Quinoa – Health and Omega 3


Quinoa is healthy, packed with protein and omega 3.

It is also delicious, prepared in many ways such as…

quinoa-chocolate-pancakes

quinoa pancakes and quinoa strawberry shortcake.  See the recipe for both below.

Let me begin though by explaining my love affair with pancakes… then why quinoa pancakes and shortcake can be add a huge improvement in the Western diet.

Some memories are never forgotten. Some of them quite odd, such as my recollection of when I fell in love with pancakes.

The place was Tillamook Oregon… a town famous for its cheddar cheese but I doubt famous for its pancakes.  The time…  almost 47 years ago. I must have been around 16 because I had driven with several of my teenage friend to spend the weekend in Seaside, Oregon… the place, in the 1960s, where teenagers from Portland went  to hang out… for some action.

Action by the way in those days amounted to bumper cars, Ferris wheels and stuff like cotton candy.  There wasn’t much in those days… though if we could have found some we would have imbibed in beer…  as terrible as it tasted to a 16 year old… drinking beer was considered cool then.  Of course for teenage guys… there were also teenage girls.  I think there was a beach and an ocean there too!

Four or five us… high school buddies wandered on weekends…. usually camping out…. sometimes in the Cascades… other times over in the Eastern Oregon desert… shooting our .22s… fishing,.. swimming in lakes and in general just messing around.

Somehow this one memory from many weekends has me in a “mom and pop” restaurant… in Tillamook.   We stopped for breakfast on a Sunday morning… headed back from Seaside to Portland.   I ordered a stack of pancakes… probably a short stack since one thing I really remember  was that we were almost always short of cash.  Back then coffee was a dime a cup (with refills)… gas 19.9 cents a gallon and a short stack… maybe .65 cents.  Camping then in state parks was free.   However we were still usually broke. However with five bucks each, the four of us could do some damage.  One of the friends… Mark Johnson… had a beat up, rusting 1956 Ford station wagon (we called it the Blue Goose) so if we each pitched in a dollar… there was enough for the gallons of gas (and the several quarts of oil)  required to get us to the coast and back.

I recall nothing about the trip… not the beach… not the girls… not even the restaurant… except my awareness on that day of how much I loved those pancakes!  The love affair stuck.

With this story as a background it will not seem odd that when Merri and I lived in London we often visited one of the most renowned pancake restaurants there called My Old Dutch, which offers authentic Pannekoek (that’s a traditional Dutch pancake).   The kids loved the friendly, bubbly atmosphere and I of course loved… the pancakes offered in both sweet and savory form.

dutch-pancake

There are crazy combinations at My Old Dutch… chicken curry pancakes… chilli con carne pancakes and lamb stew pancakes.  I personally preferred one of the sweet ones served with a caramel sauce.  But note the common connection here… pancakes!

Now comes the rub. Pancakes are a truly unhealthy food… especially when loaded up with artificial sugary syrup. A big platter of pancakes and syrup is a fast burning carbohydrate disaster almost guaranteed to shoot your blood sugar up!   This can create all forms of health complications if consumed often enough.    A platter is probably even worse when no sugar syrup contaminated with artificial sweeteners is applied.

I rue the day I discovered this… like learning that your lover is really only there to kill you (perhaps for the insurance).

Alas… chocolate pancakes… with the wrong chocolate… is nutritionally even worse!

What a dilemma … being in love with something that is really bad.

However I know there is a God because… He allowed me to discover quinoa pancakes.

Quinoa is a high protein grain from the Andes that is normally eaten as a cereal.   Quinoa can be ground into flour.  Quinoa flour changes everything when it comes to nutrition in pancakes… the lover is reformed!

Having spent this time explaining pancakes in my epicurian heart… the story on my other food mistress chocolate, we must pass.   Let’s just compare pancakes and chocolate to wine & rose… man & woman… the heavens & the stars.

First quinoa is high in protein… one of the only vegetable sources of a complete protein.

Second Quinoa has a fair amount of omega 3 essential fatty acids.

If you have not read much about Omega 3… you should because there is a growing amount of evidence that an imbalance in the Western between Omega 3 and Omega 6  is leading to all types of problems including obesity.

The excerpt below from a May 2010 Economist article “Diet and the evolution of the brain-Fish and no chips” gives us some insights on this when it says:

The wonders of docosahexaenoic acid

TO PIN one big evolutionary shift on a particular molecule is ambitious. To pin two on it is truly audacious. Yet doing so was just one of the ideas floating around at “A Celebration of DHA” in London this week. The celebration in question was a scientific meeting, rather than a festival. It was definitely, however, a love-in. It was held on May 26th and 27th at the Royal Society of Medicine to discuss the many virtues of docosahexaenoic acid, the most important of that fashionable class of dietary chemicals, the omega-3 fatty acids.

DHA is a component of brains, particularly the synaptic junctions between nerve cells, and its displacement from modern diets by the omega-6 acids in cooking oils such as soya, maize and rape is a cause of worry. Many researchers think this shift—and the change in brain chemistry that it causes—explains the growth in recent times of depression, manic-depression, memory loss, schizophrenia and attention-deficit disorder. It may also be responsible for rising levels of obesity and thus the heart disease which often accompanies being overweight.

Michael Crawford, a researcher at the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition in London, believes, however, that DHA is even more important than that.

He suggests that it was responsible for the existence of nervous systems in the first place, and that access to large quantities of the stuff was what permitted the evolution of big brains in mankind’s more recent ancestors.

Indeed, Dr Crawford thinks that a shortage of DHA is a long-term evolutionary theme. The molecule is most famously found in fatty fish. He suggests this might explain why, for example, dolphins have brains that weigh 1.8kg whereas zebra brains weigh only 350g, even though the two species have similar body sizes. Furthermore, he argues that the dramatic increase of the size of the brains of humanity’s ancestors that happened about 6m years ago was not because apes came out of the trees to hunt on the savannahs, but because they arrived at the coast and found a ready supply of DHA in fish.

