It can be a bit embarrassing

It can be a little bit embarrassing. I usually don’t quite know how to handle it. But … when I travel and people who I’ve never met before recognize me and come up to me, they don’t ever want to talk about the health advice I write about.

They want to know what it was like to trek into the jungles of Brazil … to climb in the Andes Mountains in Peru … to go stand at the headwaters of the Nile in Africa.

Even when people write to me, they don’t usually ask me for health advice. They want to know what I’m doing next and what’s happening at the clinic. It’s why I try to write about those things as much as I can.

Sometimes, though, I get a really special letter … like the one I just received from Peru.

My friend, N.F. has been asking me to go back to Peru with her to visit soon. The second time I went there, I went with N.F. She’s been working and visiting in Peru for 20 years.

Our Wellness Research Foundation is supporting a very small remote community and a school not far from Machu Picchu.

N.F. has been having a very positive impact at the school and I’m pleased to be associated with it. The schoolchildren put together a letter and sent it to me and their gratitude is pretty amazing.

Just look at these kids:

Peru kids

They’re learning English and other studies, and they also have an outdoor class where they learn how to cultivate plants that are a little more biodiverse than just growing bananas. Plus they learn how to rotate crops so they don’t deplete the soil.

They’re learning to go back to a little bit more of the Quechua (pronounced kesh-wah) tradition, instead of just doing what the government taught them … which was more or less just to try and convert them into “modern” people and grow a single staple crop.

Traditionally, what they grew was absolutely sustainable, without any government assistance, and they’re learning to get back to that.

One of the traditional foods they’re learning how to include into their meals again is quinoa. The Inca called it the “mother grain.”

You might have seen it in your local store in the grains and pasta section … but it’s not really a grain. It’s a seed from the goosefoot plant … a family that includes spinach and sugarbeets.

It’s gluten-free and has twice the protein and fiber of everyday grains like rice and wheat. In fact, it’s the only plant food that has all 10 essential amino acids. It’s so nutritious that NASA feeds it to astronauts on long space missions.

It also has quercetin and kaempferol, two antioxidants that give you energy and help boost your skin’s natural defenses against the environment.

One study found that not only does quinoa have high antioxidant strength, but that it’s antioxidants are more bioavailable.1 It Contains essential nutrients including iron, lysine, magnesium, B2, manganese.

I also discovered something about quinoa even I hadn’t known… In one study, they fed quinoa to animals, and it protected them from, and offset the damage done by, fructose. 2 That’s the concentrated sugar in almost every pre-packaged food and drink you can buy. It causes all kinds of problems with your liver and your blood sugar which quinoa prevented.

Here are a few tips if you’d like to start eating quinoa:

  • Natural quinoa grown in the environment it’s suited for – the high altitudes in Bolivia and Peru – is “royal quinoa” although there are probably about 300 different varieties.
    Quinona grains
  • It can be white, tan, pink, purple, red, orange or black. The color doesn’t really matter, they’re all equally healthy.
  • When you buy bulk, make sure there is no moisture in the storage container.
  • All the seeds have bitter saponins in the hull that they remove before cooking in Peru.
  • Quinoa bulks up when you cook it, so you may have to experiment with how much you want to buy and/or cook.
  • The green leaves are also edible, and taste something like other plants in their family, like chard.

You can eat quinoa as a main dish all by itself, not just a side dish. Peruvians use the leaves, seeds and even the stems as part of a whole salad-like meal, along with spices like coriander.

Oh, I almost forgot … the children also drew me some pictures. Here’s one drawn by a 7-year-old boy named Alcides I thought you might like to see:

Peru drawing

1 Laus M, Gagliardi A, Soccio M, Flagella Z, Pastore D. “Antioxidant activity of free and bound compounds in quinoa seeds in comparison with durum wheat and emmer.” J Food Sci. 2012 Nov;77(11):C1150-5.
Pasko P, Barton H, Zagrodzki P, Izewska A, Krosniak M, Gawlik M, Gawlik M, Gorinstein S. “Effect of diet supplemented with quinoa seeds on oxidative status in plasma and selected tissues of high fructose-fed rats.” Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Jun;65(2):146-51.