Written by WHFoods.org The World’s Healthiest Foods! Thank you for this extensive look at Quinoa!
“Although not a common item in most kitchens today, quinoa is an amino acid-rich (protein) seed that has a fluffy, creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a somewhat nutty flavor when cooked. Quinoa is available in your local health food stores throughout the year.
Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard. It is a recently rediscovered ancient “grain” once considered “the gold of the Incas.”
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Quinoa provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Quinoa can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Quinoa, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
- Health Benefits
- How to Select and Store
- How to Enjoy
- Individual Concerns
- Nutritional Profile
A recently rediscovered ancient “grain” native to South America, quinoa was once called “the gold of the Incas,” who recognized its value in increasing the stamina of their warriors. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids. Not only is quinoa’s amino acid profile well balanced, making it a good choice for vegans concerned about adequate protein intake, but quinoa is especially well-endowed with the amino acid lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair. In addition to protein, quinoa features a host of other health-building nutrients. Because quinoa is a very good source of manganese as well as a good source of magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus, this “grain” may be especially valuable for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis.
Help for Migraine Headaches
If you are prone to migraines, try adding quinoa to your diet. Quinoa is a good source of magnesium, a mineral that helps relax blood vessels, preventing the constriction and rebound dilation characteristic of migraines. Increased intake of magnesium has been shown to be related to a reduced frequency of headache episodes reported by migraine sufferers. Quinoa is also a good source of riboflavin, which is necessary for proper energy production within cells. Riboflavin (also called vitamin B2) has been shown to help reduce the frequency of attacks in migraine sufferers, most likely by improving the energy metabolism within their brain and muscle cells.
Quinoa is a very good source of magnesium, the mineral that relaxes blood vessels. Since low dietary levels of magnesium are associated with increased rates of hypertension, ischemic heart disease and heart arrhythmias, this ancient grain can offer yet another way to provide cardiovascular health for those concerned about atherosclerosis.
Prevent Heart Failure with a Whole Grains Breakfast
Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly in the United States. Success of drug treatment is only partial (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers are typically used; no evidence has found statins safe or effective for heart failure), and its prognosis remains poor. Follow up of 2445 discharged hospital patients with heart failure revealed that 37.3% died during the first year, and 78.5% died within 5 years. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Mar 12;167(5):490-6.;Eur Heart J. 2006 Mar;27(6):641-3.Since consumption of whole grain products and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, Harvard researchers decided to look at the effects of cereal consumption on heart failure risk and followed 21,376 participants in the Physicians Health Study over a period of 19.6 years. After adjusting for confounding factors (age, smoking, alcohol consumption, vegetable consumption, use of vitamins, exercise, and history of heart disease), they found that men who simply enjoyed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure. Arch Intern Med. 2007 Oct 22;167(19):2080-5. Isn’t your heart worth protecting, especially when the prescription—a morning bowl of hearty whole grains—is so delicious? For quick, easy, heart-healthy, whole grain recipes, click The World’s Healthiest Foods, and look at the “How to Enjoy” section in any of our grain profiles.
Significant Cardiovascular Benefits for Postmenopausal Women
Eating a serving of whole grains, such as quinoa, at least 6 times each week is an especially good idea for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
A 3-year prospective study of over 200 postmenopausal women with CVD, published in the July 2005 issue of the American Heart Journal, shows that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced both:
- Slowed progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows, and
- Less progression in stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.
The women’s intake of fiber from fruits, vegetables and refined grains was not associated with a lessening in CVD progression.
Quinoa is a very good source of manganese and a good source of copper, two minerals that serve as cofactors for the superoxide dismutase enzyme. Superoxide dismutase is an antioxidant that helps to protect the mitochondria from oxidative damage created during energy production as well as guard other cells, such as red blood cells, from injury caused by free radicals.
Fiber from Whole Grains and Fruit Protective against Breast Cancer
When researchers looked at how much fiber 35,972 participants in the UK Women’s Cohort Study ate, they found a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such as quinoa, and fruit offered significant protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology).
Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, enjoying a 52% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day).
Fiber supplied by whole grains offered the most protection. Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day).
Fiber from fruit was also protective. Pre-menopausal women whose diets supplied the most fiber from fruit (at least 6 g/day) had a 29% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest fruit fiber intake (2 g or less per day).
