Does Eating Quinoa Hurt Andean Farmers?

Does Eating Quinoa Hurt Andean Farmers?
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Does Eating Quinoa Hurt Andean Farmers?

Americans are obsessed with quinoa, a tasty grain-like seed that packs a nutrient punch. Read on to discover how eating quinoa is beneficial for your health and why Americans are obsessed with it.

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Why is quinoa such a trendy food in America now?

Quinoa is considered a “superfood” because it has the ten most essential amino acids for human growth and is high in folic acid and vitamins A, C, B1 and B12. The Food and Agricuture Organization of the United Nations states that it is the only plant food of its kind to have such nutrient profile and contain no gluten.

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Health-conscious eaters prefer quinoa over most grains because it is a nutrient-dense alternative. Most grains are inadequate sources of protein, but quinoa, which can be cooked and used like a grain, is an excellent, complete source. Compared to brown rice, quinoa has 13% fewer carbohydrates, 60% more protein and 25% more fiber cup for cup.

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Quinoa has nearly twice as much fiber as other grains, and fiber can help prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol and blood glucose. Fiber can also help alleviate digestive problems.

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Quinoa is ideal for many diets. People who want to eat less meat but not less protein find quinoa an excellent source. It is low in sugar and free from gluten, which is great for diabetics and individuals with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.

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In 1993, NASA scientists declared quinoa as an ideal food for space missions!

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What made it rise in popularity in the States?

Quinoa’s popularity is a new phenomenon in the U.S. NPR reports that in six years, the price of quinoa jumped from $1.50 per pound to as high as $8 per pound in American markets.

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Customs data shows that demand for quinoa started to increase in 2007, and soon after major retailers like Costco and Whole Foods started to stock up on the seed.

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The rise in popularity of quinoa is driven in part by consumer choices of wealthy, health-conscious Americans. Quinoa fits into many recent health crazes, such as gluten-free and organic, popularizing its image as a "superfood," and consumers are willing to pay premium prices for it.

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Recently, the UN launched the 2013 International Year of Quinoa to praise the “extraordinary” grain for its potential to boost global food security and combat malnutrition. It is highly adaptable, making it an attractive crop choice in the face of climate change.

Want to include more quinoa in your diet? It's as easy as switching out rice or cous cous for quinoa in your favorite recipes. Or, read on to discover our favorite quinoa recipes for summer.

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Black Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burgers

This meat-free recipe is seriously satisfying and will change your mind about veggie burgers.

Get the recipe: Black Bean & Quinoa Veggie Burgers

Quinoa Salad with English Peas, Arugula, Mixed Herbs and Feta

This powerhouse salad is packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, omega-3 fats and loads of vitamins. Make a big bowl and keep it in the fridge for a quick lunch or dinner side dish.

Get the recipe: Quinoa Salad with English Peas, Arugula, Mixed Herbs and Feta

Ginger Lime Shrimp Quinoa with Red Pepper and Yellow Corn

Healthy quinoa is topped with ginger lime shrimp and crunchy corn and red peppers for bold and fresh flavors.

Get the recipe: Ginger Lime Shrimp Quinoa with Red Pepper and Yellow Corn

Quinoa Salad with Spinach, Strawberries and Goat Cheese

Toss quinoa, luscious strawberries, fresh basil and tangy goat cheese in a homemade balsamic dressing for a delicious and healthy salad.

Get the recipe: Quinoa Salad with Spinach, Strawberries and Goat Cheese

Quinoa & Smoked Tofu Salad

Tangy fresh flavors of tabbouleh pair well with smoky tofu and quinoa to create a main-dish salad that's perfect served on a bed of greens.

Get the recipe: Quinoa & Smoked Tofu Salad

Discover more of our favorite quinoa recipes!

Quinoa is a versatile ingredient that can be used in plenty of unexpected dishes like sushi, pie crust and even meatballs!

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Is the growing global demand for quinoa depriving locals of their food?

The Associated Press reports that quinoa now costs three times more than white rice in the markets in La Paz, Bolivia, the country where approximately half the world's supply of quinoa is now grown. Global demand for the grain-like seed has increased its prices, and experts believe this forces local growers to sell or trade the valuable crop while consuming cheaper and less nutritious alternatives like white rice. However, some say local farmers are using their increased income to switch from subsistence foods, like quinoa, to higher-status, "city" foods that are less nutritious.

Another concern is how expansion of quinoa production may harm the environment. More land for quinoa farming means less land for llama grazing, and llama manure is a key component for healthy soil. Many farmers are increasingly turning to use of chemical fertilizers, and some farmers are not properly rotating their crops, which can cause fertile land to transform into deserts.

While the situation may be complicated, a recent NPR article urges Americans to continue to eat their beloved quinoa guilt-free.

Rising prices of quinoa may be too expensive for poor people living in Bolivian cities, but according to anthropologist Pablo Laguna, quinoa is not traditionally a staple for city dwellers. Laguna also reveals that consumption of quinoa by local farmers has not diminished. Eduoard Rollet, co-founder of fair trade brand Alter Eco Foods, says that quinoa farmers typically set aside a portion of their harvest to eat themselves. Their increased income means they can now buy foods like tomatoes and salads, which they could not afford before.

In addition, NPR food and health correspondent Allison Aubrey adds that rising food prices are not specific to quinoa, as they have generally increased worldwide.

Check out the slideshow above to discover what's so great about quinoa and why Americans are obsessed with this superfood.

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