6 Benefits Of Quinoa & Healthy Ways To Eat It
Quinoa is often referred to as a "superfood"—but does it lives up to its reputation? We asked nutritionists all about the top benefits of quinoa to see if it truly deserves superfood status. Here's what to know about the health perks of quinoa, how much of it to eat, and how to enjoy it.
What is quinoa?
Quinoa is a flowering plant of the amaranth family that originated in the Andes Mountains of South America. This plant produces edible seeds in a variety of colors, such as red, black, and white. Once the seeds are harvested, they are processed to remove their external coating of saponins (bitter-tasting compounds that act as a natural pesticide for the plant).
Quinoa seeds act like a grain when cooked, certified dietitian and nutritionist Isabel Smith, R.D., CDN, previously told mindbodygreen. Quinoa is considered to be a whole grain; however, since it’s technically a seed, it’s actually a pseudocereal—a food that can be used in a similar way to cereal grains.
“Quinoa has a mild, nutty flavor and a chewy texture. It’s easy to include in your diet because it's so versatile,” says Jen Scheinman, M.S., RDN, a functional nutrition coach.
Quinoa tends to be more expensive than other grains, such as rice. However, the steeper price tag may be worth it since it’s a high-quality source of nutrition. It’s a gluten-free whole grain that is low in fat and a great source of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
“Quinoa is a nutrient-dense food, meaning it contains a variety of nutrients important for our bodies,” says Jordan Hill, MCD, R.D., CSSD, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in sports dietetics.
Quinoa nutrition information
- Calories: 222
- Carbohydrates: 39.4 grams
- Dietary fiber: 5.18 grams
- Protein: 8.14 grams
- Fat: 3.55 grams
- Calcium: 31.4 milligrams
- Iron: 2.76 milligrams
- Magnesium: 118 milligrams
- Phosphorus: 281 milligrams
- Potassium: 318 milligrams
- Zinc: 2.02 milligrams
- Copper: 355 micrograms
- Manganese: 1.17 milligrams
- Selenium: 5.18 micrograms
- Vitamin A: 9.25 IU
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 198 micrograms
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 204 micrograms
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 762 micrograms
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): 228 micrograms
- Vitamin B9 (folate): 77.7 micrograms
- Vitamin E: 1.16 milligrams
- Choline: 42.6 milligrams
These are some of the top health benefits of adding more quinoa to your plate, according to nutritionists.
It provides a wide range of both macro and micronutrients.
Quinoa1 is a nutrient-dense food that offers protein, fiber, complex carbs, and several vitamins and minerals, says Hill.
For instance, the functional food2 provides vitamins such as folate, vitamin B6, vitamin E, Hill explains. Quinoa is also rich in many minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc that tend to be lacking in many Americans' diets3, says Scheinman.
It’s a high-quality source of protein
What’s unique about quinoa is that it provides all of the essential amino acids we need4 to get from food, making it a complete protein, says Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, INHC, a dietitian, health coach, and author of The Farewell Tour.
Unlike animal protein, Scheinman explains that very few plant-based foods are complete proteins. This makes quinoa particularly beneficial for people following vegetarian or vegan diets, or those looking to increase their protein intake, Hill adds.
In fact, a recent study notes that quinoa has a higher protein content and better amino acid distribution5 than other cereal grains.
RELATED READ: How To Eat More Protein: Tips, Foods, & A Sample Meal Plan
It's rich in antioxidants.
Antioxidants are substances that help prevent cell damage and lower the risk of diseases. Quinoa has a number of antioxidant phytonutrients that can be helpful2 in protecting us from heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, says Scheinman.
In particular, quinoa contains the compounds kaempferol and quercetin, which are flavonoids6 with strong antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.
It provides fiber.
Quinoa is considered a whole grain (even though it's a seed) because it provides fiber. By contrast, refined grains7 have been stripped of fiber and other important nutrients, and are linked to several adverse health outcomes.
Quinoa contains8 both soluble and insoluble fibers, which aid in digestion, promote satiety, and regulate blood sugar levels, says Hill. Fiber can also support heart health9 by helping to lower cholesterol levels, Hill adds.
The National Library of Medicine notes that most Americans don’t get enough fiber and recommends adding more whole grains to your diet. One cup of quinoa1 can satisfy 16% to 20% of your daily fiber requirement10.
Quinoa also happens to be gluten-free11, which makes it a great grain for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, says Scheinman.
Unlike many gluten-free foods that contain refined and highly processed ingredients, quinoa can make for a healthy addition to a gluten-free diet.
It can support weight loss.
Quinoa is high in fiber and protein, which is great for keeping you full, says Scheinman. Quinoa is a healthier alternative to refined carbohydrates and can be a part of a healthy and balanced diet that supports weight loss, says Hill.
“While quinoa can be a part of a healthy weight loss plan, portion control and overall dietary balance are key. The way quinoa is prepared and the ingredients it is paired with can determine its impact on weight loss,” Hill adds.
Types of quinoa
Both Scheinman and Hill agree that all quinoa varieties are considered nutritious, but this is how they compare, according to Hill:
- White quinoa: White quinoa is the most widely available and commonly consumed variety. It has a mild flavor and fluffy texture when cooked.
- Red quinoa: Red quinoa has a slightly nuttier flavor and firmer texture compared to white quinoa. It retains its shape well after cooking, making it suitable for salads and other dishes that require more texture.
- Black quinoa: Black quinoa has an earthy flavor and a slightly crunchy texture. It can be used as a visually appealing ingredient in salads and other dishes.
How much quinoa should you eat?