Accept no substitute

Joseph Hibbeln, a researcher at America’s National Institutes of Health, has been looking at the supply to babies of DHA from breast milk and at genetic variation in the ability to produce this molecule from other omega-3s.  In the case of those fed on formula milk low in DHA, though, children without the DHA-making ability had an average IQ 7.8 points lower than those with it.

Nor is intelligence the only thing affected by a lack of DHA. There is also a body of data linking omega-3 deficiencies to violent behaviour. Countries whose citizens eat more fish (which is rich in DHA) are less prone to depression, suicide and murder. And new research by Dr Hibbeln shows that low levels of DHA are a risk factor for suicide among American servicemen and women. Actual suicides had significantly lower levels of DHA in the most recent routine blood sample taken before they killed themselves than did comparable personnel who remained alive.

More worryingly, 95% of American troops have DHA levels that these results suggest put them at risk of suicide.

America’s department of defence has taken note. It will soon unveil a programme to supplement the diets of soldiers with omega-3s. The country’s Food and Drug Administration may change one of its policies, too. Thomas Brenna, a professor of nutrition at Cornell University, has written a letter (co-signed by many of the scientists at the meeting) urging the agency to revise its advice to pregnant and fertile women that they limit their consumption of fish.

They may, however, be swimming against the tide. The popularity of omega-6-rich foods based on cheap vegetable oils will be difficult to reverse. Indeed, if another of Dr Hibbeln’s studies proves true of people as well as rodents, it may be self-fulfilling.

In this experiment he fed rats diets that were identical except that in one case 8% of the calories came from linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid) while in the other that value was 1%. These percentages reflect the shift in the proportion of omega-6s in the American diet between 1909 and the early 21st century.

In the 8% diet, levels of rat obesity doubled. It turns out that in rats (and also in humans) linoleic acid is converted into molecules called endocannabinoids that trigger appetite. Those who eat omega-6s, in other words, want to eat more food.

And since, in the human case, omega-6-rich food is much cheaper than omega-3-rich food, that is what they are likely to consume.

The way out of this vicious circle is not obvious. Eating fish is all very well, but the oceans are under enough pressure as it is.

Quinoa, a 5000 + year old grain from the Andes is full of essential amino acids, iron and vitamins. It is probably the best protein source from the plant kingdom and has a delicious delicate nutty taste ideal for pilafs and to replace high carb starches like rice and pasta.   It is also great as a cereal breakfast food.

Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, quinoa offers benefits to the heart and is easy to digest as well.

Quinoa has been rated by the WHO as possessing protein of a quality similar to milk. It has been classified as a supercrop by the United Nations on account of its nutritional value and high protein content. 

In early times, quinoa was cooked and ground to a paste and applied on bruises. Its medicinal uses ranged from treating motion sickness and appendicitis to bone problems and nursing mothers.  In fact a poultice of quinoa flour was applied on broken bones. It is a good source of dietary fiber.  Quinoa is ideal for those suffering from allergies to the grass family since it is a leafy grain and is gluten-free.

Quinoa is also a source of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese, Vitamins B6, Niacin and Thiamin and has high levels of lysine – an essential amino acid for creating protein. Plus it is low in fat and excellent source of complex carbohydrates.

Most Westerners need to be getting more Omega 3 and less Omega 6 and quinoa can help… plus it can be cooked in some really delicious forms.

Enter our recipe for Ecuador quinoa chocolate pancakes.

With quinoa to add protein and pure Ecuadorian chocolate without chemicals and sugar added there is a good nutrition argument… two lovers who are good for your health!

A reader recently sent this note.

Hi Gary…really enjoy your columns. Am fascinated with Quinoa. Any chance you could share the recipe for the chocolate quinoa pancakes?

What a wonderful woman… asking me to do something with one of the great loves in my life…. chocolate!  So I grabbed Merri gave her a kiss and murmered in her ear… “Will you help me make some chocolate quinoa pancakes?”

quinoa-chocolate-pancakes

Read what happened next and the recipe for quinoa chocolate pancakes here.

Below is a recipe for the quinoa strawberry shortcake that Merri made for me yesterday.

I photographed this before eating. Yum!

ecuador-food

“Well, one of the problems that most of us have is Strawberries (yes!) but then we go a bit further and want Strawberry Shortcake.  Gary always steers me near those horrible little cakes when he has just been to the market and bought luscious strawberries.  So, all I do when making almost anything with flour is to simply substitute fine ground (we do it ourselves in our blender) quinoa for flour.  However, this does change 1)the consistency of the batter (perhaps one needs to add more liquid) and 2)makes a firmer, stronger product no light and fluffy quinoa here! This might require a bit of change of expectations if one desires those little light airy concoctions…but think PROTEIN and low CARBS.

“Strawberry Quinoa Shortcakes:

“1 cup quinoa flour,  1/2-3/4 tbs. baking powder, a tiny bit of all natural sugar (to your taste), 7 tbs. of butter cut into pieces, 1 egg, 1/2 – 3/4 cup of rich milk (perhaps half and half).  Strawberries & Cream to add on top.

“Cut butter into the dry mixture.  Mix egg with rich milk and combine with dry ingredients.  Bake 12 minutes or so until golden brown at 350.

“Serve with strawberries and of course cream or whipped cream!”  Merri

Yes, it was wonderful…Sunday afternoon Strawberry Shortcakes with Tea.

Gary

How We Can Serve You

Read the entire Economist scientific article Diet and the evolution of the brain – Fish and no chips


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