Incredible Quinoa Nutrition Facts
Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a 7,000 year old grain that originated in the mountainous regions of South America that has gained a lot of popularity over the last few years due to its significant nutrition and health benefits (1). It is an ancient grain that is one food that fit people love due to its unique nutritional profile, as it contains a significant amount of protein, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals when compared to other grains.
The United Nations even declared 2013 as the year for quinoa since it is a highly nutritious food. The UN believes that quinoa may help eradicate hunger and malnutrition worldwide, since it is so high in nutrients, yet relatively inexpensive to cultivate (2). Here are some of the main quinoa nutrition facts and benefits of this super grain.
10 Quinoa Nutrition Benefits
The many benefits of quinoa nutrition make this grain a powerful healing food. Here are the top ten reasons I have added quinoa to my diet as a delicious health booster!
1. Quinoa is High in Protein
Quinoa is one of the few grains contains all nine of the essential amino acids. Most grains are low in lysine, therefore they are considered incomplete proteins. But, quinoa actually contains lysine, as well as all eight of the other amino acids, making it a complete protein, similar to animal proteins.
One cup of quinoa provides about 220 calories and 8 grams of protein. This is the protein equivalent to one egg or approximately one ounce of chicken, fish, or other animal protein.
Quinoa is an amazing superfood, however, I do not recommend consuming quinoa as your primary protein source. Although it does provide 8 grams of protein, it is much higher in calories and carbohydrates than other protein sources.
For example, one large egg contains about 8 grams of protein, but only has about 80 calories and no carbohydrates, whereas you would have to eat 220 calories worth of quinoa to get the same 8 grams of protein. So you would have to eat a huge amount of quinoa to meet your daily protein needs through quinoa alone, which would result in eating a significant number of calories and carbohydrates at the same time.
So enjoy quinoa as a nutritional boost to your diet, but always try to eat many different sources of protein. Diversity is important to balance your diet and get the most benefit out of what you eat.
Quinoa may be beneficial for who are following a gluten-free diet and might be concerned about nutrients they are missing by eliminating gluten-containing grains from their diets. A 2009 study reviewed diet records of patients with celiac disease who followed a gluten-free diet.
The study found most subjects relied heavily on rice as their primary grain source, which made their diet inadequate nutritionally. If the primary grain choice was changed to quinoa, the subjects were able to better meet their protein, iron, calcium, and fiber needs. The B-vitamin content of their diets was also improved by adding in grains like quinoa into the diet.(3) Using quinoa as a primary grain instead of other alternatives may help ensure a more balanced diet.(4)
3. Great Source of Fiber
One of quinoa’s primary health benefits is its fiber content. It contains approximately 5 grams of fiber per cooked cup.(5) Most of the fiber found in quinoa is insoluble fiber, the type of fiber needed to maintain a healthy digestive system.(6)
Another benefit with consuming insoluble fiber is that it provides volume to the diet without any additional calories. Humans are unable to digest insoluble fiber, therefore we cannot extract any calories from it. Food high in insoluble fiber makes us feel full without adding any extra calories.
4. Heart Health
One of the quinoa nutrition benefits is its high level of heart healthy fats. Quinoa contains about 4g of fat per cup, and contains no trans-fats. About 25% of the fat found in quinoa is oleic acid, a healthy monounsaturated fat and 8% is alpha-linolenic acid, the type of omega-3 found in plants.(7) Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) has been shown to decrease the risk of death from heart attacks. The balance of fats is key to a healthy diet.
A diet high in ALA can also help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure levels. ALA is also beneficial for those that suffer from asthma reducing inflammation in the lungs and improving overall lung function. An increased intake in healthy fat may be beneficial to overall health by reducing overall systemic inflammation, leading to a decrease risk of chronic diseases.(8)
Quinoa is high in a specific type of antioxidants called flavanoids. This group of antioxidants began to be studied in the mid-90s for their disease-reducing benefits. One particular flavonoid, called polyphenols may play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes.(9) Quinoa is also high two other antioxidants called quercetin and kaempferol, important for the reduction of inflammation, a risk factor for chronic diseases.(10)
6. Nutritious Superfood
Quinoa is considered one of the super foods! It is a tremendous source of vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, magnesium, and iron. Quinoa nutrition is high in many nutrients lacking in our modern diet due to the overconsumption of highly processed foods. It is high in B-vitamins such as riboflavin and folate, which are low in many modern diets as these nutrients tend to be lost during food processing. Since quinoa is a whole grain, it is not refined or processed, therefore all of the important vitamins remain intact.
Quinoa also provides significantly more calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc when compared to other grains. About 80% of people have a magnesium deficiency, resulting in chronic leg cramps, muscle pain, insomnia and anxiety.
