How many grams of protein in a cup of quinoa?

Quinoa, often described as a “superfood” or a “supergrain,” has become popular among the health conscious, with good reason. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah or ke-NO-ah) is packed with protein, fiber and various vitamins and minerals. It is also gluten-free and is recommended for people who are on a gluten-free diet.

Often used as a substitute for rice, quinoa is commonly considered to be a grain and is usually referred to as such, but it is actually a seed. “The yellowish pods are the seed of a plant called Chenopodium quinoa, native to Peru and related to beets, chard and spinach,” wrote Nicole Spiridakis in a story for NPR. When cooked, quinoa is soft and fluffy, with a slightly nutty taste. It can also be made into flour, flakes and various foods like pasta and bread, according to the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council.

Quinoa comes from Peru, Bolivia and Chile. It grows in the Andes Mountains, and for millennia it has been a food staple for the native people there. According to a field crops article by the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota, quinoa means “mother grain” in the Incan language.

Recently, the surge in quinoa demand has pushed production beyond South America to more than 70 countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Today, large-scale quinoa crops grow in China, North America, France and India. Quinoa production is picking up in Africa and the Middle East, according to a 2016 assessment in Frontiers in Plant Science.

According to Spiridakis, there are 1,800 types of quinoa. Quinoa seeds can be black, red, white, purple, pink, yellow, gray, orange, green or yellow. In the United States, white (traditional) and red (Incan) quinoa are commonly available. While the white variety is more flavorful, the red contains more nutrients.


Nutrient profile

“Quinoa is a good source of protein, fiber, iron, copper, thiamin and vitamin B6,” said Kelly Toups, a registered dietician with the Whole Grains Council. It’s also “an excellent source of magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and folate.” Toups emphasized that a “‘good source’ means that one serving provides at least 10 percent of the daily value of that nutrient, while ‘excellent source’ means that one serving provides at least 20 percent of the daily value of that nutrient.”

A 2009 article in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture stated that quinoa’s “unusual composition and exceptional balance” of protein, oil and fat, as well as its minerals, fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins, make it a highly nutritious food. The article also noted that phytohormones are found in quinoa, unlike many other plant foods. Phytohormones help regulate plant growth. Some types, called phytoestrogens, are being studied as a treatment for menopause symptoms because they sometimes behave like estrogens in the body.

A 2017 study in the Journal of Nutraceuticals and Food Science determined that compared to other cereals, which people around the world rely upon for macronutrients, quinoa has more protein and a greater balance of essential amino acids. Nutritionally, it resembles milk protein more than cereals like wheat, corn and barley. It also surpasses cereals in amounts of dietary fiber, lipids, calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and vitamins B1, B2, B6, C and E.

Here are the nutrition facts for quinoa, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates food labeling through the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act:

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Amt per serving %DV Amt per serving %DV
Total Fat 2g 3% Total Carbohydrate 21g
Cholesterol 0mg 0% Dietary Fiber 3g 11%
Sodium 7mg 0% Sugars 0.9g 7%
Potassium 172mg 5% Protein 4g
Vitamin A 0% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 1% Iron 8%


Quinoa health benefits

A complete protein

“Quinoa is most famous for being one of the only plant foods that supplies complete proteins, offering all essential amino acids in a healthy balance,” Toups told Live Science. Essential amino acids are ones that the body cannot produce on its own, and complete proteins contain all of them in roughly equal measure. There are nine essential amino acids, listed by the National Institutes of Health as the following: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. Unlike other grains, quinoa is a particularly good source of lysine, according to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Quinoa and other whole grains also contain 25 percent more protein than refined grains, according to Toups.

Anti-inflammatory benefits

Scientists are still working to understand all the implications of chronic inflammation on the body’s health. The Mayo Clinic lists autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and Chrohn’s disease as problems in which chronic inflammation plays a role. Less obvious disorders influenced by chronic inflammation may include cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Quinoa and other whole grains may help decrease the risk of this dangerous inflammation, according to Toups. They “help promote healthy gut microbes (the friendly bacteria in the gut), which is important for preventing obesity, inflammation and disease.” World’s Healthiest Foods notes that quinoa is known to contain many anti-inflammatory nutrients, including phenolic acids, cell wall polysaccharides and vitamin E family nutrients such as gamma-tocopherol.

Quinoa, shown here in a vegetable medley, is a nutritious “superfood.” (Image credit: naD photos .com)

Gluten free

Gluten-free diets are recommended for people with Celiac disease, a severe gluten intolerance. Though the scientific community is still debating the benefits of gluten-free diets for people who do not have Celiac disease, plenty of Americans have jumped on the bandwagon. Medical News Today estimates that approximately 1.6 million follow a gluten-free diet without having been diagnosed with the disease.

People who follow gluten-free diets can have a hard time getting all of their essential nutrients. The Mayo Clinic lists iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate as nutrients especially lacking in gluten-free diets.

“Because quinoa is naturally gluten-free, this nutritionally dense grain is the perfect pick for gluten-free diets,” said Toups. She pointed to a study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics in which researchers at Columbia University’s Celiac Disease Center found that “the nutritional profile of gluten-free diets was improved by adding oats or quinoa to meals and snacks. Most notable increases were protein (20.6 grams vs. 11 g) iron (18.4 milligrams vs. 1.4 mg, calcium (182 mg vs. 0 mg) and fiber (12.7 g vs. 5 g).”

“Similarly,” continued Toups, “in a study in Food Chemistry, researchers suggest that adding quinoa or buckwheat to gluten-free products significantly increases their polyphenol content, as compared to typical gluten-free products made with rice, corn and potato flour. Products made with quinoa or buckwheat contained more antioxidants compared with both wheat products and the control gluten-free products.” Polyphenols are chemicals that protect cells and body chemicals against damage caused by free radicals, which are reactive atoms that contribute to tissue damage in the body.

Lowering cholesterol

Quinoa’s good fiber content can aid in lowering cholesterol levels, according to Toups. Fiber aids in digestion, which requires bile acids, which are made partly with cholesterol. As your digestion improves, the liver pulls cholesterol from the blood to create more bile acid, thereby reducing the amount of LDL, the bad cholesterol. A study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that rats that had consumed a high level of fructose and were then fed a quinoa diet reduced their LDL cholesterol by 57 percent.

A 2017 study published in Current Developments in Nutrition found that overweight or obese people who ate between 25 and 50 grams of quinoa per day for 12 weeks saw significantly lowered triglyceride concentrations and a 70 percent reduction in metabolic syndrome prevalence.

Toups pointed to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that looked at the effect of whole grains on patients taking cholesterol-lowering medications called statins. Those who ate more than 16 g of whole grains like quinoa every day had lower non-HDL cholesterol levels than those who took the statins without eating the whole grains. “Whole-grain intake and statin use were also significantly linked with healthier total cholesterol/HDL-cholesterol ratios and total cholesterol concentrations,” she added.

