By Hazel Grassie
Recent years have seen an increase in the consumption of pseudocereals, also called pseudograins. Pseudocereals are the seeds of broadleaved dicot plants including Quinoa, Buckwheat, Chia, Flaxseed and Amaranth. On the other hand, true cereals are the seeds of grasses belonging to monocot plants. For centuries common cereals like rice, maize and wheat have served as dietary staples across continents. The rise in pseudocereal popularity however may stem from rising, yet largely unnecessary, concerns about gluten, which is found in common cereals like wheat, barely, rye and triticale. Many pseudocereals serve as a great gluten free alternative. Additionally, the British population is becoming increasingly health conscious with a greater interest and willingness to try novel health foods. Recommendations to cut down on refined carbohydrates and eat nutritious wholegrain varieties might also contribute pseudocereal popularity.
Some commonalities of pseudocereals include being low in fat, free from cholesterol and rich in plant-based protein (particularly Amaranth which is a complete protein like milk but more easily digested). They are also great sources of protein, B vitamins and fibre Lets now explore the origins and nutritional value of some major pseudocereals; Quinoa, Chia and Buckwheat.
Quinoa- An excellent source of Folate and Iron
Quinoa grows in the high-altitude Andean regions of South America whilst Red quinoa is a strain endemic to Taiwan. From 2006 to 2013, quinoa tripled in value and remains a relatively expensive ingredient the world over. Quinoa is highly nutritious warranting its high market value. Even its cooked nutritional value is favorable compared to other common cereals.
Of particular interest is quinoa’s level of Folate and Iron. Folate works with vitamin B12 to form new red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body and also prevents neural tube defects in unborn babies. Adults and children over 11 years require 200 micrograms (ug) of folate per day. This increases for women planning pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding. 100 grams of cooked quinoa will supply 42ug of folate so is a great way to introduce more essential nutrients into the diet.
Chia- A great source of Omega 3
Chia seeds come from the Salvia Hispanica plant, which grows in parts of Mexico and Guatemala. The name Chia originates from the Nahuati word ‘Chian’ meaning oily. Indeed, chia seeds contain 25-30% extractable oil, 55% of which is Omega 3. Omega 3 fats have been shown to have beneficial effects on health such as protecting against cardiovascular disease by reducing arterial inflammation and preventing clot formation. Furthermore, Omega 3 reduces joint pain through its anti-inflammatory ability and assists in cognitive function.
Different global health organizations recommend varying intakes of Omega 3 but most experts agree that adults should obtain 500mg (0.5g) of Omega 3 per day. An average serving of chia seeds (28g) will get you 4.9grams of Omega 3! These tiny seeds are also mineral dense containing loads of calcium, phosphorus and manganese. With such a mild taste, chia seed oil can be used in regular cooking and even better, raw in smoothies and on salads for maximal nutrient retention. When soaked in water, chia seeds absorb 12 times their own weight and form a gelatinous coating. This is a property of chia which has benefited recipes like breakfast chia pots. Why not try Beets and Greens very own Raspberry Chia Jam or Super Power Nutty bar recipes?
Buckwheat- Flavonoid content
Russia and China produce the most buckwheat, which is available all year round. It is in fact a fruit seed, related to rhubarb and sorrel and has a beautifully fragrant flower allowing bees to make intensely flavored, dark honey. Despite its name, Buckwheat does not contain wheat making it ideal for people who are sensitive to wheat proteins.
Buckwheat has significant health benefits, largely attributable to its flavonoid content. Flavonoids are phytonutrients that extend the action of vitamin C and act as antioxidants. Researchers examined the blood lipid profiles of a sample of the Chinese Yi population. They consume about 100g of buckwheat every day. Buckwheat consumption was associated with a high ratio of good cholesterol to total cholesterol. Furthermore, when compared to wheat-based bread, buckwheat elicits a lower glucose and insulin response thus, could help manage prevent diabetes!