Quinoa provides about 30% of the RDA for magnesium, making it a good source of this mineral. Many women are deficient in iron due to monthly blood losses and inadequate intakes. Iron rich food is the best source of iron to repair any iron deficiencies. Since Quinoa provides 15% of the RDA for iron, it is an excellent food to add in to your diet.(11)
One thing to consider is that quinoa is high in phytic acid, which can bind to the minerals in food and decrease their absorption. Therefore, even though quinoa does contain a significant amount of minerals your body may not absorb them all due to the phytic acid content. Soaking quinoa in water prior to use can help reduce the phytic acid content. One cup of quinoa should be soaked in 2 cups of water with 1 tbsp of either fresh lemon juice or goat milk yogurt between 12-24 hours.
7. Weight Loss
Due to the high insoluble fiber and protein content, quinoa can help increase the feeling of fullness after a meal, known as satiety. Whole grains have been consistently shown to increase feelings of fullness after meals when compared to refined grains.(12) It is also believed that whole grains, like quinoa, may influence the action of hormones that play a role in appetite such as gherkin, peptide YY, and insulin.(13)
Eating foods high in fiber and protein can help slow the rate at which food leaves the stomach, leading to an overall decreased calorie intake. The satiating power of whole grains like quinoa may help to reduce body weight in the long-run.
8. Helps Prevent Cancer
Quinoa is rich in flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that help heal and prevent many types of illnesses, including one called quercetin. of In fact, Quinoa has one of the highest sources of quercetin naturally occurring in foods (even higher than cranberries). Quercetin has been shown to reduce the risk of multiple types of cancer. (14)
9. Reduces Diabetes Risk
An increase intake of whole grains, especially those with high fiber content may be linked to a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes. One study found that increasing whole grain consumption by two servings per day decreased type 2 diabetes risk by 21%.(15)
Although these results are for whole grains in general, there are some promising results from laboratory studies using quinoa specifically to reduce enzymes connected to the development of type 2 diabetes.(16)
The high quercetin content in quinoa was found to have an increased antioxidant response in lab studies, when compared to other similar grains. Researchers believe that the antioxidant content of whole grains, like quinoa, through their ability to reduce inflammation via their antioxidant activity, may help may help improve overall insulin response and in the long-run reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
10. Fights Disease
A functional food is a natural food with a high nutritional content that may help reduce disease.(17)
“Functional properties are given also by minerals, vitamins, fatty acids and antioxidants that can make a strong contribution to human nutrition, particularly to protect cell membranes, with proven good results in brain neuronal functions.”
Due to its high protein, fiber, antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral content, quinoa is seen as a functional food that may help reduce the risk of many diseases beyond cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Quinoa Taste & Texture
If you haven’t tried it yet, when it is just boiled in water quinoa very plain tasting, as it does not have much flavor on its own. The lack of flavor is actually a great thing increasing its versatility to be used in a variety of recipes. A simple way to boost its flavor is to cook it in beef, chicken, or vegetable broth instead of plain water, this will help add a little bit of depth to the flavor.
The possibilities are endless with quinoa recipes. It can be substituted for rice, pasta, or couscous in casseroles, soups, or other side dishes. Since it is naturally gluten-free it can be turned into flour and used to make gluten-free pasta or other products where wheat flour would normally be used.
Important: be aware of processed products such as pastas or breads made out of quinoa flour, these products are usually refined and may not contain the health benefits of eating the grain whole. Processed quinoa products can be used occasionally as a substitute for wheat-containing options.
But it is easy to make your own quinoa flour! Just take 1-2 cups of quinoa, toast in a skillet for about 5 minutes until it starts to pop. Keep it on the heat, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes, then cool. Mix in a high-speed food processor until it gets a nice fine texture.
Quinoa Nutrition Tastes Great!
Quinoa is amazing as a salad staple such as in a quinoa cranberry salad and can be mixed with any of your favorite vegetables.
Get creative and get the most quinoa nutrition by using quinoa as a base for your salad and then add in other vegetables such as tomatoes, green beans, and bell peppers. It also tastes amazing with greens like this quinoa salad with dark cherries and kale, and adds lots of yummy texture to your salads.
And don’t be afraid to get creative with quinoa, since it is so plain by itself, it will adapt to most flavors you add to it.
It can also be eaten as a hot cereal or porridge for breakfast, similar to oatmeal. Or it can be substituted for flour for amazing, high fiber, high-protein pancakes. Best of all, it is a delicious in dessert like this baked quinoa with apples, just add some apples, cinnamon, and pecans. There are so many different ways to use quinoa it truly is one of the most versatile grains available.
So as you can see, quinoa nutrition has many health benefits and can be included as valuable source of protein and nutrients, as a part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Or use it to help increase insoluble fiber intake to increase volume and satiety in your meals. It is a great gluten-free substitute for other grains and can be incorporated in a variety of ways in the diet, from salads to side dishes to breakfast cereals.
Have you tried quinoa before? What did you like about it?