Is Quinoa Really Going to Save Our Lives?

For the past couple of weeks, different articles around the web have been mentioning a recent scientific study that highlights quinoa’s great potential to increase life expectancy. I was intrigued about this new finding, so I decided to dig into the story a little bit.

The study originally comes from Dr. Lu Qi, a Public Health expert and epidemiologist from Harvard University. He analyzed the dietary habits and general health of 367,000 people, from 8 different states, over 14 years. His results showed that those who consumed 1.2 ounces of whole grains for every 1000 calories reduced their risk of premature death by 17%. Isn’t that impressive?

However, Dr. Lu Qi’s study analyzed whole grain intake in general, without specifying quinoa as part of the diet. Though quinoa has been grown in few states, such as Colorado, since the mid-80s, this has been done on a reduced scale, and quinoa did not become truly popular until the UN declared 2013 to be the “International Year of Quinoa”. So it is very likely that, throughout the 14 years the study lasted, most participants had not even heard of quinoa.

Nevertheless, the people in this study clearly kept an especially healthy diet compared to the average population, since generally speaking, healthy eating is a relatively recent thing for the general public. The results seem to be explained mostly by increased fiber consumption, but we should not dismiss the effect of other nutrients in whole grains, as well as other sources of fiber, such as fruits and vegetables.

But What About Quinoa?

Quinoa is a relatively novel food for most people in Western countries, who are only now benefiting from it - after the United Nations boosted its popularity in 2013, that is. The super grain is definitely a very positive contribution to improving the population's diet.

Quinoa is one of the few vegetable sources of protein that contains ALL the essential amino acids, which makes it a “complete protein”. Many of these essential amino acids are notoriously found overwhelmingly from animal sources, which helped quinoa’s cred among the vegetarian and vegan communities.

Prices have increased a lot lately, but quinoa is still a relatively cheap source of protein, so simply stating that it’s too expensive to become a diet staple is a bit of an oversimplification. After all, quinoa is also a good source of fiber, energy, vitamins, and minerals, so its consumption should not be dismissed as an "alternative food fad" by those searching for balanced sources of nutrients.

White quinoa is currently the most popular variety worldwide, but the red and black varieties are gaining more acceptance. Red quinoa has a higher antioxidant content, while black quinoa, typically only grown in the southern highlands of Peru, also has a lot more lithium, which is an often overlooked essential mineral.

Quinoa is a complete protein with plenty of fiber, vitamins B and E, plus slight amounts of the omega-3 alpha linoleic acid, and minerals such as manganese and copper. In addition, it’s been shown to be perfectly tolerated by those with celiac disease. While it’s a bit too dramatic to say quinoa may save your life, it’s true that it will definitely help you stay healthy.


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