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Articles - A Healthy Diet:

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“The rice of the Incas” from the Andes

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), which comes from South America, is frequently referred to as the rice of the Incas although it belongs to the amaranth family and is therefore more closely related to spinach or turnips. Quinoa and other amaranth plants have been among the main suppliers of starch in South America for more than 6,000 years. Most of it is grown at an elevation of more than 4,000 metres on the elevated plains of the Andes as the plants are not very demanding when it comes to soil and water. This annual plant reaches a height of between 0.5 and 1.5 metres. The thick leaves have a serrated edge and the green blossoms look fairly unremarkable.

High in magnesium and iron

The mineral-rich leaves are served as vegetables or salad. The mustard-seed-size seeds have a grain-like quality, which is why quinoa and amaranth are referred to as pseudo-cereals. Quinoa is higher in protein and some minerals (specially magnesium and iron) than common cereal grains are. Quinoa seeds contain neither vitamin A nor vitamin C, however. More than half of their fat content consists of unsaturated fatty acids. Quinoa should be stored in a dark place and should be sealed to prevent air circulation as its high fat content can cause it to become rancid.

A high-quality South American substitute
for cereal grains

Quinoa is available on its own or as a component of muesli mixtures. It is particularly well suitable as a high-quality substitute for cereal grains for those who suffer from coeliac disease (gluten intolerance). It can also be used to make gluten-free beer.


Worldwide production levels exceed 80,000 tons, whereby the main cultivation areas lie in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. When quinoa is cultivated in our part of the world, it is usually sown in early summer; the harvest takes place from late summer onwards. The grains must be dried following the harvest as they ripen unevenly.

Unpeeled quinoa is inedible

Quinoa protects itself from pests by developing bitter-tasting saponins, so that it is inedible unless it has been peeled. Quinoa is peeled or washed and thus free of saponins and bitterness before it is sold to the consumer. Approximately one-third of any remaining saponins can be neutralised by heating. Any remaining saponins are not harmful to people as they are hardly absorbed by the gut.


Source: Dr. Jörg Häseler, www.aid.de