Quinoa is more of a seed than a grain but it can be used as a replacement for rice in meals, and can replace different types of flours such as wheat flour.
But is quinoa good for you?
The answer is Yes.
Quinoa is Gluten Free
As far as grains go, quinoa is a much healthier option to things like wheat, barley and rye. Of course, any grain that is gluten free is better than wheat, barley, and rye, which makes quinoa perfect because it is a gluten free grain.
Quinoa is a Good Source Of Protein
Quinoa is an excellent source of protein as it contains all 10 essential amino acids, which is rarely found in a grain. And the protein content in quinoa is higher than in other cereal grains.
Depending on the type of quinoa, the total protein content ranges from 12.9-16.5%.
When it comes to protein there are 10 essential amino acids and 11 non essential, and as I said quinoa contains all 10!
Grams per 100g of the 10 essential amino acids in quinoa:
- Histadine 2-3.2
- Isoleucine 3.3-7.4
- Leucine 5.8-7.5
- Methionine + cysteine 4.5-4.8
- Phenylalanine + tyrosine 6.2-7.5
- Threonine 2.5-3.8
- Valine 4.2-6
- Lysine 4.6-6.1
- Tryptophan 1.1-1.2
Quinoa is Low Glycemic Index
Quinoa is still predominantly a carbohydrate food, a starch, making up 58-64% of its content. Compared to other grains it has a small starch molecule that does make if more easily digestible.
Quinoa and its flour is low in both glucose and fructose, with higher percentages of d-xylose and maltose, making it a low glycemic index option of 53. The glycemic load is only 13. This means it does not make your blood sugar rise as rapidly as other grains might.
Fat Content Of Quinoa
Quinoa contains linoleic acid, which is a pro-inflammatory omega 6 fat. Most grains do contain linoleic acid. The fat content is 14.5% in total with 50-70% linoleic acid, and 27-38% oleic acid, which is an anti-inflammatory fat.
Vitamins & Minerals in Quinoa
Quinoa contains calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc in higher proportions to other grains such as wheat, corn and rye. The main vitamins found in quinoa include alpha carotene and niacin. Thiamin, vitamin C and folic acid come in next best as far as vitamins are concerned. Quinoa also contains a lot of Vitamin E, an antioxidant.
Anti-Nutrients in Quinoa
All grains and even some plants contain anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are parts of the plant that can inhibit vitamin and mineral bioavailability (absorption). Many grains contain anti-nutrients known as saponins, phytic acid, tannins, and protease inhibitors. When there are high levels of them, they can affect nutrient absorption rates.
Phytic acid is present in the outer layer of and also dispersed in the inner layer of quinoa and this can bind minerals and make them unavailable for metabolism. But the levels of anti-nutrients are reduced by cooking methods.
Traditionally, the local people of Ecaudor soaked the quinoa to help reduce the bitter taste. This also has the advantage of reducing anti-nutrient levels. Studies show that if you soak it, then gentle scrub it, then wash it, the saponin content reduces by 56% and the phytate content reduces by 30%. No tannins or protease inhibitors are found in quinoa seeds.
Quinoa May Have Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
The main anti-nutrient in quinoa are saponins, this is what gives it the bitter taste.
However, in an in vitro study (a study with cells) the saponins in quinoa were shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits, inhibiting the production of inflammatory cytokines (molecules), tumor necrosis alpha and interleukin-6 from macrophages.
Macrophages are involved in innate immunity and are the cells that are on the front line regulating the inflammatory response.
So overall what this study showed is that quinoa may be an anti-inflammatory grain. It’s also high in dietary fiber, and is considered a functional food that can be used in nutrition therapy to improve physical function.
So is quinoa good for you?
The answer is YES. Include quinoa in your diet, as far as grains (seeds) go, it’s a great addition to a healthy dietary pattern.
Nutritionist & Health Coach
Yao et al. Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Saponins from Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) Seeds in Lipopolysaccharide-Stimulated RAW 264.7 Macrophages Cells. Journal of Food Science. 2014;79(5):H1018-H1022.
Ruales J, Nair BM. 1993. Saponins, phytic acid, tannins and protease inhibitors in quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, Willd.) seeds. Food Chem 48(2):137–43.
Vega et al. Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.), an ancient Andean grain: a review.J Sci Food Agric 2010; 90: 2541–2547.