We often hear about the benefits of eating a diet rich in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, and grains. As this advice is very general in nature, I was interested to read about the suggested goal to aim to eat at least 30 of these plant-based foods a week. Research suggests that the health benefit of this mix will promote a more varied gut bacteria which will ultimately lead to a healthier gut microbiome.
I was curious to see how many of these foods I actually included in my diet and so started to track my intake at the beginning of the year. On the first day, I had consumed about 12 on the list and by the second day it was up to 19. This seemed easy and I thought I would have no problem achieving the goal of 30. However, as the week wore on my total didn’t really budge much. Although I eat plant-based foods, as a creature of habit, it appears they tend to be the same ones!
In an effort to vary my diet, I started to look at adding foods I don’t normally eat and quinoa (keen-wah) was one of them. Quinoa cooks up fairly quickly (about 15 minutes) and can be used in a variety of dishes including soups and salads. It is naturally gluten free, rich in fiber, minerals and antioxidants. It is also one of the plant-based complete proteins which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. In fact, some say quinoa is one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods on the planet!
The origins of quinoa
Referred to by ancient grains as an ancient food, quinoa originated with the Incas in the mountains of Bolivia, Chile and Peru about 5,000 years ago. Although it served as a staple food for the Incas, they also considered it a sacred crop. Known by them as the mother of all grains, the legend states “that the Incan emperor would ceremoniously plant the first quinoa seeds every year”.
Recipe for Spiced Almond and Quinoa Salad
This quinoa salad was inspired by Deliciously Ella and can be prepared relatively quickly for lunch or served as a side salad to a main dish. It is a great mix of flavours, textures and colours with crunchy nuts and seeds, soft roasted vegetables and fresh greens. In addition, this one dish will provide a whopping 9 out of the 30 plant-based foods for the week! Serve it with some avocado or hummus and the number keeps rising!
- 1/2 cup (100g) quinoa
- 1 x 400g (14oz) can of chickpeas
- 1 large red pepper
- 1 small red onion
- 1/3 cup (50 g) whole almonds
- handful of sunflower seeds
- handful of pumpkin seeds
- handful of rocket (arugula)
- 1 tsp gound cumin
- 1 tsp paprika
- pinch of chilli flakes
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp maple syrup
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 180C (375F)
- Drain the chickpeas and pat dry
- Place diced pepper and red onion on one end of a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil and salt
- Place chickpeas, almonds and seeds at the other end of the tray and sprinkle them with the cumin, paprika, chilli flakes and salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix well so chickpeas, nuts and seeds are evenly coated.
- Bake in the oven for about 15-20 minutes (until nuts and seeds go crunchy)
- Cook quinoa by following instructions on packet (usually twice as much water to quinoa and boil for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa is light and fluffy. Remove from the heat and stir the dressing ingredients through.
- Either serve the salad warm by mixing everything together with a handful of rocket, or wait until the quinoa and veggies and seeds have reached room temperature before tossing them together.
Quinoa was not part of my diet growing up and so, like a lot of the popular health foods today, it almost seems like a “new” addition to our diet despite the fact that it is actually part of ancient history. Quinoa didn’t really become popular in the modern world until around the 1970s but it has proved its worth in the past and, as such a highly nutritious and versatile staple, I imagine it will continue to remain as part of our modern diet.
As it was interesting to see the reality of how little variety I was actually eating, in terms of gut health, I am definitely trying to be more aware of maintaining variety in my diet and am glad to now have quinoa to add to the mix!
Additional information on gut health: