salad with some left-over quinoa today and added a few shrimp. It was delicious. Yesterday, I used quinoa like you would a bed of rice or couscous with white fish I had poached in coconut milk and other goodies on topI'll post these recipes later on my Diabetic Recipes 123 blog. . I am really excited about all the possibilities with quinoa.

Quinoa has the lowest glycemic index of any grain coming in at 35. For comparison, the glycemic index for white rice is 58 and for bulgar wheat it is 48.

Quinoa still has a high enough carb content that you can't eat mountains of it if you are sticking to a really low carb diet. However, I think it is about to become one of my favorite foods as a lower carb and highly nutritious substitute for one of the high carb foods I miss the most. I encourage all diabetics to give it a try. I got it from one of the bulk bins at my local supermarket so it's not just in health food stores and is beginning to hit the mainstream food market.

Update: Reading back over this article made me remember how hard it was in the beginning to not just change my eating habits but more importantly even know what I needed to eat. You don't have to go through that because I have pointed out one incredible and comprehensive reference which will give you all the information you need to know what to eat to reverse diabetes.


  1. Have you tested your blood sugar after eating the Quinoa?

    Personally, I think you should consider letting go of the grains altogether. They just can't possibly taste good enough to be worth the health problems they cause. Rice up a head of cauliflower and use that instead--almost no carbs and surprisingly like white rice, especially if you put a sauce on it or make it into fried rice.


  2. Hi Dave. Yes, I did test it but my quinoa was mixed with protein and fat and it didn't go up much. I have not tested it yet after eating it like a cereal because I've only done that once. I usually eat eggs these days. I will try that though and post on the result. As I said in my post, I recognize quinoa still has enough carb that I probably can't eat "mountains" of it (as I once did rice and potatoes) but in moderation I think it may be a great substitute for rice which I really miss.

  3. Dr. Davis has some interesting insights on his blog about ancient varieties of wheat and how they affect blood sugar and overall health:

    If you could manage to get your hands on some of that emmer or einkorn wheat, it might make for an interesting substitute.

    I am half Italian. When I was working at becoming a major landmass on my way to 270 lbs, I ate a lot of pasta and rice. I really enjoyed fried rice.

    Looking back on it, however, part of why i enjoyed it so much was in the back of my mind I always felt like I was eating healthy when I ate it--I thought (wrongly, as it turned out) that I was forgoing what I would rather be eating which was meat in favor of a healthier choice; the rice or pasta.

    Knowing what I know now made it so much easier to go without them. I sometimes miss the fried rice, but I can come up with pretty decent substitutes. I make a stir-fry with leftover rotisserie chicken, broccoli and green beans and seasoned with soy sauce, garlic and ginger, and it has a lot of the flavors which I used to love in my fried rice.

    While I am meandering on about recipes, this morning I just finished a leftover moussaka which I made from eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and sirloin steak. It was simmered slowly until it reduced way down, and it was filled with rich browned chunks of beef and tender vegetables.

    What are some of your favorite recipes that you are experimenting with these days?


  4. Hi Dave. Thanks for the comment.

    I want to make sure that the readers of this blog understand that quinoa is NOT a wheat grain and is naturally gluten free.

    I plan to experiment a bit with other grains as I go forward but for now I'm keeping my carbs rather low on most days and low on every day, although I don't count them religiously unless I think I'm getting more than usual.

    Recipe wise, quinoa is probably my furthest deviation from something I'm not at all familiar with. Most of my efforts so far have been choosing recipes that I've been cooking for years that just fit what the diet I'm now on...and sometimes I have to modify things a bit. I'll be posting some more recipes over the weekend to my diabetic recipes 123 blog:

  5. I wanted to update my comments about quinoa. I think if you are just starting to reverse your diabetes, it is probably a good idea to cut out all grains, even the healthier ones like quinoa, for a while. Once you have cured your diabetes, you can slowly add back in grains but I would recommend you eat them in moderation.