You don't have to make dieting your life. Try Quinoa

Hola Everyone,

This is a bit of a convoluted story. It is mainly about a new discovery of ours that just happened by accident. So we would like to share it with you.

We recently decided to do a 21 day detox program as illustrated in a book called “CLEAN” by Dr Alejandro Junger ( The program is essentially juices, smoothies or soups in the mornings and evenings, but with a normal meal at lunchtime plus various supplements and of course there are foods and beverages which are NOT permitted.

Healthy Smoothie

Over the years we have participated in other detox programmes plus attended Health Retreats back in Australia. Doing a detox and staying off certain foods is not always easy. What I like about this one is that you can have a main meal (restricting certain foods of course) at lunch time. This of course works well here in Ecuador as lunch is the main meal of the day and everyone takes time out to enjoy it.

Anyway one of the foods that is permitted in the CLEAN program is Quinoa(pronounced keen-wá). Funnily enough I had bought some Quinoa the week before we started as I wanted to make a favorite curry recipe that we picked up when we were at a Health Retreat in Australia.

Cooked Quinoa seed

On about day 3 of our detox program we used Quinoa in a soup. It was delicious. We then went off and did some more research on the product and were quite amazed at what we read. In fact there is quite a great Ecuadorian success story that I would like to summarize for you.

Quinoa is a seed grain that has been cultivated in the Andean region for over 7,000 years and was considered sacred by the Inca Empire. It was later replaced almost completely by cereals such as barley, wheat, potatoes and corn. But most of these crops did not do well in the high Andes, and they were mostly subject to the whims of the international markets.

Quinoa plants growing near the Andes

In response to the poor yield from non-native crops, US pesticide and fertilizer manufacturers led an aggressive campaign in the region with the support of the government and governmental agencies. Pesticide and fertilizer use in Ecuador increased dramatically over the years leading to depleted soil and a rise in associated health problems. In fact, DDT, supplied by a US company, is still being used on Ecuador’s agricultural land.

This story is about farming families in the Chimborazo Province, in a village called Los Angeles de Colta. The altitude is about 10,000 feet. The area is near the city of Riobamba – part-way between Quito and Cuenca.

Harvesting Quinoa crops near the Andes

Not long ago, the crops of Los Angeles were not any different than those of the rest of the Ecuadorian agricultural industry. The farmers’ yields were low, their return was almost nonexistent, and their children were suffering from malnutrition.

In 1998, twelve Los Angeles de Colta families agreed to cultivate quinoa in the traditional organic way for a group called the Heirloom Quinoa Project. The Project is the cooperative effort of four international organizations: The People’s Educational Radio of Ecuador (ERPE), a progressive radio station dedicated to education and social service; Germany’s Bio Control System (BCS), a global organic certification organization; the Canadian Development Fund, a fund for Ecuadorian development based in Canada; and Chicago’s Inca Organics, the distributor and marketer of the finished product.

Quinoa Plant

In fact it was retired Chicago couple, Bob and Maggi Leventry, who founded Inca Organics and started the whole program. They had spent three years in Ecuador in the Peace Corp after they retired. Maggi, a dietician, became very interested in Quinoa. In 1997 they then joined with another volunteer to put the parties together to get the Heirloom Quinoa Project started. The standard of living in the local villages has risen, and so has the standard of health.

Maggi and Bob Leventry

The income of the12 families was 50% higher in the first year than the other farmers simply by growing organic quinoa. In the following year, 36 families joined the program and in 2000, there were 51 families growing for the Heirloom Quinoa Project. By 2003, 4025 families in four provinces of Ecuador were planting over 2800 acres of Quinoa to produce over 400 metric tons of organic heirloom quinoa for exportation – with about one-third more being consumed by the families themselves.

The Heirloom Project insisted that one-third of production be retained for home consumption. Malnutrition is now virtually non-existent – down from 74% before the project started. I think that is an amazing achievement in such a short space of time.

It shows what the power of just a small number of people can do. Just think what a difference we could make if there were more Bob and Maggi Leventry’s in this country.

Compost is used as the organic fertilizer, after it has been passed through large worm farms. Yields have increased from 1,000 kg per hectare to 1,400 kg/ha by using worm castings as organic fertilizer. And the quinoa is rotated with lupins, legumes to put nitrogen back into the soil. In addition, amaranth is grown to supplement the diets, and to sell excess production.

Quinoa crops

So if you want to try quinoa, and make it a staple part of your diet to improve cardiovascular issues, diabetes or migraines, or use it to lose weight, just check out the books that have been written on this Andean product.

Here are a few nutritional facts about Quinoa to wet your appetite:

The United Nations have classified quinoa as a “super crop” because it is a complete protein.

Quinoa has slow releasing, high level of carbohydrates that give the stomach a full feeling for a long time – ideal for weight control and to maintain adequate blood sugar levels.

It is a complete protein because it contains all 9 essential amino acids, and is well endowed with lysine, which is essential for tissue growth and repair?

One cup of quinoa contains about 8 grams of protein, about twice that of other grains.

Quinoa is a very good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus – making it especially valuable for persons with migraine headaches, diabetes and atherosclerosis.

It is a good source of riboflavin, which is necessary for energy production within cells?

As a good source of manganese and copper, these two minerals in Quinoa serve as cofactors for the superoxide dismutase enzyme – an antioxidant.

Quinoa is a good source of fiber – about 5 grams per cup (cooked)

It is gluten-free, great for gluten intolerant people. It is worth noting that gluten products are not allowed on the CLEAN program.

This is a good table of the mineral status of quinoa, compared with some other grains:

You can see that quinoa is more favorable in every measure. Even the sodium is lower than the other grains.

Quinoa and honey bread.

Quinoa salad

Another delicious Quinoa dish

Quinoa fields near the Andes

Until next I write.

Chao for now