Quinoa: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts (Based on Science)

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Quinoa: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts (Based on Science)

Quinoa is an extremely healthy seed that is packed full of protein, fiber, and other nutrients. Many people view quinoa as a superfood because it contains all the amino acids your body requires. The benefits to your health of consuming quinoa include boosting your immunity, improving your cardio health, supporting healthy digestion, and helping you lose weight.


One of the reasons why so many people enjoy the health benefits of quinoa is because it is gluten-free. Quinoa is also healthier for you than rice because it contains high levels of minerals such as manganese, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. The fact that quinoa is high in antioxidants means that this superfood has multiple health benefits.

In this article, you will find out what science says about this wonder seed. You will also learn about the many reasons why eating quinoa is so good for you. At the end of the article you will also find a simple recipe of delicious and gluten free quinoa fritters with tzaziki.

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa is pronounced as KEEN-wah and is an edible seed that originated in South America. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health say that quinoa was the staple food of the Incas and the Andean peoples before them. (1)

Quinoa is called a pseudo-cereal because it has similar nutritional content to whole grains even though it is a seed.

Quinoa is a unique seed because it is a complete protein and contains all the 9 essential amino acids a healthy body needs.

The benefits to health and nutrition in quinoa are so tremendous that the United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa. Researchers have found that quinoa could help boost nutrition in countries where protein-rich food is difficult to produce. (2)

Quinoa comes in many different types and colors with white quinoa being the most common. However, you can also buy red quinoa and black quinoa. Some people say that the difference in taste between red quinoa and white quinoa is that red quinoa has a richer, nuttier taste.

Why quinoa is classed as a superfood

There are many reasons to call quinoa a superfood.

Registered Dietitian Shoshana Pritzker says that quinoa is a nutrient-dense carbohydrate that is also packed with minerals. Quinoa is also full of fiber and can assist with weight loss because it keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Quinoa can be a very healthy alternative to rice or pasta. (3)

Nutritional Value of Quinoa

Quinoa is good for you because the high nutritional value of this wonder seed means that this is a complete food source.

The journal Advances in Food and Nutrition Research says that quinoa is high in protein content and is an important source of vitamins, minerals, and plant-based antioxidants. (4)

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one cup of cooked quinoa (185 g) contains 8 grams of protein which is 16% of your daily protein needs. (5)

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If you are trying to lose weight, the good news is that one cup of cooked quinoa (185 g) only contains 222 calories and is low in fat (8 g). Although the calorie content of quinoa is similar to brown rice, quinoa contains more minerals and protein than brown rice. (5)

Quinoa also has a unique nutritional protein content because it is high in amino acids. Research has found that quinoa contains good amounts of amino acids threonine and lysine. (6) These are some of the 9 essential amino acids that you need to get from your diet because the body can’t synthesize them, and quinoa has all of them, hence it is a completer protein food.

Quinoa is quite high in carbohydrates. 100 grams of quinoa contains 39 g of carbs which is 13% of your recommended daily intake (RDI). However, from these carbs, 100 g of quinoa contains 5.2 grams of fiber, giving you 21% of your RDI of fiber. (7) However, some varieties of quinoa may contain even more fiber.

The high carb content of quinoa means that quinoa is not a “keto” food and most people avoid quinoa if they follow a low-carb keto diet.

Quinoa is a rich source of many minerals essential to the health of your cardiovascular system and bones. For example, a cup of quinoa contains 2.8 mg of iron (15% RDI), 1.2 mg manganese (58% RDI), 118 mg magnesium (30% RDI), and 281 mg phosphorus (28% RDI). (7)

In addition to these minerals, quinoa also contains amounts of calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium.

Eating 100 grams of cooked quinoa will also give you plenty of vitamin E and B-group vitamins.

Quinoa is high in antioxidants

Another reason why quinoa is such a good food for your health is that it contains high levels of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are necessary to protect your immune system and prevent DNA damage in cells that can lead to chronic disease.

The journal Preventative Nutrition and Food Science reports that quinoa contains phenolic acids, tannins, polyphenols, and flavonoids. These are important compounds that have antioxidant properties. (8)

Quinoa vs. Rice – Which is the healthiest?

When it comes to comparing if quinoa or rice is healthier, it would seem that quinoa comes out on top.

Quinoa contains more protein, amino acids, and micro-nutrients than brown rice. Comparing the calorie content of brown rice and quinoa, 100 g of cooked quinoa only has slightly more calories than brown rice.

