When we think of baby's first solid food; rice or oatmeal often come to mind. If this sounds boring, cliché, old fashioned, or even out-of-date, you are in luck! There just may be something better to offer to your budding food-lover. Something that you may have heard of by now, but likely haven’t considered as a first food for your baby. That something, or more specifically, that food, is the powerhouse, super-food: Quinoa! Quinoa is exceptionally nutritious, readily available, easy to prepare, delicious in natural flavors, and soft in texture. It is the perfect candidate for your precious offspring, and you just might love it, too.
Quinoa, (pronounced keen-wah), is an ancient grain-like seed, that has become popular among healthy eating enthusiasts in recent years. It is arguably one of the healthiest foods in the world, this plant-based protein boasts a content of 80 nutrients. Research has proven numerous health properties and benefits of eating this whole grain pseudocereal. It can be eaten in a variety of ways, but is most commonly consumed in ways similar to oats, rice, barley, and rye. Although it is part of the cereal family, quinoa is unique in many ways. Unlike the grains it is often compared with, it contains substantial levels of protein, healthy fats, antioxidants and fiber. This extra incredible seed, has exponentially greater nutritional value than super food favorites like avocados, spinach, and cranberries . It's unique, mild and nutty flavor make it enjoyable on its own, yet versatile in the flavors and spices that it compliments.
When consumed on a regular basis, the health benefits of eating quinoa are endless . quinoa is packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and many other nutrients that aid in numerous aspects of overall health. Absorption of these nutrients can support brain function, as well as healthy digestive, muscular, and cardiovascular systems. Consumption may aid in the prevention and treatment of an array of diseases, conditions, health complications, and even cancers. quinoa can even act as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant. Quinoa is high in protein, healthy fats, and insoluble fiber. This grain-like seed is easily digestible and it’s nutrients are readily absorbable. It is compatible with vegan, vegetarian, organic, gluten-free, and low glycemic dietary needs.
Quinoa contains a multitude of natural vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. According to research, it is easily digestible and low risk for food allergies. The nutrients within, when consumed on a regular basis, have infinite health benefits, especially for a growing and developing baby.
There are so many nutrients found in quinoa, that we have chosen to elaborate on the specific purposes and health benefits of 8 vitamins, 8 minerals and 2 of the essential amino acids. To name and describe each of the 80 nutrients, would create quite a lengthy and in-depth article. For the benefit and enjoyment of our readers we have chosen to focus on those that are the best sources and with the greatest significance to babies and children. The “best sources” are those that contain at least 10% of the recommended daily nutritional value through a single serving. Many of these achieve significantly more with 20-60% value of the daily suggested intake.
The following vitamins are only a fraction of the nutrients found in quinoa. The health benefits they reap are astounding. Take a closer look at the properties of each, and their abilities to support the healthy development of a baby.
Thiamin- is essential for healthy brain development, aids in the growth and development of the heart and nervous system, and converts carbohydrates into energy.
Niacin- aids in the production of skin, promotes nerve function, converts energy into food, and supports the digestive system.
Riboflavin- is essential for bone growth, muscle structure, and nerve development. Promotes overall physical growth,good vision, and healthy skin.
Pantothenic acid- aids in the metabolism of fat and protein, regulates stress hormones, antibodies and growth. Supports metabolism of fat and protein.
Potassium- aids the activity and contraction of muscles. Promotes metabolism and nerve function
Vitamin B-6- encourages the metabolism of protein, fats, and carbohydrates, stimulates the production of new red blood cells and supports the development of the brain and nervous system.
Folic acid/folate- completes the development of the central nervous systems, promotes normal brain function, and is essential for the production of red blood cells.
Vitamin E- is necessary for the development of good health in babies and children, it boosts the immune system, promotes unobstructed blood flow, and aids in the compatibility of many important functions of the body's cells.
Minerals have significant value in relation to the consumption of food. The nutritional benefits are important in the absorption of nutrients for babies. Below, we include detailed information about a select few of the minerals that are found in quinoa.
Calcium- is beneficial for strong bones and teeth, supports the nerve system, and aids in function of the heart and other muscles. It is also responsible for developing the rythym of the heart, and in healthy blood clotting.
Iron- Makes red blood cells, supplies oxygen to cells for energy and growth, and builds bones and teeth
Manganese- plays an important role in the processing of fats and carbohydrates, aids in the development of bones and pancreatic function
Phosphorous- Builds strong bones and teeth, is essential for proper blood clotting, and supports a normal heart rythym
Copper- aids in the formation of the heart and in the development of bones, provides support to the nervous system, and promotes healthy function of arteries and blood vessels
Magnesium- is important in the regulation of insulin and blood sugar, helps build strong bones, supports the repair and production of tissue
Dietary Fiber- is beneficial for the prevention and relief of constipation in babies, lowers the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart disease, and cancer. Promotes a healthy body weight and may contribute to longevity.