Practical Tip: As the following table shows, it’s surprisingly easy to enjoy a healthy way of eating that delivers at least 13 grams of whole grain fiber and 6 grams of fiber from fruit each day.
|Food||Fiber Content in Grams|
|Oatmeal, 1 cup||3.98|
|Whole wheat bread, 1 slice||2|
|Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup||6.3|
|Brown rice, 1 cup||3.5|
|Barley, 1 cup||13.6|
|Buckwheat, 1 cup||4.54|
|Rye, 1/3 cup||8.22|
|Corn, 1 cup||4.6|
|Apple, 1 medium with skin||5.0|
|Banana, 1 medium||4.0|
|Blueberries, 1 cup||3.92|
|Orange, 1 large||4.42|
|Pear, 1 large||5.02|
|Prunes, 1/4 cup||3.02|
|Strawberries, 1 cup||3.82|
|Raspberries, 1 cup||8.36|
*Fiber content can vary between brands. Source: esha Research, Food Processor for Windows, Version 7.8M
Whole Grains and Fish Highly Protective against Childhood Asthma
According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is reported to be responsible for over 14 million lost school days in children, and an annual economic cost of more than $16.1 billion.
Increasing consumption of whole grains and fish could reduce the risk of childhood asthma by about 50%, suggests the International Study on Allergy and Asthma in Childhood (Tabak C, Wijga AH, Thorax).
The researchers, from the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Utrecht University, University Medical Center Groningen, used food frequency questionnaires completed by the parents of 598 Dutch children aged 8-13 years. They assessed the children’s consumption of a range of foods including fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grain products. Data on asthma and wheezing were also assessed using medical tests as well as questionnaires.
While no association between asthma and intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products was found (a result at odds with other studies that have supported a link between antioxidant intake, particularly vitamins C and E, and asthma), the children’s intake of both whole grains and fish was significantly linked to incidence of wheezing and current asthma.
In children with a low intake of fish and whole grains, the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low intake of fish and whole grains also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma (16.7%). compared to only a 2.8% incidence of current asthma among children with a high intake of both foods.
After adjusting results for possible confounding factors, such as the educational level of the mother, and total energy intake, high intakes of whole grains and fish were found to be associated with a 54 and 66% reduction in the probability of being asthmatic, respectively.
The probability of having asthma with bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), defined as having an increased sensitivity to factors that cause narrowing of the airways, was reduced by 72 and 88% when children had a high-intake of whole grains and fish, respectively. Lead researcher, CoraTabak commented, “The rise in the prevalence of asthma in western societies may be related to changed dietary habits.” We agree. The Standard American Diet is sorely deficient in the numerous anti-inflammatory compounds found in fish and whole grains, notably, the omega-3 fats supplied by cold water fish and the magnesium and vitamin E provided by whole grains. One caution: wheat may need to be avoided as it is a common food allergen associated with asthma.
Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as quinoa, can help women avoid gallstones, shows a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
Studying the overall fiber intake and types of fiber consumed over a 16 year period by over 69,000 women in the Nurses Health Study, researchers found that those consuming the most fiber overall (both soluble and insoluble) had a 13% lower risk of developing gallstones compared to women consuming the fewest fiber-rich foods.
Those eating the most foods rich in insoluble fiber gained even more protection against gallstones: a 17% lower risk compared to women eating the least. And the protection was dose-related; a 5-gram increase in insoluble fiber intake dropped risk dropped 10%.
How do foods rich in insoluble fiber help prevent gallstones? Researchers think insoluble fiber not only speeds intestinal transit time (how quickly food moves through the intestines), but reduces the secretion of bile acids (excessive amounts contribute to gallstone formation), increases insulin sensitivity and lowers triglycerides (blood fats). Abundant in all whole grains, insoluble fiber is also found in nuts and the edible skin of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, many squash, apples, berries, and pears. In addition, beans provide insoluble as well as soluble fiber.
Health-Promoting Activity Equal to or Even Higher than that of Vegetables and Fruits
Research reported at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University shows that whole grains, such as quinoa, contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.
Despite the fact that for years researchers have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients, they have typically measured only the “free” forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. They have not looked at the “bound” forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed.
Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, catechins, and many others that appear frequently in the health news.
When Dr. Liu and his colleagues measured the relative amounts of phenolics, and whether they were present in bound or free form, in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the “free” form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics in these foods. In whole grains, however, “free” phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in “bound” form.
In his presentation, Dr. Liu explained that because researchers have examined whole grains with the same process used to measure antioxidants in vegetables and fruits—looking for their content of “free” phenolics”—the amount and activity of antioxidants in whole grains has been vastly underestimated.