If you watch the number of carbs you eat, then consuming a portion of quinoa is better than brown rice. 100 g of quinoa contains 21 grams of carbs whereas the same amount of brown rice contains 23 g of carbs. (9)

The Many Health Benefits of Consuming Quinoa

Let’s look in more detail at the many reasons to eat more quinoa in your diet.

High Fiber Content of Quinoa Can Help Your Digestion

Consuming more quinoa can boost your digestive health because a cup of quinoa contains 21% of your daily fiber requirements.

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Research into the nutritional content of quinoa has found that it is a good source of dietary fiber. Quinoa contains both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber which are necessary for good digestive health. (10)

One study found that, depending on the type of quinoa, 100 grams of raw quinoa contains between 10 and 16 grams of fiber. (10) Because it absorbs water when cooking, cooked quinoa gram for gram has less fiber than raw quinoa.

100 grams of quinoa contains about 1.5 grams of soluble fiber and between 12 and 14 grams of insoluble fiber. (10)

Quinoa also has a prebiotic effect in your gut which helps healthy bacteria to flourish. Consuming quinoa helps increase probiotic strains of bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus that help improve gastrointestinal health. Researchers referred to quinoa as a superfood with multiple health benefits. (11)

Eating Quinoa Every Day Is Good for Your Heart

A diet containing mineral-rich foods and fiber such as quinoa can help boost your cardiovascular health.

Quinoa has compounds that help to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that consuming 50 grams of white quinoa a day helped lower blood triglycerides (blood fat) in overweight women. Over a 12-week period, triglyceride levels reduced from 1.14 to 0.72 mmol/L. (12)

Scientists in 2017 reported that phytochemicals in quinoa have potential heart health benefits. Consuming quinoa regularly can help to lower the effect of oxidative stress on the body. This can helps protect you from cardiovascular diseases. (13)

Learn about some of the other great foods that can help boost your heart health.

Quinoa is Gluten Free and Is Good If You Have Gluten Intolerance

Quinoa is a great food choice if you are on a gluten-free diet. Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and is a delicious alternative to grains like wheat, barley, and rye.

If you have gluten intolerance or celiac disease, you know the importance of avoiding certain grains. The American Journal of Gastroenterology reported that quinoa can be used as part of a gluten-free diet. Over a 6-week period, people with celiac disease were able to consume 50 grams of quinoa a day without any adverse effect on their gastrointestinal health. (14)

Other researchers have found that quinoa flour and quinoa flakes are great ingredients to make gluten-free cookies. (15)

Do you know how to spot the signs of gluten sensitivity? Intolerance to gluten could be the reason for digestive upset like having diarrhea after eating.

Quinoa is Very High in Protein

Quinoa is one of the best plant-based protein sources that you can include in a healthy, well-balanced diet. Quinoa is a popular choice of food among vegans and vegetarians because its protein content is so high.

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One cup of cooked quinoa for breakfast or your meal will give you 8 grams of protein which is 16% of your daily protein needs. What’s more, you get all of your 9 essential amino acids.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that protein in quinoa can range from 10 to 17% of its edible portion. Quinoa contains more protein than rice, wheat, or maize. (16)

Researchers also report that the protein quality of quinoa surpasses many legumes and grains. For example, quinoa contains the essential amino acid lysine which is usually very low in most grains. (16)

Find out about more excellent sources of protein that are 100% meat-free. You can also learn why lysine is so essential for good health.

Minerals in Quinoa Help Support Healthy Bones

Quinoa contains minerals such as magnesium, calcium, manganese, and phosphorus which are necessary to keep your bones strong.

For example, 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains 30% of your magnesium RDI, 28% of phosphorus, and 58% of your manganese RDI. One cup of quinoa also contains 31.5 mg calcium (3% RDI).

A small, short-term clinical trial on women found that magnesium supplements can help to prevent postmenopausal osteoporosis. (17)

However, the Open Orthopaedics Journal reported that you should be able to get your nutritional requirements for good bone health by making proper food choices. Also, in some cases, taking supplements with zinc, manganese, copper, and other minerals are unnecessary. (18)

Consuming more quinoa every day in your favorite smoothie (cooked quinoa is soft and blends easily in smoothies), using it instead of oatmeal or rice, or sprinkling it over your dish can help prevent mineral deficiencies that require taking supplements.

Quinoa Can Help You Lose Weight

Because quinoa is such a great source of protein that is relatively low in calories, you can eat quinoa if you want to lose weight.