Heart health

Lowering LDL cholesterol is good for your heart, but quinoa can benefit your ticker in other ways as well. A study published in the Journal of Food Lipids noted that quinoa seeds possess many of the dietary flavonoids “shown to inversely correlate with mortality from heart disease.”

Furthermore, quinoa can provide heart-healthy monounsaturated fat via its oleic acid content, as well as omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acids, according to World’s Healthiest Foods. Most foods lose their healthy fatty acids when oxidized, but quinoa’s nutrients hold up to boiling, simmering and steaming.

Toups referred to a study in the European Journal of Nutrition that found other evidence for quinoa’s cardiovascular benefits. In this study, she said, “Italian researchers found that quinoa produced lower free fatty-acid levels and triglyceride concentrations (which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease) than other gluten-free pastas and breads studied.”

(Image credit: Dreamstime.)


One cup of cooked quinoa contains 21 percent of the recommended daily intake of fiber, which is great news for your gut. Quinoa is also more easily digestible than many other grains, according to World’s Healthiest Foods. Furthermore, a study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that participants reported feeling fuller after eating quinoa, buckwheat or oats than after eating wheat or rice.

Diabetes and hypertension

“Quinoa has also been studied for its role in diabetes management and hypertension,” said Toups. Commenting on a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, she said, “Brazilian scientists researched 10 traditional Peruvian grains and legumes for their potential in managing the early stages of Type 2 diabetes. They found that quinoa was especially rich in an antioxidant called quercetin and that quinoa had the highest overall antioxidant activity (86 percent) of all 10 foods studied.” She added that the study led researchers to conclude that quinoa, kañiwa (quinoa’s cousin) and other traditional crops from the Peruvian Andes have potential in helping researchers to develop effective dietary strategies for managing Type 2 diabetes and associated hypertension.


According to some scientists, the fiber in quinoa could actually help people live longer. A meta-analysis of relevant studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiologyconcluded, “high dietary fiber intake may reduce the risk of total mortality.”

Two additional recent studies linked whole-grain consumption with longevity. One large-scale study published in BioMed Central found positive results when researchers looked at whole-grain consumption and death from chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and more. They noted the fiber as being particularly beneficial. Another study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that whole-grain consumption was associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease in American men and women.

Quinoa risks

There are a few health risks associated with eating quinoa. Quinoa seeds are coated with saponins, which are chemicals designed to protect plants from diseases caused by fungi, bacteria and viruses, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Saponins can have a bitter, soapy taste, so quinoa should be rinsed thoroughly in cold water before it is cooked.

For some, saponins can do more than leave a bad taste in the mouth: They can cause stomach irritation and, according to the horticultural department at Purdue University, possibly damage the small intestine. The high fiber content in quinoa may also result in upset stomachs, according to

Quinoa in the diet

Quinoa cooks faster than most whole grains, taking only 12 to 15 minutes, according to Toups. This makes quinoa “an easy grain for busy families and individuals to add to their weekly rotation,” she said. Furthermore, “Unlike some grains that tend to dry out when cooled, quinoa maintains a pleasant, chewy texture when served warm, chilled or at room temperature.”

This all means that quinoa can be incorporated into your diet in a variety of ways, from being prepared as a breakfast porridge to being an addition to salads or prepared like a pilaf. “Quinoa can also be used to thicken up soups or stews, and quinoa flour can be used in gluten-free baking,” said Toups.

Quinoa production

Quinoa’s popularity has grown rapidly in recent years. From 2011 to 2015, quinoa prices jumped 202 percent, according to The Straits Times. Exported Peruvian quinoa tripled in value between 2012 and 2017, from $34.5 million to $124 million. This demand surge has caused unforeseen consequences for the environment. Typically, farmers rotate crops, but growing quinoa year after year can result in soil erosion, water depletion and land degradation, according to The World Policy Institute.

Extreme weather can cause problems for large-scale quinoa production. In 2017, El Nino ravaged Peruvian farms, destroying quinoa and other crops. As a result, researchers as Peru’s National University of Altiplano have developed new strains of quinoa that are resistant to harsh weather, drought and plague, according to Peru Reports. These new developments will be increasingly important as climate change impacts quinoa-growing regions, such as the Bolivian highlands, which have suffered severe droughts that decimated once-valuable quinoa crops, according to Inside Climate News.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, however, quinoa is relatively stable compared to some other mass-produced crops and therefore could be instrumental to feeding the world as the effects of climate change escalate. Quinoa is adaptable, able to grow in regions with 40 percent to 88 percent humidity and temperatures from 25 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 4 to 38 degrees Celsius), according to a 2017 review in the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. The review’s authors posit that quinoa’s adaptiveness may help curb mass hunger, particularly in the world’s most populous country, India.

7 Good-for-You Grains That Are Packed With Protein

There’s an easy way to get more protein without overloading on meat. The protein-packed super food you should be eating? Whole grains. The Whole Grains Council writes that people, on average, need about 50 grams of protein a day. One serving of a protein-filled grain can often provide you with about 12 percent of your daily needs, which is the equivalent to a hard-boiled egg or an ounce of almonds. Ready to get your protein fix by eating your way through healthy whole grains? Here are 7 grains that pack a powerful protein punch.

Source: iStock

1. Quinoa

While it’s technically a seed, you still prepare and eat it like you would a grain. Just one cup of cooked quinoa provides you with 9 grams of protein, according to Livestrong. Quinoa, which has a nice nutty flavor, is also high in iron, magnesium, and fiber and is a great substitute for starchier pasta and rice.

Source: iStock

2. Spelt

Spelt is bursting with good-for-you nutrients, including the minerals manganese, magnesium, and copper, in addition to plenty of energy-boosting vitamins such as niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin, Care2 writes. How much protein is spelt packing? A whopping 10.67 grams per cup, per Women’s Health. Spelt is a species of wheat that has a long, pointed almond shape and has a sweet, chewiness that is similar to barley (without the sliminess).

Source: iStock

3. Kamut

This nutty and buttery-flavored grain contains 9.82 grams of protein per cup, according to Women’s Health. Kamut offers a healthy dose of vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, pantothenic acid, copper, and fat, according to The Kitchn. Here’s an interesting fact: it’s typically highly tolerated by those who are traditionally allergic to wheat, making it an excellent option for some people who are intolerant to gluten.

Source: iStock

4. Teff

You’ll find 9.75 grams of protein in each cup of teff, which has a somewhat sweet taste, Women’s Health writes. This grain is extremely versatile and actually leads the grains in calcium content, per The Dr. Oz Show. In addition to being the world’s tiniest grain, it is up to 40 percent resistant starch, meaning it can help you lose weight if you replace it with other carbs you’re eating, such as white bread, potato starch, and sweets. This grain can be white or dark in color.

Source: iStock

5. Amaranth

A cup of cooked amaranth contains 9.35 grams of protein, according to Livestrong. Like quinoa, amaranth isn’t technically a grain, but is actually a seed that is prepared like a grain. It’s gluten-free, and supplies a healthy dose of calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron in each serving. In fact, one cup of cooked amaranth has 31 percent of the recommended daily amount for calcium, 14 percent for vitamin C, and 82 percent for iron, per The Huffington Post.

