Is quinoa bad for you?

Quinoa: Super seed or super sham?

If you’ve been following along the health food scene, you’ll see that quinoa has become one of the new superheroes of health. Quinoa pasta, quinoa cereal, quinoa milk, quinoa soup, quinoa salad…alright Forrest, we get it. Simply put, quinoa is everywhere and why shouldn’t it be? The veggie kingdom has thrown a party over this complete protein. In fact I’ve used it in plenty of my dishes featured in my online programs and cookbooks. But let’s face it, the second we begin to love something (take almond milk for example), someone is bound to tell us to stop. Between ethical societal reasons and poisonous saponins, is quinoa really the super seed it’s touted to be or a super sham?

Let me start off by saying I actually love this grain. It not only pairs well with veggies, fish or meat, but its a major powerhouse of nutrients and doesn’t leave a brick-like feeling in my tummy. However, with that said, I’m also promiscuous with my food, meaning I dabble and rarely can commit to eating one thing every day. Why: because I do my best to not consume anything in excess, because truly there are ramifications to it and quinoa is no different. Here’s why:

Quinoa: Media hype, overconsumption & robbing others.

Coming from someone who left the ad world, I will tell you this: terms like superfoods annoy the piss out of me. The reason is because terms like this drives prices to an all-time high for certain foods from far away places when we’ve got a lot of goodness right here at home (take an apple for example). Quinoa is no different. By calling it a “miracle grain of the Andes” almost gives it the connotation that it’s better than any other grain. And you know what? People responded and so did the market. By 2006 prices nearly tripled with people using it in North America from everything in their salads to even in their shampoo.

Problem is with overconsumption, prices have become so high for those living in Peru and Bolivia quinoa is now more expensive than chicken. And what’s more: imported junk food is now cheaper.

Quinoa: Powerhouse or poison?

If you’re a quinoa lover, understand this: quinoa does contain saponins, which are a plant’s natural defense against pests. Now before you go panicking thinking that you’re becoming toxic by eating the stuff, breathe! Saponin toxicity research (repeated studies spanning 40 years) states that it’s toxic when saponins are administered intravenously and are significantly reduced when administered orally. In other words, unless you’re smacking your veins and injecting this "superfood", then you’re okay. Moreover, if you soak it for a couple hours (I prefer overnight to even sprout the bad boy), then you’ll not only remove the bitter taste but even remove the majority of the saponins.

So where do we go from here?

Be cautious when you see practitioners who’ve got a hard-on for the seed and use it in everything. Why: because moderation is key – yin yang balance baby.

You see there will always be the next superfood touting weight loss, energy and who knows maybe one day there will be one that will help you grow wings and fly (one could only hope). Just remember that manipulation is not only used in the processed food industry but also with health food. But before you feel like giving up, keep to this rule of thumb: keep it simple. Purchase locally and support your local farmers. By doing so, you’ll support your local economy and allow others to thrive off of theirs. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat ethnic ingredients you just have to realize that your level of consumption (meaning an excess of it) might be affecting another.

In addition, I don’t believe that good food isn’t cheap.  If that were the case I would have starved during my years of hustle, but I didn’t.  And saying so puts health food on an elitist level that needs to be kyboshed pronto. So if you can’t afford quinoa, then brown rice and beans are a great protein-packed, low cost alternative.

In the meantime, you can have your quinoa and eat it too – just do it mindfully and with proper care.  So let me leave you with this: be careful with superfood labels because labels have no business being in the whole food industry but rather with marketers. Superfood? No…super you.

So eat mindfully, with moderation & support local where you can.

[Queue the quinoa confetti]
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