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Quinoa – A Complete Protein

by jenny sansouci on August 28, 2009

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan (or have ever tried any variation of diet that excludes meat or dairy), you’ve probably heard this question many times: “But how will you get your protein?” People seem to genuinely fear for your well-being, and insist that you can’t get enough protein if you’re vegan. 

Well, thankfully, I am now armed and ready with some solid facts for all the skeptics out there.  Say hello to a little friend I like to call QUINOA! (pronounced keen-wa). This amazing grain rocks my world and gives me protein o’plenty.

Ancient Harvest Quinoa

I started eating quinoa because I heard it was one of “the healthiest grains.” Admittedly, I didn’t look into it much more.  I immediately fell in love with it because of its versatility. You can do so many things with it – add veggies, sauces, tofu, salsa, add it to burritos or casseroles, eat it by itself with some hot sauce or spices - you name it! It’s a perfect replacement for rice or couscous.

I’ve been eating so much quinoa lately (one box makes a LOT!) that I did a bit more research into exactly why this grain is so “healthy.”

The most amazing thing I learned is that quinoa is one of the few vegan COMPLETE PROTEINS! I just about fainted when I read that, because I’ve heard so many people say that you can’t get “complete protein” in a vegan diet unless you combine foods. So as nerdy as I may sound, learning that was one of the highlights of my day (I think I even texted my boyfriend “OMG -I just found out that quinoa is a complete protein!!!!”).  Nice.

What is a complete protein, anyway? Without getting too scientific here (I don’t want you to fall asleep at your computer), I’ll start with the basics.  Our bodies need a constant supply and replenishing of protein to repair and build cells / muscle tissue.  Proteins are made up of essential amino acids that come from foods we eat. To make protein, all of these amino acids must be present. The amino acids are the “building blocks” of protein.  Some foods have all of them (complete proteins).  Some don’t (hence the food combining idea).

All animal products are complete proteins.  You’re probably getting more than enough if you eat these products.  Even if you don’t eat animal products or get complete proteins in one meal, your body stores all of the amino acids in a “pool” and withdraws the necessary ones out to form complete proteins. So, either way, you’re probably always going to have enough amino acids to make proteins, unless you are really malnourished.  Steve Pavlina debunks the protein myth here.

Anyway, my point is, I was thrilled to learn that quinoa is a complete protein. That’s awesome. I’ve heard through the grapevine that spirulina, hemp seed, soy, buckwheat and amaranth are also complete proteins.  So if someone tells you they have to eat meat to get their protein, let ‘em know these fun lil protein-packed facts. And try some quinoa, friends!! It’s good stuff. ;)

***Check out this AMAZING quinoa recipe!

Ancient Harvest Red Quinoa




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