Zinc- aids in organ development, promotes skeletal growth, and supports the nervous and circulatory systems.
Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all 9 essential amino acids, including lysine and isoleucine. Essential amino acids are proteins that we need to eat because our bodies are not capable of producing them on their own. In order to be a complete protein, all 9 must be together in fairly equal amounts. Very few non-animal sources contain all 9 essential amino acids. Amino acids help to build muscle and repair tissue. There are only sparse natural resources of Lysine. Lysine is essential for normal growth and development. It helps the body to convert fatty acids in energy. It also aids in calcium absorption and the formation of collagen, which are important for bone and muscle health. Isoleucine is know for it's ability to increase endurance, encourage muscle repair, and to promote clotting with injury. This essential amino acid also helps to stabilize energy levels by regulating blood sugar.
In addition, quinoa contains heart healthy fats like omega-3’s. While plant based sources aren't proven to be as beneficial as others, it may be possible that consuming significant amounts of omega-3’s may boost both brain and heart health. It is possible that the benefits could include reduced risks for high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, heart disease, dementia, depression, and arthritis. Quinoa is also high in anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. These are note worthy components that are clearly important in the health and development of a growing baby.
If your family is Vegetarian, Vegan, or follows Non-GMO & Organic Diets, Quinoa is an ideal ingredient to add into your nutritional regime. This super food can boost and supplement a diet with nutrients and properties that are typically only found in animal products, or that can only be achieved by combining several ingredients to accomplish the same nutritional complexity.
Quinoa that is grown in it’s traditional environment is typically a naturally organic crop. It is able to survive high altitudes, little rainfall, hot and sub zero temperatures, thin air, and salty to sandy soil conditions. In addition, it is a plant that is fully utilizable and all parts of the plant are edible, including the seeds, leaves and stems. Thanks to it’s resilient nature, affordability, and sustainability; there has not been a need or desire to try to alter this seed-like grain by artificial methods. This means that quinoa is an ideal candidate to keep up with the increasing demands without compromising it’s quality with the use of pesticides, germicides, or genetic modifications. It is unlikely, but not impossible that these natural growing methods will change in the near future. 99% of it’s commercial production still takes place in it’s native land of the South American Andes.
Quinoa has properties that make it an anti- inflammatory, antioxidant,and an anti-carcinogen. Quinoa contains many anti-inflammatory nutrients, including amino acids and vitamin E, as well as phytonutrients found in the saponins of the outer layer of the seed coating. These nutrients may help decrease the risk of inflammation connected with autoimmune disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, Chrohn’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Consumption of the saponins are controversial and should not initially be given to a baby for risk of stomach upset. The saponins are washed away when the seed is rinsed prior to cooking. Many people feel that this initial cleansing also improves on the taste of quinoa. However, studies have proven that retaining the saponins, increases the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the seed.
Due the controversial nature of the saponins, it is best to avoid them in infants. When the child is older, threat of allergy has been eliminated, and the intestinal tract is primed for more robust digestion, it is safe to introduce the unwashed version of quinoa that includes the saponins. Regardless of the inclusion or exclusion of the saponins, the anti-inflammatory nutrients found in quinoa help to protect the blood vessels from inflammatory damage and reduce the risk for many cardiovascular diseases.
A diverse array of antioxidant phytonutrients and flavonoids are known to be found in quinoa in concentrated amounts. The concentration is often greater than antioxidant properties of known to super fruits like cranberries and lingonberries. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of quinoa are also beneficial for reducing the risk of cancer, with specific focus on the digestive tract and prevention of colon cancer.
Quinoa contains twice as much insoluble fiber as most other grains, making it more easily digestible than other grains, for the immature digestive system of babies. The ease of digestion increases the value of quinoa in the special interest diets of babies, toddlers, and children. Quinoa aids digestion by holding water in the large intestine. This helps to regulate bowel movements. The high amounts of insoluble fiber found in quinoa can lower the risk of diseases that specifically effect the digestive system, and may be able to prevent hemorrhoids and diverticulosis.
Quinoa also supports digestion because of specific nutrients within, such as vitamin B, amino acids, thiamin, riboflavin, and glutamine. All of these nutrients independently enhance the function of the digestive system. For example, thiamin aids in the production of hydrochloric acid, another important nutrient for digestion. Glutamine stimulates energetic cells for the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract. Riboflavin supports cell production in the lining of the digestive tract.
In addition to it's many other health benefits, studies show that quinoa is less likely to cause a food related allergy than other grains.