Despite the differences in fruits’, vegetables’ and whole grains’ content of “free” and “bound” phenolics, the total antioxidant activity in all three types of whole foods is similar, according to Dr. Liu’s research. His team measured the antioxidant activity of various foods, assigning each a rating based on a formula (micromoles of vitamin C equivalent per gram). Broccoli and spinach measured 80 and 81, respectively; apple and banana measured 98 and 65; and of the whole grains tested, corn measured 181, whole wheat 77, oats 75, and brown rice 56.
Dr. Liu’s findings may help explain why studies have shown that populations eating diets high in fiber-rich whole grains consistently have lower risk for colon cancer, yet short-term clinical trials that have focused on fiber alone in lowering colon cancer risk, often to the point of giving subjects isolated fiber supplements, yield inconsistent results. The explanation is most likely that these studies have not taken into account the interactive effects of all the nutrients in whole grains—not just their fiber, but also their many phytonutrients. As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential is precisely their wholeness. A grain of whole wheat consists of three parts—its endosperm (starch), bran and germ. When wheat—or any whole grain—is refined, its bran and germ are removed. Although these two parts make up only 15-17% of the grain’s weight, they contain 83% of its phenolics. Dr. Liu says his recent findings on the antioxidant content of whole grains reinforce the message that a variety of foods should be eaten good health. “Different plant foods have different phytochemicals,” he said. “These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effect—this teamwork—that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains.”
Lignans Protect against Heart Disease
One type of phytonutrient especially abundant in whole grains such as quinoa are plant lignans, which are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. In addition to whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries are rich sources of plant lignans, and vegetables, fruits, and beverages such as coffee, tea and wine also contain some. When blood levels of enterolactone were measured in over 800 postmenopausal women in a Danish study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women eating the most whole grains were found to have significantly higher blood levels of this protective lignan. Women who ate more cabbage and leafy vegetables also had higher enterolactone levels.
Quinoa and Other Whole Grains Substantially Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Quinoa and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion.
The FDA permits foods that contain at least 51% whole grains by weight (and are also low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol) to display a health claim stating consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Now, research suggests regular consumption of whole grains also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. (van Dam RM, Hu FB, Diabetes Care).
In this 8-year trial, involving 41,186 particpants of the Black Women’s Health Study, research data confirmed inverse associations between magnesium, calcium and major food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes that had already been reported in predominantly white populations.
Risk of type 2 diabetes was 31% lower in black women who frequently ate whole grains compared to those eating the least of these magnesium-rich foods. When the women’s dietary intake of magnesium intake was considered by itself, a beneficial, but lesser—19%—reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes was found, indicating that whole grains offer special benefits in promoting healthy blood sugar control. Daily consumption of low-fat dairy foods was also helpful, lowering risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%. Get the benefits of both quinoa and dairy by serving your quinoa with a little low-fat cheese. Try adding a little crumbled feta or parmesan cheese, some pine nuts, chopped onion and parsley to your quinoa for a tasty lunch or dinner whole grain dish.
Meta-analysis Explains Whole Grains’ Health Benefits
In many studies, eating whole grains, such as quinoa, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. A new study and accompanying editorial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains the likely reasons behind these findings and recommends at least 3 servings of whole grains should be eaten daily.
Whole grains are excellent sources of fiber. In this meta-analysis of 7 studies including more than 150,000 persons, those whose diets provided the highest dietary fiber intake had a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.
But it’s not just fiber’s ability to serve as a bulking agent that is responsible for its beneficial effects as a component of whole grains. Wheat bran, for example, which constitutes 15% of most whole-grain wheat kernels but is virtually non-existent in refined wheat flour, is rich in minerals, antioxidants, lignans, and other phytonutrients—as well as in fiber.
In addition to the matrix of nutrients in their dietary fibers, the whole-grain arsenal includes a wide variety of additional nutrients and phytonutrients that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Compounds in whole grains that have cholesterol-lowering effects include polyunsaturated fatty acids, oligosaccharides, plant sterols and stanols, and saponins.
Whole grains are also important dietary sources of water-soluble, fat-soluble, and insoluble antioxidants. The long list of cereal antioxidants includes vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid. These multifunctional antioxidants come in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed.
The high antioxidant capacity of wheat bran, for example, is 20-fold that of refined wheat flour (endosperm). Although the role of antioxidant supplements in protecting against cardiovascular disease has been questioned, prospective population studies consistently suggest that when consumed in whole foods, antioxidants are associated with significant protection against cardiovascular disease. Because free radical damage to cholesterol appears to contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis, the broad range of antioxidant activities from the phytonutrients abundant in whole-grains is thought to play a strong role in their cardio-protective effects.