One of the ways that quinoa assists with healthy weight loss is that it increases metabolism and satiety. Some reports indicate that increasing protein and reducing fat intake can help to increase fat oxidation. (19)

Also, quinoa has a low glycemic index (GI) meaning that it releases carbohydrates slower in your body. Researchers have found that foods with low GI such as quinoa help to reduce feelings of hunger and can help with weight management. (20)

Other studies have shown that consuming 50 grams of quinoa a day can help to reduce some of the complications of metabolic syndrome. (12)

Quinoa Lowers Blood Glucose Levels and Is Good for Diabetics

Eating quinoa with a healthy meal can help to manage symptoms of diabetes because it helps to prevent blood glucose spikes.

One study involving 12 people with diabetes found that eating quinoa for breakfast is a good choice. Consuming a quinoa meal had a better effect on blood glucose levels than consuming white wheat bread. The researchers recommended consuming quinoa meals for breakfast and lunch to help improve glucose tolerance. (13)

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Other studies have shown that red quinoa seeds have anti-diabetic properties and can help to lower fasting blood glucose. (14)

Studies on rats have shown that quinoa seeds can help to lower total cholesterol, reduce triglycerides, and lower blood glucose levels. (15)

Find out what other foods you should eat to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Consuming more of these foods is good if you have some of the signs of diabetes.

Quinoa Contains Iron and Can Help Prevent Iron Deficiency

One cup of cooked quinoa contains 2.8 mg of iron which is 15% of your iron needs for the day. Regularly consuming quinoa can help prevent a lack of iron in your body.

The International Journal of General Medicine reports that a lack of iron in the diet is one of the main causes of iron-deficiency anemia. One of the simplest ways to prevent iron-deficiency anemia is to consume more foods containing iron. (16)

The journal Nutrients recommended that if you are on a gluten-free diet, it is important to eat foods high in iron and other micro-nutrients. This is because gluten-free diets tend to be low in iron and B-group vitamins. Researchers recommended consuming iron-rich foods such as quinoa if you have to avoid gluten in your diet. (17)

If you are showing signs of an iron deficiency, find out about the best iron supplements to take and how to get enough vitamin B-12 in your diet.

Side Effects of Quinoa

Are there any adverse effects of consuming more quinoa in your diet? According to doctors from WebMD, quinoa is a high-protein, gluten-free seed that can be enjoyed by almost everyone. There are no known side effects of consuming quinoa as a food.

Some websites claim that quinoa is a high-oxalate food and could contribute to kidney stones. The University of Chicago says that quinoa may be high in oxalates, but there is no evidence to support this. (18)

Where to Buy and How to Store Quinoa

Quinoa is generally available in packages and bulk bins. If you cannot find it in your local supermarket, look for it in health foods stores.

The most common type of quinoa you’ll find in the store is white quinoa, but red and black quinoa are also becoming more available. You may even be able to find a tri-color mixture sold in packages or bulk bins.

It is best to store quinoa in an airtight container. Quinoa will keep for a longer period of time, about 3-6 months, if stored in the refrigerator.

How to Cook Quinoa

When you cook quinoa, always rinse it with water because quinoa is coated with toxic chemical called saponin. To do it place the quinoa in a strainer and run cold water over it until the entire soapy residue has been washed away.

You can taste test a few seeds; if they still have a bitter taste, run more cold water over them. Rubbing the seeds while rinsing with water takes away even more bitterness. Then 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 cooked quinoa in this method usually takes 15 minutes to prepare.

Since quinoa also contains phytic acid, a substance that can bind to certain minerals and reduce their absorption (19), you can soak quinoa before cooking it to reduce the content of phytic acid and increase the bio-availability of the minerals. You can read more about it in my article on why you need to soak nuts and seeds.

Delicious Quinoa Fritters With Tzaziki (Gluten-Free)

If you have some quinoa leftovers, try this delicious quinoa fritters. It can be served with tzaziki which is a nice and easy Greek dipping sauce for veggies, Greek salad, grilled meats and pita bread triangles. There are many variants of tzaziki recipe, but you can always adjust the seasoning and quantities according to your own taste.

ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 medium carrot, grated, or 1 medium zucchini, grated, and squeezed from excess liquid. 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped herbs, such as parsley, dill, coriander, chives
  • 1/4 cup of almond meal
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a medium fry pan on moderate heat. Using a tablespoon grab a handful of the mixture then place in the pan and flatten a little bit. You can place several of the quinoa fritters in the pan, but don’t let the edges touch each other. Cook for a few minutes on each side until lightly golden and drain the oil on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the mixture (you may need to add more olive oil between the batches).

Tzaziki

Ingredients

1 cup Greek or plain yogurt
1 Lebanese cucumber, seeded, finely grated and drained
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (you can also add a teaspoon of lemon zest if you want)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped mint or parsley, optional
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon juice (and zest) dill and mint/parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a serving dish, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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