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Quinoa given special recognition by international community

Whether it's a fad diet or favorite food, it's not unusual for a country or given region to see a certain food suddenly become popular. And one of the latest food crazes is for a high-protein grain called quinoa.

To people who aren't too familiar with the health world, quinoa – which is pronounced "KEEN-wah"- may sound like a food that has only recently become widely talked and consumed. In reality, it's been grown for thousands of years and helped contribute to many developed or developing countries' economic health – the same places U.S.-based immigrants send money to, specifically in Central and South America.

Quinoa is similar in appearance to rice and is traditionally cooked in the same way, mainly by boiling it at a high temperature. However, unlike rice, it's very high in protein, which is unusual for grains. Even more unusual is the fact that it contains the same number of amino acids found in meat sources, which are the building blocks of muscle

An ever increasing number of health professionals are recommending their clients include quinoa into their diets, as studies have shown that it can help people lose weight when it's implemented into a well-balanced meal plan that's complemented with regular exercise. Because of this increased popularity, it has put strains on farmers to produce as much as possible quickly.

Bolivian farmers' stretched to the limit
According to The Associated Press, this has been the case for many Bolivian farmers, who have attempted to stay on top of the high rate of demand by mass producing quinoa in large quantities. Doing so can bring significant returns for the people selling it, as on the open market, the popular health food product is worth more than $3,000 for every 2,000 pounds that are produced.

And international leaders have recently coronated quinoa as one that's worthy of worldwide acclaim. According to the Food and Agriculture Department of the United Nations, 2013 was recently declared as the "International Year of Quinoa.

At the United Nations headquarters in New York City, UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon made the announcement along with Evo Morales president of Bolivia. Peru President Nadine Heredia – the country where most quinoa is produced – was also in attendance.

"Today we are here to recruit a new ally in the fight against hunger and food insecurity: quinoa," said Graziano da Silva, director general of the FAO.

She added that quinoa is truly unique, not only because it's been around since 1200 AD, but also for its nutritional benefits, prompting many to consider it to be a "superfood," or one that's replete with nutrients. For example, not only does quinoa contain all of the body's essential amino acids but it's also a carbohydrate that's gluten free. Gluten is a type of protein many people are allergic to traditionally found in food containing wheat.

"This has been an extraordinary grain cultural foundation and a staple in the diet of millions of people across the Andes for thousands of years," said Ki-moon. "Quinoa is now ready to receive global recognition."

Another characteristic of quinoa is that it can be grown in a variety of climates. FAO notes that thanks to its adaptability to temperatures, quinoa can grow at sub-freezing temperatures – even as low as 17 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Whole Grain Council has designated quinoa as its "Grain of the Month" for March. There are over 120 different varieties of it, much of which derives from Bolivia and Peru. This has brought a tremendous amount of business for these two South American countries – bringing $87 million in export sales to the respective nations.

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