In the Paleo perspective, Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be, or not to be- that is the question” can be appropriately applied to the attention surrounding quinoa. The Paleo Diet promotes the eating habits of our Paleolithic ancestors which mean that anything before the advent of agriculture is alright to abide by but any foods that have been subject to the process of agriculture do not make it on the Paleo food list.
This condition instantly removes all processed and refined foods from the menus of Paleo followers. Since grains have to be processed before being rendered edible, that means you have to bid farewell to all breads, pastas, cakes and rice. Also on the forbidden list are legumes and dairy products. Seeds and nuts enjoy limited access while lean meats with fruits and vegetables make up for the better part of the diet.
With so many food choices on one hand and restrictions on the other, how does something like quinoa stir such a debate? Well for one,
looks can be deceptive.While this ambiguously obscure food item is not a grain, it sure resembles one. Based on the way it looks, quinoa has often been misidentified as a grain.
Even though it may look a whole lot like the traditional cereal grains such as wheat, barley, rice and oats, it is actually a flowering plant that is closely related to spinach, chard and beets. Therefore from the botanical point of view, quinoa is recognized as a seed and a grain free food.
Well, if it is not a grain then it should be allowed on the Paleo Diet since the diet prohibits grains and legumes but not seeds. Agreed that technically quinoa is not a grain, it seems to have characteristics similar to those of grains. Grains like wheat, barley and rye have been found to cause irritant effects in the body due to their gluten content. Gluten is responsible for triggering off multiple autoimmune conditions and is known to cause celiac disease.
While devoid of gluten, quinoa has been shown to cause digestive reactions in some individuals as well. Quinoa contains saponins which coat the seed. It is recommended to wash the seeds thoroughly before cooking them. The saponins have a foamy character that is not fully removed even when carefully washed. Upon entering the body saponins can damage the gut lining. Moreover, saponins have a bitter tasting characteristic.
Since grains were not an important part of the Paleolithic hunter’s food choices, the diet also plays down the use of traditional cereals as well as those derived from seeds like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. Being a seed quinoa needs to be harvested as the coating is not agreeable in its natural state.
However, not all is bad on the quinoa front. The dietary fiber in quinoa has been associated to healthy digestion. Equipped with all nine essential amino acids, it is a complete protein source. In fact, its amazing protein content is rare for plants. While the protein factor is high the fat content is relatively low.
Quinoa is also an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and iron. Its high manganese content is helpful as an antioxidant in the body. Not only is it rich in minerals but also vitamins B. Because of its magnesium content quinoa has been attributed with better heart health.
For those newcomers transitioning to the Paleo Diet, complete elimination of grains can often be hard. The diet can present itself as vastly limiting. If you find it too restricting, try improvising with a bit of quinoa as a healthier substitute for grain cereals. As a general guideline, it is recommended to follow the diet intently for at least 30 days so that your digestive tract and body start to feel the advantages of eating the Paleo way.
What it eventually narrows down to is that while opting for healthier food choices, whether Paleo or otherwise, quinoa is not a grain. Neither is it processed. To moderate Paleo followers it may appear completely eligible for consumption in moderation. In more conservative Paleo settings, quinoa will not get a nod of approval. In the end, it is up to you to pick and choose your battles.