Nutrition, Health Benefits, and Adding to Diet

Nutrition, Health Benefits, and Adding to Diet

Quinoa is a whole grain, edible seed that has gained popularity over the past few years. Although it has been used for centuries in South America, it has recently gained more popularity in the United States.

From a nutritional standpoint, quinoa is considered a grain. It is a great source of protein, fiber, and several key vitamins and minerals. It is also gluten-free. Eating quinoa can benefit your health in several ways.

This article will review the nutritional content of quinoa and its associated health benefits.

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Nutrition Facts

Quinoa is a nutrient-dense food. It contains a number of beneficial nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, essential minerals, and protein.

One cup of cooked quinoa is 225 calories and provides the following nutrients:

Health Benefits of Quinoa

The benefits of quinoa stem from the nutrients it supplies. Quinoa is a nutrient-dense food. It is sometimes called a “superfood.” There is no official definition of a “superfood,” but a nutrient-dense food provides several healthful nutrients in a specified portion.

A food that isn’t very nutrient-dense provides calories but few healthful nutrients. Soda, for example, provides sugar and calories but no vitamins or minerals.

Quinoa is a great source of fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. It is also plant-based and gluten-free, making it a great alternative for anyone who has gluten sensitivities or is following a vegetarian diet.

Provides Fiber

Getting fiber in your diet offers many benefits, yet most Americans aren’t getting enough. Potential benefits of fiber include:

  • Improved digestion and bowel health
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Help managing sugar levels
  • Feeling more satiated or full
  • Help achieving or maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing the risk of some cancers

One meta-analysis even found an 11% reduction in all-cause mortality with every 10 g increase in fiber intake.

Current guidelines recommend 25 g and 38 g of fiber daily for women and men, respectively. Adding quinoa to your diet will increase your fiber intake by providing 5 g of fiber in just 1 cup of quinoa.

A Gluten-Free Alternative

Gluten is a protein found in wheat products. It occurs naturally in some foods and is added to others to add protein or enhance texture or flavor. Gluten comes from wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats.

People with celiac disease need to avoid gluten because their bodies will have an autoimmune response to the gluten that makes them sick. Some people who don’t have celiac may still feel sick after having gluten, and this may be a gluten intolerance. Quinoa is a great alternative for these groups because it provides fiber, protein, and minerals without gluten.

Provides Protein

Most people can get enough protein in their diet. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for adult protein intake ranges from 0.8 to 1.0 grams/kilogram (kg) body weight/day. Additional protein may be needed for pregnant or lactating people, athletes, or during illness.

People who follow vegan or mostly plant-based diets may need help getting enough protein. Quinoa is a plant-based source of protein, providing 8 grams of protein per cup, and may help meet protein requirements. Quinoa also happens to provide all nine essential amino acids.

A Good Option for Vegetarians

Not only does quinoa provide a good source of plant-based protein, but it also provides a good amount of iron and zinc. Iron and zinc are often found in animal proteins, and vegans can find making sure they are getting enough of both challenging.

As a good source of iron, quinoa is right up there with lentils, kidney beans, and green peas. The body needs iron to transport oxygen to tissues and organs. It also needs it for growth, development, and hormones.

Zinc supports healthy growth, immune function, protein synthesis, and wound healing.

Provides Several Key Minerals

In addition to providing iron and zinc, quinoa is also a good source of magnesium and potassium.

The body needs magnesium for protein production, nerve function, glucose control, blood pressure regulation, and energy production. Green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all considered good sources of magnesium, but 1 cup of cooked quinoa provides more magnesium than a serving of most of those options.

Potassium is needed for normal cell functioning throughout the body. It helps to regulate fluid volume and controls the rate of heartbeats.

Bananas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, potatoes, and orange juice are considered good sources of potassium. Quinoa fits right in the middle of this list, providing over 300 mg of potassium per 1 cup.

Quinoa is also rich in phenolic compounds, which have antioxidant properties.

May Improve Heart Health

The high fiber and potassium content of quinoa may benefit your heart health. Also, quinoa is fairly low in sodium.

Fiber can help lower cholesterol levels. A systematic review published in 2021 found that supplemental quinoa in the diet significantly reduced total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels. It also reduced triglyceride levels.

Potassium doesn’t help to prevent heart disease but does help to control your heartbeat. Also, potassium-rich diets, like the DASH diet, can help reduce high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease.

May Help Maintain a Healthy Weight

The protein and fiber content of quinoa can help you feel more satiated and theoretically eat less throughout the day.

A systematic review published in 2021 found that supplemental quinoa intake significantly reduced body weight, waist circumference, and fat mass. But a more recent meta-analysis found no effect of quinoa on body weight and body mass index (BMI).

Similar to studies about the effects of supplements for weight loss, studies of one single food on weight loss often have inconsistent results. Just as there is no magic pill, there is no magic food.

Weight loss and healthy weight management are best achieved by eating various healthful foods and being physically active, along with specific and individualized recommendations from a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN). Quinoa is still a food that packs a nutritional punch and can be part of a healthy weight management regimen.

How to Add Quinoa to Your Diet

There are several ways to incorporate quinoa into your diet.

Before cooking quinoa, it is important to rinse it with water before cooking. This helps to remove saponins that may give it a bitter taste. Some brands of quinoa may come already rinsed, so be sure to read the labels.

Cooking quinoa is similar to cooking rice. To cook quinoa:

  • Add 1 cup of rinsed quinoa to 2 cups of water or broth
  • Bring to a boil and boil for 15 to 20 minutes or until the quinoa has fully absorbed the liquid
  • Fluff with a fork

Quinoa is quite versatile, given its mild, nutty flavor. There are several ways to incorporate quinoa into the foods we eat:

  • Add it to a breakfast bowl with fruit and yogurt
  • Add it to any salad
  • Use it to fill stuffed zucchini boats or stuffed bell peppers
  • Use it in veggie burgers
  • Use it as a rice substitute
  • Add it to soups

A Word From Verywell

Quinoa is an excellent source of plant-based protein. It is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. Try enjoying quinoa as a breakfast cereal, in a grain bowl, or as a substitute for pasta, rice, or couscous. You can also add quinoa to your soups, stews, or salads.

Allison Herries, RDN


Quinoa is a nutrient-dense food with several health benefits. It is a great source of plant-based protein, fiber, and several key minerals.

In addition to its nutritional benefits, it is also gluten-free and a good source of protein for people who stick to vegetarian diets.

If you have yet to try quinoa, it is available at most grocery stores and often found in the same area as rice, couscous, and other grains.

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