Source: iStock

6. Sorghum

The American Culinary Federation writes that there are 8 grams of protein in ½ cup of sorghum flour. Sorghum is gluten-free and some specialty sorghums are high in antioxidants, which can help lower the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and some neurological diseases. The wax surrounding sorghum grains contains policosanol, a compound some researchers believe has cholesterol-lowering potency, according to the Whole Grains Council.

Source: iStock

7. Bulgur

You’ll get 6 grams of protein in one cup of cooked bulgur, per Livestrong. Bulgur has been a long-standing ingredient in Mediterranean, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern dishes, and comes from several different types of wheat, which have been cleaned, parboiled, dried, ground, and sifted, The Kitchn writes.

More from Life Cheat Sheet:

  • 8 Foods That Pack a Protein Punch
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  • 7 Must-Try Grill Recipes for Pork Chop Perfection

10 Nutritional Facts on Quinoa

About Quinoa

Quinoa is considered a pseudo-grain that’s closely linked to the beet, spinach or amaranth family. It is one of the most durable plants, able to withstand extreme temperatures (hot and cold), lack of water, wind, and even strong solar radiation. Quinoa is the super-hero of grains, which might be why it passes along so many healthy super-powers to us!

What difference does the colour make?

There’s no nutritional difference between colours of quinoa. However you will taste subtle differences in the texture. White quinoa is more airy and light, while red and black are more crisp and dense. Keep in mind that red and black quinoa are cooked with a higher proportion of liquid than white.

Kaniwa is not a quinoa grain, but it contains twice as much fiber and 1 additional gram of protein per serving. It has a softer taste and smaller size.

10 Nutritional Facts on Quinoa

  1. Quinoa is high in protein.

Quinoa is one of the few grains containing the nine essential amino acids. Most are low in lysine therefore considered incomplete proteins. Quinoa, on the other hand, contains it, which allows it to be a complete protein, similar to animal protein.

1 cup cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein, the equivalent of an egg.

  1. Quinoa is gluten-free.

In a study related to celiac disease. Researchers have discovered that people with this disease depended heavily on rice. Integrating quinoa into their diet allowed them to meet their requirements for iron, vitamin B, calcium, protein and fiber more easily.

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with Celiac and don’t know what to eat, read this post.

  1. A great source of fiber.

    One of the main benefits of quinoa is its fiber content. It contains 5 grams of fiber per cup of cooked quinoa.

    If you’re on a diet, you’ll love this part: Quinoa is full of insoluble fiber. Humans cannot digest insoluble fibers, which means they don’t remain in our bodies and transform into calories. These fibers give us the feeling of being full, but don’t stick around to become extra weight. Fiber is also great for the digestive système.

  2. The heart

    This small grain contains high levels of lipids beneficial to our heart. 25% of the lipids found in quinoa are oleic acids and 8% of alpha linolenic acids. Both are omega-3. This good fat balance reduces the risk of heart attacks, cholesterol, high blood pressure, and inflammation related to asthma. Quinoa helps reduce systemic inflammations and the risks of chronic diseases.

  3. Antioxidants

    Quinoa has a high content of flavonoids, isoflavones and daidzein, which are antioxidants. These antioxidants play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases.

  1. Filling nutritional gaps

    Because of our modern reliance on processed foods, our systems lack many essential nutrients. 80% of the population is deficient in magnesium, which can cause muscle cramps and pain, insomnia and even anxiety.

    Quinoa is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc.

  1. Weight loss

    Previously we talked about the insoluble fibers that make you feel filled after a meal: also known as satiety. It is also believed that whole grains, such as quinoa, can influence the hormonal action that influences appetite. In addition, fibers and proteins slow down the rate at which food leaves the stomach, leading to an overall decrease in caloric intake.

  1. Cancers

    Quinoa is proven to have one of the highest sources of natural quercetin, even higher than cranberry. There is evidence today that quercitrin reduces the risk of cancer.

  1. Reduce the risk of diabetes.

    Check out the “China study” for research demonstrating that an increase in whole grain, particularly high fiber, is related to a decrease in type 2 diabetes.

  1. The ultimate super-food!

    Quinoa has it all: It’s a natural food with high nutritional content, which can help reduce the risk of disease. It combines the benefits of the previous 9 points, making it the closest thing we have to a true super-food.

Nutritional value per 100 g of cooked quinoa

Calcium: 222 kcal

Carbohydrates: 39.4 g or 30% of the daily value

Fiber: 5.2 g

Lipids: 3.6 g

Omega – 3: 0.2 g (12% Daily Value)

Omega – 6: 1.8 g (11% Daily Value)

Protein: 8.1 g

Copper: 0.4 mg (39% of daily value)

Iron: 2.8 mg (34% of daily value)

Magnesium: 118.4 mg (30% of Daily Value)

Manganese: 1.2 mg (51% of daily value)

Phosphorus: 281.2 mg (40% of Daily Value)

Zinc: 2.0 mg (18% of the daily value)

How to cook your quinoa

Original version :

1. Rinse quinoa thoroughly.
2. Mix 1 cup quinoa with 1 ½ cup of cold water.
3. Bring to a boil
4. Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes.
5. Once the quinoa is cooked, rinse with cold water – this stops the cooking process of the quinoa and prevent the grains from sticking to one another

Italian version:

  1. Rinse quinoa thoroughly
  2. Put 1 cup quinoa in a frying pan with 1 or 2 tsp. of oil and cook until golden
  3. Once the quinoa is golden, add 1 ½ cup of cold water.
  4. Bring to a boil
  5. Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes.
  6. Once the quinoa is cooked, rinse with cold water – this stops the cooking process of the quinoa and prevent the grains from sticking to one another.

Easy to digest:

1. Rinse quinoa thoroughly
2. Let it soak in water for 8 to 10 hours.
3. Rinse.
4. Mix 1 cup quinoa with 1 ½ cup of cold water.
5. Bring to a boil
6. Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Once the quinoa is cooked, rinse with cold water -this stops the cooking process of the quinoa and prevent the grains from sticking to one another

Have you cooked too much quinoa? No angst we have plenty of recipes!

  • You can freeze your cooked quinoa, separate it into two cups batches and close it in a ziploc.
  • Make homemade cereal bars and add cooked quinoa, this will give you softer bars
  • Add it to your sweet and savory muffins, your cakes, smoothies, soups, salads, sauces …
  • Looking to modernize your recipes with quinoa? here

Here are some recipes on this theme, created especially by Chef Vanessa / “Veganessa” for the expo eating healthy living green:

  • GoGo Quinoa Quinoa Tahini Blondie Bars
  • Spring Carrot & Quinoa Salad with Maple Dijon Dressing
  • Southwestern GoGo Quinoa Black Bean Quinoa Soup
  • Quinoa and berries Smoothie

    What do you do with your quinoa leftovers?