Like soybeans, whole grains are good sources of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that may affect blood cholesterol levels, blood vessel elasticity, bone metabolism, and many other cellular metabolic processes.
Whole grains are rich sources of lignans that are converted by the human gut to enterolactone and enterodiole. In studies of Finnish men, blood levels of enterolactone have been found to have an inverse relation not just to cardiovascular-related death, but to all causes of death, which suggests that the plant lignans in whole grains may play an important role in their protective effects.
Lower insulin levels may also contribute to the protective effects of whole grains. In many persons, the risks of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are linked to insulin resistance. Higher intakes of whole grains are associated with increased sensitivity to insulin in population studies and clinical trials. Why? Because whole grains improve insulin sensitivity by lowering the glycemic index of the diet while increasing its content of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E.
The whole kernel of truth: as part of your healthy way of eating, whole grains can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Enjoy at least 3 servings a day. No idea how to cook whole grains? Just look at the “How to Enjoy” section in our profiles of the whole grains, or for quick, easy, delicious recipes, click on this link to our Recipe Assistant and select whichever whole grain you would like to prepare.
We usually think of quinoa as a grain, but it is actually the seed of a plant that, as its scientific name Chenopodium quinoa reflects, is related to beets, chard and spinach. These amino acid-rich seeds are not only very nutritious, but also very delicious. Cooked quinoa seeds are fluffy and creamy, yet slightly crunchy. They have a delicate, somewhat nutty flavor. While the most popular type of quinoa is a transparent yellow color, other varieties feature colors such as orange, pink, red, purple or black. Although often difficult to find in the marketplace, the leaves of the quinoa plant are edible, with a taste similar to its green-leafed relatives, spinach, chard and beets.
While relatively new to the United States, quinoa has been cultivated in the Andean mountain regions of Peru, Chile and Bolivia for over 5,000 years, and it has long been a staple food in the diets of the native Indians. The Incas considered it a sacred food and referred to it as the “mother seed.”
In their attempts to destroy and control the South American Indians and their culture, the Spanish conquerors destroyed the fields in which quinoa was grown. They made it illegal for the Indians to grow quinoa, with punishment including sentencing the offenders to death. With these harsh measures, the cultivation of quinoa was all but extinguished.
Yet, this super food would not be extinguished forever. In the 1980s, two Americans, discovering the concentrated nutrition potential of quinoa, began cultivating it in Colorado. Since then, quinoa has become more and more available as people realize that it is an exceptionally beneficial and delicious food.
Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the quinoa are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing quinoa in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture. When deciding upon the amount to purchase, remember that quinoa expands during the cooking process to several times its original size. If you cannot find it in your local supermarket, look for it at natural foods stores, which usually carry this super grain.
Store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep for a longer period of time, approximately three to six months, if stored in the refrigerator.
To cook the quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare. When cooking is complete, you will notice that the grains have become translucent, and the white germ has partially detached itself, appearing like a white-spiraled tail. If you desire the quinoa to have a nuttier flavor, you can dry roast it before cooking; to dry roast, place it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir constantly for five minutes.
Since quinoa has a low gluten content, it is one of the least allergenic “grains,” but its flour needs to be combined with wheat to make leavened baked goods. Quinoa flour can be used to make pasta, and quinoa pastas are available in many natural foods stores.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Combine cooked chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, scallions and coriander. Season to taste and enjoy this south-of-the-border inspired salad.
Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve as breakfast porridge.
For a twist on your favorite pasta recipe, use noodles made from quinoa.
Sprouted quinoa can be used in salads and sandwiches just like alfalfa sprouts.
Add quinoa to your favorite vegetable soups.
Ground quinoa flour can be added to cookie or muffin recipes.
Quinoa is great to use in tabouli, serving as a delicious (and wheat-free) substitute for the bulgar wheat with which this Middle Eastern dish is usually made.
Quinoa is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of purines. However, like all members of the Amaranthaceae-Chenopodiaceae plant family, quinoa does contain oxalates. The oxalate content of quinoa ranges widely, but even the lower end of the oxalate range puts quinoa on the caution or avoidance list for an oxalate-restricted diet.
Quinoa is a very good source of manganese. It is also a good source of magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Quinoa.
In-Depth Nutritional Profile
In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Quinoa is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System Chart
In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.
In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Quinoa
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This wonderfully complete look at Quinoa has been written by WHFoods.org The World’s Healthiest Foods website. Thank you for this extensive information!