Whether you want to up your salad game or you're looking for a new side dish, quinoa is a must-have grain to add to your shopping cart. Both tasty and nutritious, quinoa has grown in popularity in recent years and people are coming up with new recipes and creative ways to incorporate quinoa into their diet.
According to a new study, eating quinoa on a regular basis can also help to prevent type 2 diabetes. Since age is one of the main risk factors for developing this health condition, researchers examined prediabetic patients over the age of 65. For one month they observed participants who wore a glucose monitor that measured their blood sugar levels and how they fluctuated after each meal.
At the end of 30 days, researchers replaced foods high in carbohydrates such as cereal and pasta with quinoa. After measuring their blood sugar levels after eating quinoa, they noticed their blood sugar spikes had gone down (blood sugar spikes are a warning sign of type 2 diabetes).
What This Study Can Tell Us
The results of this study are not surprising, as quinoa is a whole grain, plant-based protein. Because it's a whole grain, it's high in fiber, Kristen Carli, MS, RD, explains. Fiber and protein can help to blunt the blood sugar spike typically seen when consuming high carbohydrate foods. This is why it’s smart to pair carbohydrate foods with protein or fiber when consuming balanced meals such as a bagel with hard-boiled eggs and raspberries instead of a bagel alone.
“I think the study is a long shot, because honestly changing your diet and incorporating both complex carbohydrates and protein can decrease your overall chances of developing diabetes,” says Nicole M. Avena, PhD, scientist, and nutrition consultant. “Quinoa in and of itself is both of those, so I guess it can give you a bang for your buck but that’s about it. Anything aside from a Standard American Diet can decrease your chances of developing lifestyle diseases like diabetes.”
The Health Benefits of Quinoa
Quinoa is a whole grain, and it is one of the only ones that is a complete protein, meaning it has all nine essential amino acids. This means that it is beneficial to our bodies in restoring muscle tissue and building strength, Dr. Avena explains. Like all whole grains, including them in your diet slows digestion, leading to further nutrient breakdown and slowed blood sugar release.
As far as the connection between quinoa and lowering diabetes risk, it can help by stopping the extreme highs and extreme lows caused by processed carbohydrates and it can also reduce the amount of “bad” cholesterol in our bloodstream, Dr. Avena adds.
In addition, quinoa contains high amounts of fiber and protein, helping to pump up the satiety effect of a meal. Quinoa is also a good source of other important vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, folate and vitamin E, Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices, states.
Burgess recommends Bob’s Red Mill quinoa because it comes pre-rinsed and packs in 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving.
Quinoa has a great balance of protein and fiber, two nutrients that help keep blood sugars steady. Plus, quinoa is rich in polyphenols, which some research shows may help to reduce blood sugar levels, Burgess adds.
How Much Quinoa You Need Per Week
Fiber-rich carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet. You can try varying your carb intake with nourishing sources like quinoa, brown rice, whole grain bread and fruit.
If it fits into your meal plan, a good starting place might be to consume 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cooked quinoa a few times per week, Burgess explains. You can meal prep a large batch to eat throughout the week and even try adding quinoa to delicious recipes like stuffed bell peppers, savory breakfast bowls or crunchy granola.
You need about 1.5 cups (3 servings) of whole grains daily, so weekly, it would be approximately 8 cups, Dr. Avena states.
Nutrients: “Glycaemia Fluctuations Improvement in Old-Age Prediabetic Subjects Consuming a Quinoa-Based Diet: A Pilot Study”
Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., scientist and nutrition consultant
Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices
Nutrients: “Bound Polyphenols from Red Quinoa Prevailed over Free Polyphenols in Reducing Postprandial Blood Glucose Rises by Inhibiting α-Glucosidase Activity and Starch Digestion”