It is especially beneficial for those with adverse reaction to other grains, and that have a need for viable alternatives. This super food is even being recommended as a viable alternative for people with allergies to wheat and gluten. According to the Mayo Clinic, people who practiced gluten-free eating regimes, often have a hard time getting all of their essential nutrients. Specifically, iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid are usually lacking in these diets. The nutrition dense quinoa includes all of these, and is an incredible addition to the diet, as it is naturally gluten-free.
Quinoa originates from the Sierra regions of South America and is primarily grown in Bolivia, and Peru, but can also be found in Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia. Peru is the largest producer of Quinoa. It is estimated that nearly 700,000 acres of land in the Andes are currently producing over 108,000 tons of quinoa. The USA is the leading purchaser of the exported portion of the crop, accounting for 55% of sales. Fortunately, the rise in production has led to a decrease in sale price, making it more affordable and accessible to the general public.
Indigenous communities have used quinoa in their native cooking for centuries, where it is known as “the mother grain”. Quinoa has been a staple in the regional diets dating back to 1200 A.D.
In Western nations, packaged Quinoa is typically found in the white variety. Closer to it’s place of origin, it can also be found in red and black, as well as the less common varieties of yellow, pink, orange, purple, and brown.
Thanks to it’s growing popularity, quinoa can be purchased in most health food stores and in many big chain grocery stores. It can sometimes be found near the rice section or in specialty and health food aisles. If you don't live in an urban area, ask your grocer if they are willing to add it to the inventory or even to special order it for you. Most will be happy to learn of a new product that will cater to the desires of their clientele. If you are unable to locate quinoa in the local markets near you, it is also available through numerous online retailers. This method of purchase will generally allow the product to be delivered to your front door.
Quinoa is easy to cook for your baby, it is prepared and eaten in ways similar to oats, rice, barley, and rye. It can be boiled, steamed or sautéed without risk of losing it's nutritional value. Most foods are oxidized and lose their ability to retain healthy fatty acids after cooking. That is not true in the case of quinoa. The nutrients are sustained, even through boiling, steaming, and simmering.
Quinoa cooks more quickly than most whole grains, taking only 12 to 20 minutes, depending on the method and the region. Conveniently, it maintains an agreeable texture and flavor when served at any temperature.
It is simple to prepare, delicious in natural flavors, and soft in texture. When making this super food for baby, cook until mushy and put into a blender to puree. The unique taste is delicious on it's own and also compliments a wide variety of sweet and savory flavors.
Early on, infants may enjoy it plain, with a splash of breastmilk or chicken broth. When baby's taste buds expand, opt for any of these flavor combinations: raisins and cinnamon, peaches and cream, garlic and onion, or spinach and mushroom.
Quinoa can be prepared and consumed in a vast variety of ways. It can be used a warm breakfast option, much like porridge or oatmeal. It can be prepared similar to rice or couscous, in soups, salads and baking. It’s neutral flavor can be enjoyed on it’s own or in compliment with a wide array of spices and seasonings.
Initially, when you give your baby a new food, there should be an allowance for allergy testing. While Quinoa is not likely to cause a food allergy, it is not considered to be an allergy free food. On approximately the first 3 or 4 occasions, Quinoa and all new food introductions should be offered in small amounts and isolated from other foods, seasonings, herbs, or spices. Practicing these methods with help to determine the cause of an allergy, if one presents itself, without added complications and confusion. After the waiting period has ended and Quinoa has been cleared, it is safe to feed your baby as much as is necessary to fulfill her. The ammount will vary depending on the age and nutritional needs of your baby. Experts opinions vary on the exact age that is appropiate to begin solid foods, but beginners generally eat a few teaspoons to a few tablespoons between the ages of 4 and 8 months.
Uncooked, quinoa can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 months. When a longer shelf life is desired, uncooked quinoa can be stored in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to 6 months. Remember to keep it stored where your baby can't reach it. Uncooked and un-rinsed quinoa could potentially cause a choking risk and stomach upset for infants.
Prepared quinoa should can be sealed and stored in the refrigerator. Be sure to throw out any leftovers that could have been contaminated by the saliva. Saliva contains bacteria that could potentially create a risky dish for future consumption. When serving baby, always separate the intended portion from the excess. This will allow you to feed your baby without contamination issues. Simply discard the remnants that have come into contact with saliva or any part of the body. Refrigerated portions are generally edible for up to a few days after initial preparation. Do your research on appropriate storage time for the settings that you have on your refrigerator. When in doubt, throw it out! Never risk your baby's health over questionable food items.
Quinoa can easily be frozen after cooking and then reheated as desired. To do this, simply place the cooked, cooled, and pureed quinoa into a clean and dry muffin pan. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and place in the freezer. Once frozen, remove the portioned sections of quinoa and place them in a zip able freezer bag. When your baby is hungry, simply grab one segment and thaw in a cup of warm breastmilk, in a skillet, or in the microwave. In just minutes, your fussy and hungry baby will be happy!