What’s New and Beneficial About Quinoa

  • The growing popularity of quinoa among U.S. consumers has led to greater availability of different quinoa varieties in many supermarkets. In addition to white varieties (sometimes called ivory quinoa) that are most common, both red and black quinoa varieties are becoming more widely available. Recent studies have shown these colorful varieties to provide some added amounts of phytonutrients called betaxanthins and betacyanins. These phytonutrients are likely to provide added antioxidant benefits from quinoa. Yellow quinoa – not yet commonly available to U.S. consumers – is yet another colorful variety that provides additional betaxanthins. We encourage you to incorporate the full rainbow of colors when enjoying quinoa in your meal plan! Quinoa is abundant in flavonoids. Studies have shown that flavonoids aid in reducing oxidative stress and free radical damage.
  • If you are not yet familiar with this unique and health-supportive food, you are not alone: average consumption of quinoa in the U.S. is just over 1 ounce per year. But in countries like Bolivia and Peru where quinoa has been regularly enjoyed for several thousand years, the average yearly intake of quinoa is 4-5 pounds. This intake range corresponds almost exactly to intake of oats in the U.S. Just as with oats, there are many different ways to incorporate quinoa into your meal plan, including use in salads, pilafs, and soups. Quinoa sprouts are also becoming a popular choice for taking full advantage of quinoa’s versatility.
  • At WHFoods, we include quinoa in our grain food group, since the seeds of this plant are most commonly used in a way that is very similar to grains. In terms of its composition, however, quinoa is not a grain since it is not a member of the grass family (Poaceae/Gramineae). But for a food that is used so similarly to grains, quinoa is one of the few foods in this broad grain-like category whose seeds are routinely enjoyed in whole food form without removal of the bran or germ. (For example, within the U.S., the vast majority of wheat and rice are consumed have been processed for removal of the bran and germ.) Since these parts of the seed are especially nutrient-rich, it’s great to come across a grain-like food that is routinely available on supermarket shelves in a minimally processed form.
  • While quinoa has long been recognized for its outstanding protein content, recent studies have helped to clarify some key strengths of this food from a protein standpoint. 3/4th cup of quinoa provide 8 grams of protein – very similar to 1 cup of yogurt, and about double the amount of protein in an equivalent amount of wheat or brown rice. Equally important, within these 8 grams of protein are plentiful amounts of many amino acids (the building blocks of protein). In fact, for all amino acid requirements set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), quinoa provides between 70-360% of each required amino acid (using the milligrams/gram standard put forth by the WHO). When combined together, the high total protein content of quinoa and its outstanding amino acid composition make it a fantastic source of plant protein in any meal plan.

Quinoa, cooked
0.75 cup
(185.00 grams) Calories: 222
GI: low

This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Quinoa provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Quinoa can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Quinoa, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

  • Health Benefits
  • Description
  • History
  • How to Select and Store
  • Tips for Preparing and Cooking
  • How to Enjoy
  • Nutritional Profile

Health Benefits

Outstanding Overall Nutrient Richness from Quinoa

At WHFoods, we think about nutrient richness as including many different categories of nutrients. Among conventional nutrients, our most important categories are macronutrients (including protein, fiber, and high-quality fats like omega-3s), vitamins, and minerals. Among phytonutrients, we look especially closely at carotenoids and flavonoids, as well as other phytonutrients especially well-known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Quinoa is a food whose nutrient richness spans all of the categories above! Earlier in this profile, we noted the nearly doubled total protein quantity in quinoa versus wheat or brown rice when measured in equivalent cooked amounts. We also pointed out the outstanding amino acid composition within quinoa proteins – something that plant proteins don’t always achieve. But protein is not the only macronutrient provided by this amazing plant food. The fiber content of quinoa is just over 5 grams per 3/4 cooked cup, and include substantial amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The fact that quinoa is typically consumed in whole form helps increase the fiber-like components that it provides, including insoluble fibers and nonstarch polysaccharides found in the seed coat. Quinoa also provides us with 180 milligrams of omega-3s (in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) in 3/4th of a cooked cup.

Quinoa ranks as a good source of many minerals including zinc, copper, magnesium, and phosphorus. At WHFoods, quinoa actually ranks in our Top 10 foods for magnesium. It also provides nearly 3 milligrams of iron per 3/4th cooked cup, which actually puts it slightly above a 4-ounce serving of either lamb or beef. Among antioxidant-related minerals, quinoa is richest in manganese, and it ranks among our Top 25 WHFoods for this mineral. Folate qualifies as one of the key vitamins provided by quinoa, and you’ll get about 20% of the Daily Value for this B-vitamin from a single 3/4th cup serving (cooked). Cooked quinoa also provides about 10-15% of most other B-complex vitamins in this same serving size.

Over 20 different phenolic phytonutrients have been identified in quinoa, including many phenolic acids and polyphenols. Virtually all of these phytonutrients have been shown to provide antioxidant benefits, and many provide anti-inflammatory benefits as well. The list of phenolic phytonutrients in quinoa includes: chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, hesperidin, isoquercetin, quercetin, kaempferol, neohesperidin, rosmarinic acid, rutin, and vanillic acid.

Betalains are a group of phytonutrients that provide red and yellow quinoa varieties with their unique colors. Betalains can actually be found varying degrees in most varieties of quinoa members and have been shown to increase the antioxidant capacity and free radical scavenging benefits provided by this food. So it makes sense to enjoy the full spectrum of quinoa color varieties in your meal plan!

One of the most unusual categories of phytonutrients in quinoa are its phytoecdysteroids. (One particular phytoecdysteroid – called 20-hydroxyecdysone (20HE) – has been shown to be especially concentrated in quinoa.) While purified ecdysterone supplements are sold as body building aids to help with development of muscle tissue, few studies exist on consumption of ecdysteroids as naturally contained within common plant foods, including quinoa. Research interest in these compounds includes speculation about their potential role in blood sugar regulation.

Potential Health Benefits from Quinoa

As might be expected from a food that serves as a good source of protein and fiber, as well as a low glycemic index (GI) value, quinoa has raised the interest of researchers with respect to better blood sugar regulation, decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, and other aspects of metabolism related to blood sugar. Unfortunately, most of the studies in this area have been conducted on animals and we have yet to see a large scale study on humans enjoying quinoa as part of their regular food intake. We would be surprised, however, if quinoa did not turn out to show benefits for blood sugar regulation given its chemistry and nutrient-richness.

Like blood sugar benefits, cardiovascular benefits fall into another area of health support that we would expect to be provided by quinoa. However, the research we’ve reviewed in this area is not extensive and comes primarily from animal studies. In these studies, the equivalent of roughly 1/2-1 cup of cooked quinoa in a person’s diet per day over a period of approximately 1-2 months has been associated with decreases in blood triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol, and total cholesterol. In addition, risk of lipid peroxidation (oxygen-based damaged to blood fats) has been shown to decrease in some of these studies. The well-documented antioxidant capacity of quinoa – provided in large part by its impressive array of phenols and polyphenols – makes these animal study findings on lipid peroxidation very likely to apply to humans, and we expect this health benefit to eventually be demonstrated in human dietary studies as well.

As a non-grass grain, quinoa can provide a great grain-like addition to “gluten-free” meal plans, and quinoa has been shown to be well-tolerated by persons who are required to avoid wheat, including persons diagnosed with celiac disease. In addition, there are some studies showing potentially greater digestibility of quinoa in comparison to cereal grains. In short: quinoa is a food that can be incorporated into your meal plan like a grain, but which doesn’t raise the same concerns that cereal grains sometimes raise.

When the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) declared that 2013 to be recognized as “The International Year of the Quinoa,” it made mention of many health benefits described above. But it also focused on the relatively low cost of this plant food and its great adaptability to climate, allowing it to play a helpful role in food security worldwide. Even if food security is not a personal concern, however, it would be correct to think about quinoa as a very helpful and potentially stabilizing factor in your meal plan that can provide you with outstanding overall benefits.


Many popular descriptions of quinoa describe it as a “pseudocereal.” That’s because grains are often referred to as “cereal grains” and cereal grains all belong to the grass family of plants (Poaceae/Gramineae). At WHFoods, we include quinoa as one of our 8 grains, even though it is not a member of the grass family like wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, and millet. (We include one other non-grass among our 8 grains, and that is buckwheat.) Our reason for including quinoa among our grains is simple: the seeds of this plant are widely used and enjoyed in the same way as true cereal grains. Not only is quinoa often substituted for rice or used it in a side dish in much the same way as wheat is used in couscous; it is also often ground into flour and used to make noodles and baked goods. In fact, like malted barley and other grains, quinoa is used in some parts of the world for the brewing of beer.

The part of the quinoa plant that you will find in your local grocery is its seed. In fact, use of the word “quinoa” is so common that many people do not even stop to think about the fact that the very small, roundish, bits they are seeing before them are actually plant seeds. Similarly, it is possible to have enjoyed quinoa for a long period of time without ever having set eyes on the quinoa plant itself. The flowers of these gorgeous plants are startling beautiful in color, and the leaves are reminiscent of many different types of salad greens. Not only are quinoa leaves edible – they are used in many cuisines in much the same way as spinach, which belongs to the same plant family as quinoa (the Amaranthaceae family). Along with quinoa and spinach, this plant family also includes beets and Swiss chard. It’s worth noting here that quinoa was originally classified within the Chenopodiaceae or goosefoot family of plants, but this entire family was eventually subsumed within the Amaranthaceae.

Quinoa varieties are typically defined in terms of color. These varieties include white, yellow, red and black, although the exact shades can vary and are often softer than these names sometimes imply. White quinoa (sometimes called ivory quinoa) is the most common variety in U.S. supermarkets and is the mildest in taste and the least crunchy after being cooked. It also tends to cook a bit faster than the other color varieties. Red and black quinoa varieties are usually described as stronger and more earthy in flavor, but we think of all quinoa varieties as having a somewhat nut-like taste and delicate as opposed to harsh. Because of their unique betaxanthin and betacyanin combinations, quinoa varieties of all colors deserve a place in healthy meal plans.

One final note in this description section about pronunciation of the word “quinoa”: the most often used version here is “KEEN-wah.” The word “quinoa” originated in one of the native languages (Quechua) spoken by people in the Andes Mountains region along the Western coast of South America. The word for quinoa in Quechua was “kinuwa.”


Quinoa has a rich, wonderful, and long history in the cuisines of South America, and its basic genetic types can still be divided up according to basic geographical regions on this continent. Included here are the sea level regions of Chile; the highland regions of Peru and Bolivia; and the Inter-Andean valleys in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. Quinoa thrived in the arid and semi-arid regions provided by parts of the Andes Mountains, and while it grew wild in those regions, it was cultivated as early as 5000-3000 B.C. and has remained a staple part of “Andean” cuisines from that time all the way up until today. In fact, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (in that order) remain the top quinoa producing countries in the world, with a combined production of nearly 250,000 metric tons each year.

Within the U.S., one special spot – the San Luis Valley in the Colorado Rockies – has seen successful large-scale production of quinoa beginning in the 1980’s. Since that time, U.S. commercial production of quinoa has grown to include acreage in both Southern and Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Still, quinoa imports from South America presently account for most of the quinoa that is enjoyed within the U.S.

How to Select and Store

Quinoa is generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the quinoa are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure its maximal freshness. Whether purchasing quinoa in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture. When deciding upon the amount to purchase, remember that quinoa expands during the cooking process to several times (usually triple) its original size. You are very likely to find quinoa in your local supermarket, but if you don’t, check for it at a grocery that includes a natural foods section, because it’s usually on the shelf.

White quinoa is most common type that you will find in most stores, although red and black quinoa are becoming more widely available. We have even seen tri-color mixtures of quinoa being sold in both pre-packaged form and in bulk bins.

Store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep for a longer period of time, approximately three to six months, if stored in the refrigerator or freezer.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

Tips for Preparing Quinoa

If you are trying to prepare quinoa in a way that sweetens its natural taste, you can rinse the seeds, rub them gently together, and then re-rinse them to remove some of the components that bring a partly bitter taste to this food. A fine-meshed strainer makes the process easy to carry out – so much so that you will find strainers being advertised as “quinoa strainers.” Included among these components are phytonutrients called saponins, which play an important role in protection of the quinoa plant, but which have also been shown to provide us with potential health benefits. For this reason, thorough rinsing of quinoa is something of a judgment call: if you find the taste of unrinsed quinoa to be objectionable, it makes good sense to use the rinsing process above and prepare a quinoa dish that will be fully delicious and enjoyable to eat. If you don’t mind or even prefer the taste of unrinsed quinoa, you can very lightly rinse or even forego the rinsing process. In this context, we would also add that some pre-packaged quinoa has been pre-rinsed during production, and that the seeds of some quinoa varieties (especially white varieties) can be relatively sweet in their natural form.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Quinoa

To cook the quinoa, add one part of the grain to two parts liquid in a saucepan. After the mixture is brought to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover. One cup of quinoa cooked in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare. When cooking is complete, you will notice that the grains have become translucent, and the white germ has partially detached itself, appearing like a white-spiraled tail. If you desire the quinoa to have a nuttier flavor, you can dry roast it before cooking; to dry roast, place it in a skillet over medium-low heat and stir constantly for five minutes. Recent studies on the cooking of quinoa have compared boiling versus steaming methods to evaluate the impact of cooking on the B vitamin folate. The good news is that folate in quinoa appears to be well-preserved using either cooking method.

Quinoa flour is another form of quinoa that is becoming more widely available in supermarkets. While it is possible to make baked goods and pastas out of 100% quinoa flour, many companies making products from quinoa flour combine this flour with other types (for example tapioca flour or rice flour) or even with oatmeal to produce a lighter texture. If you are making baked products at home, you can simply experiment to determine the approach to quinoa flour that you like best.

How to Enjoy

  • Combine cooked chilled quinoa with pinto beans, pumpkin seeds, scallions and coriander. Season to taste and enjoy this south-of-the-border inspired salad.
  • Add nuts and fruits to cooked quinoa and serve as breakfast porridge.
  • For a twist on your favorite pasta recipe, use noodles made from quinoa.
  • Sprouted quinoa can be used in salads and sandwiches just like alfalfa sprouts.
  • Add quinoa to your favorite vegetable soups.
  • Ground quinoa flour can be added to cookie or muffin recipes.
  • Quinoa is great to use in tabouli, serving as a delicious (and wheat-free) substitute for the bulgur wheat with which this Middle Eastern dish is usually made.

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Nutritional Profile

The outstanding overall nutrient richness of quinoa is reflected in its high-quality proteins, its healthy mix of soluble and insoluble fibers, and its wealth of mineral nutrients, including >zinc, copper, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. This food is also a good source of folate, and contains many other B vitamins in substantial amounts. Phenols head the list of quinoa phytonutrients. Included here are chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, hesperidin, isoquercetin, quercetin, kaempferol, neohesperidin, rosmarinic acid, rutin, and vanillic acid.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.

Quinoa, cooked
0.75 cup
185.00 grams Calories: 222
GI: low
Nutrient Amount DRI/DV
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
manganese 1.17 mg 51 4.1 very good
phosphorus 281.20 mg 40 3.3 good
copper 0.36 mg 40 3.2 good
magnesium 118.40 mg 28 2.3 good
folate 77.70 mcg 19 1.6 good
fiber 5.18 g 19 1.5 good
zinc 2.02 mg 18 1.5 good

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, here is an in-depth nutritional profile for Quinoa. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

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Nutritional aspects of quinoa

Analysis of the main nutritional components will give a greater understanding of this food.

Main composition of quinoa seeds

The main nutritional components of quinoa are protein, carbohydrates and fat. These are compared with main stream cereals and legumes.


The metabolically active proteins, such as albumins and globulins, are found primarily in the embryo/germ of the seed. The germ accounts for 25-30% of the weight of a quinoa seed, 10% of a grain of maize and 2-3% of the grains of rice and wheat. Consequently, higher concentrations of albumins and globulins (44-77% of total protein) are found in quinoa seeds.

Gluten is a protein complex formed by interactions between prolamins and glutelins in cereals other than wheat. There is very little prolamin (0.5-7.0%) in quinoa to enter into the reaction that forms gluten. Therefore, it may be considered gluten free.

NB: At present, foods labelled gluten free in Australia and New Zealand must not contain any detectable gluten under the Food Standards administered by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Claims to the effect that a food has a low gluten content should not be made unless the food contains no more than 20mg gluten per 100g of the food (equivalent to 200ppm). Coeliac Australia believes the gluten free standard in Australia should be the same as the widely accepted international standard of less than 20ppm. The gluten free standard in the United Kingdom, Europe and Canada is less than 20ppm and the United States has recently adopted this standard after a lengthy and rigorous scientific assessment. A study by Zevallos et al. (2012) quantified the amount of toxic gluten epitopes in 15 cultivars and found that all cultivars had levels that were below the maximum amount of gluten (20ppm) suggested for foods that may be labelled gluten free in the US. Furthermore, Zevallos et al. (2014) also found that addition of quinoa to the gluten free diet of celiac patients at 50 g of quinoa daily for six weeks was well tolerated and did not exacerbate the condition.


The diameter of starch granules in quinoa (0.5-8.0µm) is smaller than for maize (1-23µm) and wheat (2-40µm). Size of starch granules, and amylose and gluten contents are some properties that influence the quality of the dough used for baking and the manufacture of pastas.For an acceptable quality, the limits of incorporation of quinoa flour seem to be 10-13% in bread making, 30-40% in pastas and up to 60% in biscuits.


Quinoa shows fat concentrations in the range of 2-10%. Quinoa is a valuable dietary source of the essential fatty acids. Linoleic and linolenic acids account for 55-63% of the lipid fraction.

Essential amino acids in quinoa

Quinoa possesses a well-balanced protein fraction. All essential amino acids are present in the proteins of quinoa seeds (Table 2).

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins in our body. Essential amino acids can never be made by our body and must be consumed through diet. It can be difficult to get the full variety of essential amino acids without a meal plan that includes regular intake of foods from a variety of food groups. According to Elango et al. (2012), when one amino acid is deficient for protein synthesis, then all other amino acids are in excess and are therefore oxidized. This is primarily because excess amino acids cannot be stored. Based on this, they have set dietary reference intake (DRI) levels for essential amino acid intake based on a person’s age and body weight. Their results suggest that mean protein intake recommendations for adults is 0.93g/kg body weight/day and for children 1.3g/kg body weight per day. Since quinoa has higher protein level than rice, maize or wheat (Table 1), it can boost the supply of essential amino acids in diets supplemented with quinoa.

Quinoa contains more histidine, isoleucine, lysine, and methionine + cysteine than rice, maize and wheat.

Methionine + cysteine and phenylalanine + tyrosine are listed in sets of twos, because our bodies can convert methionine into cysteine and phenylalanine into tyrosine.

Vitamins in quinoa

There is little difference in the vitamin content between sweet and bitter quinoa.

The removal of saponins from bitter quinoa either by polishing or by washing is expected to enhance the vitamin concentrations slightly by altering the grain weight.

Minerals in quinoa

Quinoa contains saponins in the pericarp which give a bitter taste. The amount of saponin in the pericarp can vary in different cultivars. There are two ways of removing the saponin – washing with water or peeling by friction. Mechanical abrasion systems usually fail to remove all saponin, mainly due to the disc-like shape of the seeds. On the other hand, the efficiency of washing with water to remove saponin depends on factors such as seed:water ratio, duration of washing, and temperature of the water.

Saponins and phytic acid (see Antinutrients) can also reduce the availability of some minerals in the quinoa seeds.

Table 4 Mineral compositin of quinoa compared with rice, barley, wheat and maize (values are in mg/kg dry weight; missing values (-) are not reported)

Mineral Quinoa Rice Barley Wheat Maize
Ca 1487 69 430 503 171
P 3837 1378 3873 4677 2926
Fe 132 7 32 38 21
K 9267 1183 5028 5783 3771
Mg 2496 735 1291 1694 1371
Na 122 69 203 89 69
Cu 51 2 3 7
Mn 100 23 19 39 5
Zn 44 6 35 47 29
Cl 1533 260 633 137
S 1933
SiO2 1315 5 197
Al 110
B 10 .3 5 2
Co 0.05 0.01 0.08 0.02
Mo 0.01 0.9 0.5 0.6

Antinutrients in quinoa

Saponins and phytic acid are the two main antinutrients present in quinoa seeds. Saponins and phytic acid are present not only in the outer layers of quinoa seeds but also evenly distributed in the quinoa endosperm.


Saponin concentrations can vary from 0.01-4.65% of dry matter for different varieties of quinoa with a mean value of 0.65%. Quinoa containing 0.11% (on a fresh weight basis) saponins or less can be considered sweet.

Two major saponins, Saponin A at 0.7% and Saponin B at 0.2% dry basis, were identified in quinoa seeds. Scrubbing and washing reduced Saponin A by 56% and completely removed Saponin B.

Remaining saponin (0.3g/100g dry basis or 0.01g in a 100g edible portion) in polished and washed quinoa seeds is in fact less than that found in common foodstuffs (Table 5).

Table 5 Saponin concentrations in common foodstuffs

Foodstuff Saponin (g/100g edible portion)
Chickpeas 3.47-5.00
Red kidney beans 1.40
Peanuts 0.58
Spinach 0.55
Mung bean sprouts 0.54
Canned baked beans 0.38
Brown lentils 0.37
Canned broad (faba) beans 0.31
Green peas 0.25
Asparagus 0.13
Garlic 0.11
Leek 0.10
Green beans 0.10
Onion 0.02
Quinoa (polished and washed) 0.01

Phytic acid

Phytic acid can form insoluble complexes with multivalent cations such as Ca2+, Fe2+, Fe3+, Mg2+, and Zn2+ thereby reducing their bioavailability.

Polishing and washing removes about 30% of the phytic acid.

The minimum amounts of phytic acid to avoid negative effects on iron and zinc absorption were found to be 10 and 50mg per meal, respectively.


The chemical composition of quinoa seeds can vary with variety/cultivar/ecotype and growing conditions, including environmental factors and management practices.

It is believed that the potential of quinoa is not as a replacement for any of the currently available foodstuffs but rather as an ideal dietary complement.

In addition to the quality of its protein, quinoa is a good source of magnesium, zinc, and copper and provides at least a tenth of the daily allowances of B6, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and biotin.

Quinoa could well find a niche in improving the nutritional quality of snacks, breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, and other prepared foods.

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Let’s go back to 2012: a time when Kim had just started dating Kanye, the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world, and the most recent influx of heart-healthy, antioxidant-packed and low-calorie superfoods peaked. One delicious grain-like superfood quickly became a staple in the diets of many American consumers, foodies and non-foodies alike.

Introducing quinoa (that’s pronounced KEEN-wa).

It’s been praised for its relatively high protein levels, especially by vegetarians and vegans, as well as its unassuming taste and texture that goes great with everything – an easy and lower-calorie substitute for rice or couscous.

So many Americans hopped on board the quinoa bandwagon that demand for this superfood skyrocketed 300% between the years 2007 and 2012. And it’s not just America. Fun fact: the UN declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

But, what exactly is quinoa?

Photo by Julia Maguire

Quinoa, although commonly perceived as a grain, is actually a seed from a plant native to Peru. It’s been linked to several health benefits because it contains high amounts of antioxidants like flavonoids and minerals like magnesium, as well as protein and fiber.

Quinoa is also gluten-free, so it’s an ideal source of nutrition for those with Celiac or gluten-intolerance. The most common varieties in the U.S. are the white and red seeds, although they can come in almost the entire rainbow of colors.

So, what’s the problem?

Photo courtesy of

Economics majors out there might be quick to suspect an issue with skyrocketing demand for an item produced in nature. Basically, demand has far exceeded capacity for the normal rate at which the crop has been produced, ratcheting up its price and excluding the farmers themselves from being able to afford the praised pseudo-grain growing in their own backyards. This means cheaper, less healthy foods are increasingly prevalent in these farmers’ diets.

Most of the growers, living primarily in Peru and Bolivia, have recognized the potential for economic success with such a high-value product – but often to the expense of the environment.

The extra production has ecological and agricultural consequences, including soil erosion, decreasing soil fertility and increasing pest problems. Because the land must be worked all year round to meet demand, potential for desertification has increased as well.

This leads farmers to seek more and more land for quinoa production, which is unsustainable for continued increase in demand and detrimental to the region’s biodiversity and food security.

Quinoa is one of the ways that developed consumer nations box developing producer nations into cash crop monoculture. These export-driven countries get stuck in a power system not too far off from the one present in colonial times.

That may seem like an overstatement, but consider the Bolivian farmers scrambling to produce enough quinoa to satisfy Western demand: they will no longer be free to devote much time to other nutritious crops for their own well-being. Any system that prioritizes one crop to an extreme may threaten the balance of the global market.

What can we do to help?

Photo courtesy of

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news: Bolivian farmers have received a $10 million loan from the nation’s president in order to help offset the difference between the price of quinoa and their own yearly incomes. Overall, the increase in demand has had some economic benefits, as the farmers are clearly able to secure a return on their investments.

On a global scale, increasing agricultural technologies may allow some varieties of the prized quinoa to be produced outside the Andean region, specifically in Africa. There are also current trials in Washington state, thanks to a $1.6 million grant from the USDA. Such attempts, however, may be contested for stripping quinoa of its organic qualities through use of pesticides or genetic modification.

Generally, we cannot stop exporting quinoa from the Andean region altogether, as this will hurt the farmers who depend on quinoa sales to an even greater extent.

One present solution is for consumers to purchase quinoa certified by Fair Trade, an organization that works directly with farmers in export-driven countries.

Photo by Caitlin Wolper

For the big quinoa fans out there, I feel you. Quinoa is one of those all-around great foods with max recipe potential (aka this quinoa fried rice is the bomb). In reality, there’s no need to forever remove this delicious superfood from your diet, but I hope you’ll at least consider buying (and encouraging your local supermarket to buy) this one through Fair Trade, for the livelihood of many South American quinoa growers.

The word Quinoa (pronounced “keen wah”) means “mother grain.” Which may be why some think it is a grain, or it could be because it’s commonly used as a rice substitute or as pasta. But it’s not a typical grain! It’s actually closer to a leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard and is very easy to digest. Great for those with digestive issues or those who want to loose weight.

Quinoa is highly nutritious, that’s not only going to help you stay lean, but will also maximize your energy levels, and boost your brain power! Quinoa also does a wonderful job of boosting your antioxidant levels which help to promote a healthy immune system, and ensure that red blood cells remain in top condition.

According to the “Alternative Field Crops Manual” of the University of Wisconsin, Quinoa has a lower sodium content and higher amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and zinc than wheat, corn or barley. Quinoa is not only a good source of fiber and protein, it is packed with amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

A cup of quinoa will give you around 127 calories and 4.5 grams of protein. Quinoa is a native of Peru where it grows both wild and under cultivation for centuries beginning with the Incas. It is technically a pseudo-cereal since it is not a member of the grass family, but rather produces seeds (usually called berries) which can be cooked or ground into flour. Quinoa imparts a light nutty flavor to dishes. It enhances soups, stews, and rice dishes. Although widely thought of as a grain, Quinoa is actually related to Spinach and Chard.

How to cook Quinoa
You begin by soaking your quinoa in water for about 15 minutes. After soaking, rinse for two or three minutes in a fine metal strainer.

It’s definitely important to rinse it before cooking — not only does it remove any extra residue (as you point out), but it also keeps it from being bitter once cooked. (If you are using pre-rinsed quinoa you can skip this step)

In a medium size saucepan, add 1 part quinoa to 1 1/2 parts liquid. As always, choose the liquid that best suits the dish you are making (water, chicken broth, beef broth, etc.) Bring to a simmer and then reduce to low. Cover and cook for between 30 and 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for an additional five minutes. Fluff and serve. Your quinoa is now ready to be added to your recipes.

From breakfast to dinner, sprouted quinoa can be used in a host of recipes –- cereals, salads, wraps, stuffings, soups, and stews. Substitute it for bulgur, rice, couscous, barley or millet.

Try this popular recipe Spanish Rice

Quinoa is a popular food item these days and many people seem to be convinced that it falls into the category of paleo-friendly foods. We decided to take an in-depth look at this food to determine whether or not it fits into the paleo diet plan.

Table of Contents

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa (pronounced “keenwah”) is a seed that is harvested from a species of a plant called goosefoot. It is officially a seed and part of a group of pseudocereals, making it neither a cereal nor a grain, and more closely related to spinach and beets than to cereals or grains.

It is because of this unusual categorization that many people are confused as to what quinoa actually is and how it affects the health of people who eat it regularly. A person could read ten different articles about quinoa and get nearly as many different theories about it and where it belongs in a healthy diet.

So, Is Quinoa Paleo?

Well, yes and no. This is a vague answer but that’s because the position of quinoa in a paleo diet depends on the individual whose diet it is. Let’s explore this a bit.

Do you find yourself asking, “is it paleo?” often? Check out our app: – the ultimate “Is It Paleo?” app

How Does Quinoa Fit in The Paleo Diet?

Quinoa is technically not a grain, which makes many people jump to the immediate conclusion that it is paleo. It is a seed and many other seeds are allowed, so why not quinoa?

This is a good point and, for those looking for a grain alternative that has much less potential for damage than regular grains, quinoa is often a good choice. With that being said, quinoa actually does contain some of the same potentially harmful properties as grains.

How Doesn’t Quinoa Fit in The Paleo Diet?

Wheat products are avoided on the paleo diet because they need to be heavily processed to be consumed. This goes against the very basis of the paleo way of thinking and eating.

Beyond that, they are avoided because they contain gluten, saponins, and lectins, among other anti-nutrients, which have been shown to be harmful to the lining of a person’s digestive system as well as their immune system. Many people don’t process quinoa effectively and, because of that, they should avoid it.

If you’re a fan of Portlandia, this clip highlights this in a humorous way:

Even if you don’t have issues processing quinoa, quinoa still contains quite a few carbs. If your goal is to become a fat burner rather than a carb-burner, you’ll want to avoid quinoa as it’s a 53 on the Glycemic Index – quite high for a food that you don’t have to be eating.

The Verdict on Quinoa

So, quinoa, while it is technically gluten-free and better for you than most grains, is definitely NOT paleo. You’ll want to avoid quinoa for a few reasons – namely because of the digestive issues it can cause and because of its high carbohydrate content. If you’re transitioning to paleo for the weight loss benefits, you’ll definitely want to avoid quinoa. Essentially, quinoa is okay in principle but it’s not as okay in practice. If you follow a paleo diet plan, know that quinoa is not paleo (under the strictest requirements). While it’s not the worst thing in the world, many people simply can’t handle the negative impact of quinoa on their digestive system.

Please note: If you feel rebellious and do choose to eat quinoa, it is generally a good idea to wash it thoroughly, as its outer coating is responsible for some of its wheat-like properties.

Also, if you really feel the need the include quinoa in your diet, the best question to ask yourself is “why?” While quinoa might be best used as a stop-gap while you’re transitioning from a standard American diet to a full paleo lifestyle, once you’ve made the transition, there’s really no reason to incorporate it into your regular diet as there’s a bunch of much better food options available – both proteins (eggs, meats, etc) and carbohydrates (safe starches, sweet potatoes, bananas, etc).

Verdict: NOT PALEO


Additional Reading

  • Is Quinoa Paleo?
  • Quinoa – An Alternative to Grains?

photo credit: SweetOnVeg

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Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a type of edible seed that comes in various colors including black, red, yellow, and white. The plant has been cultivated for about 5000 years and is indigenous to the Andean region of South America, specifically Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Peru. After the seeds are harvested they undergo processing to remove the natural saponins, a bitter-tasting chemical compound coating the exterior that acts as a natural pesticide.

Quinoa is usually harvested by hand due to the differing levels of maturity of the seeds even within one plant. Therefore seed losses may occur if mechanically harvested. However, in the U.S., seed varieties that have a more consistent maturity are selected to allow for mechanical processing.

Quinoa and Health

  • Though technically a seed, Quinoa is classified as a whole grain and is a good source of plant protein and fiber. One cup cooked provides about 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Unlike some plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make on their own.
  • Quinoa is also naturally gluten-free and can be eaten safely if one has gluten intolerance such as celiac disease.

Rich In:

  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Folate
  • Thiamin (Vitamin B1)


  1. Packaged quinoa is usually pre-rinsed but some brands may advise rinsing before cooking to remove any remaining saponins. Use a fine mesh strainer to catch the small seeds and run the quinoa under cool water for a few passes.
  2. Quinoa is prepared similarly to rice using two parts liquid to one part dry quinoa. One cup of dry quinoa will yield 3 cups cooked, and can be prepared in water, stock, or other liquids. You may also add herbs or spices during cooking such as bay leaves, marjoram, thyme, black pepper, or garlic or onion powder.
  3. Add the seeds, liquid, and desired herbs to a pot and bring to a boil on high heat. When a rolling boil is reached, reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until tender. You may notice a little white “tail” unfold when it is fully cooked; this is the nutritious germ. Fluff with a fork. If the quinoa is too wet or you prefer a drier quinoa, drain the cooked quinoa in a strainer and return to the pot. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes to dry out further.
    • For easier cooking, quinoa can be prepared in a rice cooker with the same ratio of 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water.


  • Prepare as a breakfast cereal by cooking the quinoa in milk or water. Stir in diced fresh fruit, cinnamon, and a tablespoon of nuts.
  • Substitute quinoa in place of rice in stir-fries and sushi.
  • Add a half to one cup of cooked quinoa to salads or soups for more heartiness.
  • Replace pasta with quinoa in pasta salad recipes.
  • Pop quinoa similarly to popcorn. Place a 6-inch deep pot over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, add enough quinoa to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer. Turn the heat to medium, then cover and shake the pot to ensure a more even temperature and less burnt seeds. Open the lid slightly a few times to allow steam to escape. Continue shaking the pan until popping slows or you smell burning. Pour the grains onto a baking sheet to cool. Season as desired.

More recipe ideas and serving suggestions featuring quinoa:

  • Quinoa Chia Edamame Veggie Burger

Did You Know?

  • There are more than 120 known varieties of quinoa. White and yellow quinoa have the mildest flavor, so they are good varieties to try first. Red and black quinoa have slightly stronger, earthier flavors and tend to hold their shape better than lighter colored quinoa.


  • The Whole (Grain) is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
  • David Ludwig clears up carbohydrate confusion

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