Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is higher in nutrients than most grains and often marketed as a “superfood”. The United Nations declared 2013 “The International Year of Quinoa” due to the seeds’ potential to contribute to food security worldwide.
Carbs make up 21% of cooked quinoa, which is comparable to barley and rice.
Cooked quinoa is a relatively good source of fiber, beating both brown rice and yellow corn.
Fibers make up 10% of the dry weight of cooked quinoa, 80–90% of which are insoluble fibers like cellulose.
Insoluble fibers have been associated with reduced diabetes risk.
Plus, some of the insoluble fiber may be fermented in your gut like soluble fibers, feeding your friendly bacteria and promoting better overall health.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of all tissues in your body.
Some amino acids are considered essential, as your body is unable to produce them, making it necessary to acquire them from your diet.
By dry weight, quinoa provides 16% protein, which is higher than most cereal grains, such as barley, rice, and corn.
Quinoa is considered a complete protein source, which means that it provides all nine essential amino acids.
A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked quinoa provides about 2 grams of fat.
Similar to other grains, quinoa fat is mainly composed of palmitic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid.
Vitamins and minerals
Here are the main vitamins and minerals in quinoa:
- Manganese. Found in high amounts in whole grains, this trace mineral is essential for metabolism, growth, and development.
- Phosphorus. Often found in protein-rich foods, this mineral is essential for bone health and maintenance of various body tissues.
- Copper. A mineral that is often lacking in the Western diet, copper is important for heart health.
- Folate. One of the B vitamins, folate is essential for cell function and tissue growth and considered particularly important for pregnant women.
- Iron. This essential mineral performs many important functions in your body, such as transporting oxygen in red blood cells.
- Magnesium. Important for many processes in your body, magnesium is often lacking in the Western diet.
- Zinc. This mineral is important for overall health and participates in many chemical reactions in your body.
Other plant compounds
Quinoa contains many plant compounds that contribute to its flavor and health effects. They include:
- Saponin. These plant glycosides protect quinoa seeds against insects and other threats. They’re bitter and usually eliminated by soaking, washing, or roasting before cooking.
- Quercetin. This powerful polyphenol antioxidant may help protect against various illnesses, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer.
- Kaempferol. This polyphenol antioxidant may reduce your risk of chronic diseases, including cancer.
- Squalene. This precursor of steroids also acts as an antioxidant in your body.
- Phytic acid. This antinutrient reduces the absorption of minerals, such as iron and zinc. Phytic acid can be reduced by soaking or sprouting quinoa prior to cooking.
- Oxalates. They may bind with calcium, reduce its uptake, and increase the risk of kidney stone formation in sensitive individuals.
Bitter quinoa varieties are richer in antioxidants than sweeter types, but both are good sources of antioxidants and minerals.
Health benefits of quinoa
Lower blood sugar levels
Refined carbs are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, while whole grains like quinoa are associated with a reduced risk.
May aid weight loss
Quinoa has many properties that make it a weight-loss-friendly food.
It’s higher in protein than similar foods, such as rice, corn, and whole wheat.
Protein is considered a key factor for weight loss, as it boosts metabolism and feelings of fullness. In doing so, it may help prevent obesity and related diseases.
Fibers are also important for weight loss, promoting decreased calorie intake by increasing feelings of fullness and improving gut health.
Quinoa is higher in fiber than many whole-grain foods.
Quinoa is gluten-free
As a gluten-free pseudocereal, quinoa is suitable for people who are intolerant or allergic to gluten, such as those with celiac disease.