Food Focus: Quinoa

It is important to fuel up with carbohydrates to provide energy for your runs. A great alternative to pasta and bagels is the whole grain quinoa. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has a strong nutritional profile and can be cooked in less than 20 minutes, a plus for time crunched cooks. Often called a grain, quinoa is actually a seed that grows on the high plains of the Andes Mountains in South America. It is said the Incas were able to run such long distances because of of this powerful grain.

The nutritional profile of quinoa really stands out. It is a complete source of protein. It has all nine essential amino acids, the amino acids that your body is not able to produce on its own. In a quarter cup serving, there are 6 grams of protein, along with 160 calories, 2.5 grams of fiber and 30 grams of carbohydrates. It is gluten free grain making it a wonderful addition to the tables of those with gluten sensitivities.

Quinoa is a very versatile grain. After cooking, it becomes fluffy and creamy, yet slightly crunchy. It has a delicate, somewhat nutty flavor. While the transparent yellow color is the most common, orange, red, and black varieties can be found. Quinoa can be served along with nuts and fruit as a breakfast porridge. Mix quinoa together with chopped cooked root vegetables. To save time, cook up a bunch at once and eat it many times. Combine chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, scallions and cilantro for a quick south of the border inspired salad.

Before cooking, it is a good idea to rinse it under cold water in a fine mesh grain strainer. To cook, add one part grain to two parts water in a saucepan. After it has come to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for five minutes covered. Use a fork to fluff the grains. Stirring it with a spoon can damage the delicate grains and make them mushy.

Purchase some quinoa this week and try this easy Quinoa and Parsley Pesto recipe. It makes a great post workout meal, as well as a great side dish at dinner. I encourage you to add some variety to your weekly meals. Eat foods that give you something back. In the case of quinoa, it offers fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals.