Considered a superfood, quinoa is one of the most nutrient-dense carbs you can eat today. It contains no gluten and is one of the few plant-based foods that provides all of the essential amino acids. Learn more about its nutrition facts, health benefits, side effects, and more!
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is an edible seed of a plant from goosefoot family (Chenopodiaceae) – the same family as spinach and beets. Quinoa originated in the Andean region of South America and has been a staple food for hundreds of year.
Quinoa is often considered as a grain but it’s actually a seed. Even though it’s a seed, quinoa is cooked and eaten like grains and has a similar nutritional value. That’s why, it is described as a pseudo-cereal or pseudo-grain.
There are more than 120 different types of quinoa, but the most commonly cultivated and available are white, red and black quinoa. Both and red quinoa are slightly bitter when cooked, while the black variety has a sweeter and more earthy flavor than the other two, making it a good choice for dessert recipes.
Quinoa Nutrition Facts
Quinoa is often called a superfood because of its high nutritional value and balanced profile. Quinoa is rich in dietary fiber, manganese, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, calcium, B-vitamins, vitamin E, and various beneficial antioxidants.
Quinoa is also gluten free and provides all nine essential amino acids, making it an especially good source of plant protein for vegetarians.
The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) has concluded that quinoa is a complete natural source of nutrients for humans and has considered it as an important crop to be grown in outer space .
The following is the nutritional value of one cup of cooked quinoa (185 grams) (in percent Daily Value*) :
- Manganese: 58%
- Magnesium: 30%
- Phosphorus: 28%
- Fiber: 21%
- Folate: 19%
- Copper: 18%
- Protein: 16%
- Iron: 15%
- Thiamin: 13%
- Zinc: 13%
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 12%
- Vitamin B6: 11%
- Potassium: 9%
- Selenium: 7%
- Vitamin E: 6%
- Niacin (vitamin B3): 4%
- Calcium: 3%
Quinoa Health Benefits
1. Prevents heart disease
Whole grains like quinoa have been shown to be effective in lowering the risk of heart disease.
A study published in the Journal of Food Lipids reported that quinoa seeds contain many of the dietary flavonoids which have shown to inversely correlate with mortality from heart disease.
Another study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in 2004 found that quinoa produced lower levels of free fatty acid content and triglyceride concentrations, which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, than other gluten-free grains.
In addition, quinoa provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fat through its oleic acid content, alpha-linolenic acids and omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to decrease the risk of inflammatory diseases.
2. Fights cancer
Since quinoa contains antioxidants, it can fight free radicals and other harmful substances that cause cancer. The abundance of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in quinoa likely work synergistically to help reduce cancer risk.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) have convincing evidence that foods high in dietary fiber help reduce colorectal cancer risk. They claim that other compounds in whole grains like protease inhibitors, phytic acid and phenolic acids, can alter the way cells use their signaling, express their genes, and reduce inflammatory pathways related to cancer growth.
3. Controls blood sugar
Quinoa is very good for people with diabetes because of its low glycemic index (GI).
It is also one of the grains with highest protein levels. The amino acids and high fiber contents in quinoa helps in better metabolism and sugar control. The sugar produced by consumption of quinoa is slowly absorbed by the blood. So, it does not get blood sugar spikes as some of the highly refined grains such as white wheat flour would give.
4. Aids in weight loss
The high fiber content in quinoa can increase feelings of fullness, making you eat less . It also rich in protein which can both increases metabolism and reduce food cravings, thereby decreasing your calorie intake.
In an animal study conducted in 2014, researchers found that quinoa consumption led to higher energy expenditure, better glucose processing and less dietary fat absorption .
5. Supports digestive systems
Quinoa is an excellent source of insoluble fiber, making it highly beneficial for the digestive system. This kind of fiber does not only facilitate bowel movements, but it also helps to prevent common digestive disorders like constipation, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome.
One cup of cooked quinoa contains 5 grams of fiber. This amount provides 13 percent of men’s recommended daily intake of fiber and 20 percent of women’s recommended daily intake.
6. Promotes bone health
Magnesium deficiency is one of the primary factors responsible for the onset of osteoporosis. Quinoa provides this mineral, which helps prevent osteoporosis and bone loss.
A 2013 study published in Nutrients found that optimizing magnesium intake might prevent osteoporosis in individuals with documented magnesium deficiency .
Additionally, the calcium found in quinoa is essential for maintaining an optimal bone health.
7. Treats acne
Quinoa is rich in B vitamins, nutrients that help treat age spots and other conditions related to skin pigmentation by reducing the deposits of dark melanin in the skin.
The vitamin B2 in quinoa helps to improve the mucus secretion of the skin, and thus helps to reduce the appearance of acne and blemishes. The niacin in quinoa also help to treat acne. It soothes the inflamed areas associated with acne breakouts.
8. Prevents anemia
Quinoa is a good source of iron. One cup of cooked quinoa can provide about 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron. An adequate intake of iron may help prevent anemia.
In addition, the folate in quinoa can assist the body in better iron absorption. Together, they make quinoa one of the top foods for preventing iron deficiency anemia.
9. Reduces gallstones risk
Being a rich source of fiber, quinoa consumption has been shown to inhibit the formation of gallstones by reducing the secretion of bile juice and lowering the total blood triglycerides, which are the two major components of gallstones formation.
10. Promotes longevity
Numerous studies have shown that a diet rich in fiber (like quinoa) could actually help people live longer.
A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that high dietary fiber intake associated with lower risk of several chronic diseases, which in turn reduce the risk of total mortality .
11. Relieves migraines
Quinoa is a good source of magnesium and riboflavin, two nutrients that may help in the prevention and treatment of migraines.
Magnesium can make your blood vessels more relaxed, which is an important factor in dealing with migraine.
A study suggests that migraine sufferers who consume more magnesium in their diets have reported fewer headaches .
Riboflavin plays a part in keeping migraines at bay while also benefiting muscle and brain cells. It also supports energy metabolism, providing further protection against migraine attacks.
12. Gluten intolerance
Gluten-free diets are recommended for people with celiac disease, a severe gluten intolerance. However, people who are on a gluten-free diet often have a hard time in getting all the essential nutrients they need.
According to the Mayo Clinic, gluten-free diets lack of several nutrients, such as calcium, iron, folate, fiber, riboflavin, thiamin, and niacin.
Quinoa does not contain gluten and is highly beneficial for people on a gluten-free diet because it provides nutrients they are missing after eliminating traditional grains from their diets.
Studies have shown that using quinoa instead of typical gluten-free ingredients like corn, potato, and rice flour, can dramatically increase the nutrient and antioxidant value of your diet .
Quinoa Side Effects
Quinoa is generally safe when are used in food amounts, as quinoa has been used as a food for thousands of years. However, the seeds have a natural coating of saponins – chemicals that help protect it from being eaten by random wildlife.
For some people, saponins can lead to irritation in the stomach. Therefore, quinoa must be rinsed properly before use.
People who are prone to food allergy are suggested first to have tested and only then consume quinoa, as it may trigger an allergy reaction.
Quinoa is also not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding because no scientific evidence suggests that it is safe to use in this population.
Additionally, quinoa can lower triglyceride levels. For that reason, it is recommended not to consume quinoa if you are taking triglyceride-lowering drugs.
How to Select and Store Quinoa
When buying quinoa, make sure there is no moisture in the packaging and check the box to see if it says pre-rinsed or you will you have to rinse before cooking. When deciding how much to buy, remember that quinoa expands to several times its size when cooked. Generally, one cup dry quinoa may produce three cups of cooked quinoa.
For storing, you should keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place where it can last for several months. It will keep even longer if placed in the fridge.
How to Cook Quinoa
Before cooking, make sure to rinse the quinoa thoroughly under running water to remove the saponins, which is the bitter coating that occurs naturally on the grain. Even if the package says that it has been rinsed before by the manufacturer, it is important to repeat it one more time to be sure enough that it is safe to be eaten.
Quinoa can either be cooked on the stove or in a rice cooker.
- On the stove: Place one cup of rinsed quinoa in a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water or broth. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, if desired. Bring the quinoa to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and let stand, with the lid on, for 5 minutes. Fluff the quinoa with a fork and serve.
- In a rice cooker: Place one cup of rinsed quinoa in a rice cooker with 2 cups of water or broth. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, if desired. Then cook according to the rice cooker instructions, as if cooking rice, until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and serve.