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6 Health Benefits of Eating Quinoa, According to Nutritionist

Considering the countless low-carb diets that have been touted over the last few years, it can seem as though the macronutrient is considered to be public enemy number one. But ICYMI, carbohydrates are actually the body's preferred source of energy, and nutrition experts still recommend fueling up on them in healthy amounts, says Mia Syn, M.S., R.D.N., a registered dietitian nutritionist in Charleston, South Carolina. "We need more carbohydrates than we need protein or fat," she explains. "It makes up 45 to 65 percent of our each day calories, so it still makes up the majority of what we recommend in the [United States Department of Agriculture's] dietary guidelines."

One way you can get your fill: Incorporate quinoa into your meal plan. Here, all the need-to-know information about the whole grain, including the quinoa health benefits that'll convince any carb-skeptic to add it to their plate.

Quinoa Health Benefits

1. Helps Build and Repair Muscles

Compared to different whole grains, quinoa comes out on top when it comes to protein — a macronutrient that helps to build and repair muscle and tissue. In a half-cup serving of the cooked grain, you may score 4 grams of protein — double that of an equal serving of brown rice. This protein is additionally complete, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, which can be obtained only from food, that are needed to make new protein in the body, in accordance to the HSPH. "Most whole grains aren't complete, and so that may make [quinoa] appealing for vegetarians or vegans who avoid animal products, which are mainly the sources of complete protein," says Syn.

FTR, meat-free eaters do not have to eat bowls and bowls of quinoa every day to ensure they snag all of those amino acids. Plant-based folks can score all of the necessary amino acids by eating a variety of protein-filled plant foods, such as fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, and seeds, daily, in accordance to the HSPH. But if you want to nab them all in one sitting, quinoa will help you get the job done — and bag 9 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein.

2. Supports Healthy Digestion

Nosh on half a cup of cooked quinoa, and you'll get nearly 3 grams of fiber, the parts of plant foods that your body can't digest. The nutrient not only reduces constipation and normalizes your number twos, but it also may help decrease low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL or "bad") cholesterol levels, which, in turn, may decrease your risk for heart disease or stroke, in accordance to the Mayo Clinic. While that helping will satisfy only 9 percent of the RDA for fiber, it's a step in the right direction.

3. Supports Metabolism

Quinoa is a whole grain — meaning it contains 100 percent of the original kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm — and, as a result, it retains its energizing B vitamins, says Syn. A quick food science lesson: B vitamins are stored primarily in a grain's bran (the outer layer) and the germ (the core of the seed), but refining or milling the grain strips away those two nutritious layers, in accordance to the HSPH. Since these components are kept intact, a half-cup serving of cooked quinoa offers 11 percent of the RDA for diet B1 (aka thiamin), which helps convert food into the energy you need to function. Another quinoa health benefit: That half-cup helping presents nearly 9 percent of the RDA for vitamin B-6, a nutrient needed to carry out enzyme reactions involved in metabolism, such as the breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, in accordance to the HSPH.

4. Helps Prevent Birth Defects

In a half-cup serving of quinoa, you'll score nearly 10 percent of the RDA for folate, a B vitamin that assists in DNA production and cell division. Folate additionally plays a key role in preventing neural tube defects, making it a crucial nutrient for individuals who are pregnant, says Syn. Even folks who aren't planning on having a little one any time soon should still aim to hit that RDA of 400 micrograms if they're succesful of becoming pregnant, as these defects develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy — often before someone finds out they're expecting, in accordance to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Luckily, a bowl full of quinoa can help you get one step closer to hitting that recommendation.

5. Supports a Strong Immune System

This quinoa health benefit will help boost your chances of keeping the sniffles at bay. A half-cup serving of the whole grain contains nearly 13 percent of the RDA for zinc, a mineral that's needed to strengthen and activate T cells (a type of white blood cell that protects the body from infection) and, in turn, enable your immune machine to fight off illness-causing bacteria and viruses, in accordance to the NIH. Even a mild zinc deficiency can impair your immune system's ability to defend against infection. All that is to say you might want to add quinoa — along with other zinc-rich foods such as chicken, pumpkin seeds, and yogurt — to your cold prevention toolkit.

6. Keeps Your Body Functioning at Its Best

From managing muscle and nerve function to regulating blood sugar levels and blood pressure, magnesium is a do-it-all mineral that's plentiful in quinoa. In fact, a half-cup serving of the cooked grain will provide you with 19 percent of the RDA for magnesium — an important quinoa health benefit, as many people in the U.S. get less than the recommended amount, according to the NIH. Aside from keeping your body running smoothly on a daily basis, research shows the mineral additionally plays a role in preventing diabetes, osteoporosis, bronchial asthma, preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy), migraines, and cardiovascular disease.

Originally published: Shape.com

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