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What is quinoa and what are its benefits?

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) has been one of the primary foods of the Inca Indians for more than 5,000 years. The Incas referred to Quinoa as the "Mother Grain." It is considered 100 percent whole grain and is close to being a perfect food source in the balance of nutrition that it provides. Technically it's not a grain, but the seed of a leafy plant related to spinach.

Quinoa is an excellent source of protein, about 12-18 percent, and a nutritional powerhouse. According to The National Academy of Sciences, quinoa is "one of the best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom."

The World Health Organization has rated the quality of protein in quinoa to be equivalent or superior to that found in milk products. It is a source of all essential amino acids, a great source of B vitamins containing niacin, thiamin and B6. It contains high levels of potassium and riboflavin, and is also a good source of zinc, copper, manganese, and magnesium. It contains folic acid and vitamin E as well.

Quinoa is a great food choice for people who must follow a wheat-free/gluten-free diet because Quinoa does not contain any gluten. Quinoa can be substituted for almost any other grain and can be found in the health food section of your local supermarket or health food store.

Try this tasty recipe for a protein packed meal that is ready in 30 minutes.

Quinoa and Lentils

Makes 5 servings

1 cup of quinoa, uncooked

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion

15-oz can of lentils, rinsed and drained (if you can't find them canned they cook up in a flash)

Cook quinoa in a rice cooker or as per package instruction.

Add oil to a skillet and saut the onion on medium heat until tender

Add cooked lentils and cooked quinoa. Mix it all together and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Corinna Maggy is a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. She can be reached by e-mail at corinna@adkbikeranch.com. The information contained within Health Matters is not a substitute for professional medical examination, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your physician before starting an exercise program or beginning any nutritional regimen.

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