How much quinoa you should eat will vary depending on your calorie needs and health goals, says Hill. Standard dietary guidelines12 recommend that carbohydrates make up 45% 65% of your total caloric intake, she adds.
As a general guideline, Hill recommends a portion of 1/2 cup (93 grams) to 3/4 cups (139 grams) of cooked quinoa. If you’re on a low-carb diet, a smaller portion of 1/3 cup (62 grams) to 1/2 cup (93 grams) should suffice, says Cording.
Cording recommends pairing your portion of quinoa with other sources of protein, such as fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, tempeh, beans, or lentils, to help ensure you’re getting 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal. To make it a complete meal, she recommends loading up non-starchy vegetables and some healthy fats too, such as avocado.
How to add quinoa to your diet
Hill shares some suggestions for how to add quinoa to your diet:
- Quinoa salads: Cooked quinoa can be used as a base for refreshing salads. Combine it with a variety of vegetables, such as cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and leafy greens. Add some protein, like grilled chicken, tofu, or chickpeas, and drizzle with a flavorful vinaigrette or citrus-based dressing.
- Quinoa bowls: Create nourishing and customizable quinoa bowls by combining cooked quinoa with roasted vegetables, avocado, beans, and a protein like grilled shrimp or baked tofu. Top with a drizzle of sauce or a sprinkle of herbs for added flavor.
- Quinoa stir-fries: Use cooked quinoa as a substitute for rice in stir-fry dishes. Sauté your favorite vegetables, protein (such as chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu), and quinoa in a pan with some soy sauce or other stir-fry sauces for a nutritious and flavorful meal.
- Quinoa as a side dish: Treat quinoa as a substitute for other grains like rice or couscous. Serve it alongside roasted or grilled meats, fish, or vegetables to add a nutritious and filling element to your plate.
- Quinoa breakfast porridge: Cook quinoa with milk (dairy or plant-based) and your choice of sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. Add toppings such as fruits, nuts, seeds, and a sprinkle of cinnamon for a delicious and protein-packed breakfast option.
- Quinoa stuffing: Use quinoa as a stuffing ingredient for vegetables like bell peppers or tomatoes. Mix cooked quinoa with sautéed vegetables, herbs, and spices, and then bake until tender.
- Quinoa patties: Combine cooked quinoa with breadcrumbs, eggs (or a vegan egg substitute), and your choice of seasonings and vegetables. Form the mixture into patties and pan-fry them for a tasty and protein-rich alternative to traditional burgers.
Quinoa as a rice substitute
Because it's so nutritious, quinoa makes a great substitute for other carbs like white rice or pasta, says Scheinman.
When you compare the health benefits of quinoa and brown rice, quinoa comes out on top. Quinoa1 has more protein than brown rice (8 grams compared to 3) and more fiber (5 grams compared to 1), Ginger Hultin, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, previously told mindbodygreen.
But do you really have to choose one over the other? Not necessarily. Both quinoa and brown rice can be part of a healthy diet. It’s important to maintain a varied diet that incorporates multiple whole grain options like quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat, oats, and barley, says Hill.
Buying & storage tips
Uncooked quinoa can generally be found in the grain aisle of grocery stores, near the dry rice and pastas, says Uma Naidoo, M.D., a nutritional psychiatrist and author of This Is Your Brain on Food.
When you buy quinoa, try to opt for organic, fair trade varieties, to reduce your carbon footprint and ensure the growers receive equitable compensation.
You may also find cooked quinoa in the prepared foods section of stores, but make it a point to check the ingredient label before you buy it—some stores may drizzle prepared quinoa with processed seed oils, which can be harmful to your health, says Naidoo.
Store uncooked quinoa in a cool, dry place, such as in your pantry. Make sure you keep it in a sealed, air-tight container.
Quinoa is great for meal prepping. When you cook it, you can make a larger quantity and use it for multiple meals. Simply store it in an air-tight container in the fridge. Cooked quinoa can last up to five days in the fridge.
Quinoa side effects
Quinoa can sometimes be hard to digest; however, sprouting it can help soften it so your body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest it, says Cording. She recommends soaking the quinoa for six to eight hours in filtered water and then draining it over a fine colander or cheesecloth.
Some people may also have an allergic reaction13 after eating quinoa. This may be caused by the saponins that are found in the seed’s protective coating. While the saponins are generally removed when quinoa is processed, traces of it may remain. Running uncooked quinoa under cold water for a minute or until the water runs clear usually takes care of the saponin residue, says Cording.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is quinoa good to eat every day?
Totally. Quinoa can be a healthy addition to your daily diet, since it is a nutritious whole grain that offers protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Is quinoa actually better for you than rice?
Quinoa contains more protein and fiber than rice. You can use it as a substitute for rice in recipes.
How healthy is quinoa for weight loss?
The protein and fiber content in quinoa can promote satiety and support weight loss, provided you’re following a nutritious, balanced diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a calorie deficit.
Quinoa is a powerhouse of nutrition, making it a healthy addition to your diet. Since it’s incredibly versatile, you can use it in several different types of recipes. Check out these other ancient grains to add more whole grains to your diet.
Sanjana Gupta has been a health writer and editor since 2014. She has written extensively for platforms like Insider, Livestrong.com, and Verywell Mind. Her work spans various health-related topics, including nutrition, fitness, mental health, medical conditions, and wellness.
Sanjana has a master's degree in digital journalism from New York University. She also holds a master's degree in management from the University of Mumbai.
She balances her love for chocolate with a penchant for fun workouts like aerial yoga and kickboxing.