Quinoa Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

quinoa nutrition facts and health benefits
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru, quinoa looks like a grain, but it is really a seed and is a relative of Swiss chard, spinach, and beets. Quinoa is packed with a nutritious combination of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and fatty acids. It has been popularized in vegetarian meal plans, but you don't need to follow a specialized diet to put this grain on the menu. Anyone can benefit from eating quinoa.

Quinoa Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 cup (185g) of cooked quinoa with no added salt or fat.

  • Calories: 222
  • Fat: 4g
  • Sodium: 13mg
  • Carbohydrates: 39g
  • Fiber: 5g
  • Sugars: 2g
  • Protein: 8g

Carbs

One cup of cooked quinoa contains 39 grams of complex carbohydrate, which can serve as a good source of energy. 

The glycemic index of quinoa is estimated to be under 55, making it a low-glycemic food. The protein and fiber in quinoa help to reduce its impact on blood sugar. 

Fats

There is a small amount of fat in quinoa, but most of it is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat—both considered to be healthy fats. We consume the edible seeds of the quinoa plant, and these contain heart-healthy fatty acids.

Protein

Quinoa is a complete protein, unlike many plant-based proteins. Complete proteins are those that contain all nine essential amino acids.

Vitamins and Minerals

Quinoa is a good source of iron, magnesium, vitamin E, and potassium. Magnesium is part of many metabolic processes in the body, including some that help to regulate blood sugar. Iron is an essential mineral that helps to transport oxygen through the body, and vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant, helping to fight free radicals in the body.

Health Benefits 

Quinoa is naturally low in sodium and rich in fiber and protein, making it a filling, nutritious replacement for refined grains. It has considerably more calcium, iron, and protein than other grains.

Reduces Inflammation

The saponins, betalains, and polyphenols in quinoa (and other plants) have antioxidant properties, meaning they can repair cells damaged due to oxidative stress and reduce inflammation. These processes can help protect the body from infections, cancer, and heart disease.

Helps Control Blood Sugar

Fiber is the indigestible part of carbohydrate that helps with satiety, prevents and alleviates constipation, can help to pull cholesterol away from the heart, and is important in keeping blood sugars stable. The extra fiber in quinoa allows the digestion of carbohydrates to be slowed, assisting with blood-sugar control.

Research also suggests that the risk of type 2 diabetes is lower in people who consume a diet rich in whole grains. Even though quinoa is a seed and not a grain, it can act like a whole grain.

Lowers Cholesterol

Fiber has a beneficial effect on cholesterol, and so do plant compounds called phytosterols. Quinoa contains several different phytosterols.

Gluten-Free and Low-FODMAP

Pure quinoa is a gluten-free option for people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. However, foods made with quinoa that contain other ingredients could also contain gluten or be cross-contaminated, so read labels carefully.

Quinoa is also suitable for a low-FODMAP diet. It is naturally low in fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols, carbohydrates that can cause bloating and sensitivity in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's disease.

Allergies

There are some limited reports of allergic reactions to quinoa. Most sources cite saponin as the culprit. Saponins are compounds found in many plants, including amaranth seeds, soybeans, chickpeas, and other legumes. These substances are thought to act as a deterrent to birds and insects in nature.

One small study, published in 2018, also found an association between sensitivity to quinoa and to apples. And since quinoa is botanically related to spinach, beets, and Swiss chard, it's possible that someone with an allergy to one of these could also experience a reaction to quinoa. If you suspect an allergy or experience symptoms after consuming quinoa, consult your healthcare provider.

Adverse Effects

If you are not accustomed to consuming a lot of fiber, you may experience digestive issues when eating quinoa. Add fiber-rich foods to your diet gradually to help prevent these symptoms.

Varieties

The most common types of quinoa found in the United States include white, red, and black quinoa. In addition to the uniqueness of color, the different varieties yield distinctive flavor and textures but they have similar nutritional profiles. White quinoa is the most common, with a smoother texture. Red quinoa is best used in cold salads. Black quinoa is a bit earthier and sweeter than the mild taste of white quinoa.

You can find quinoa in a grocery or health food store. Look for it near grains like rice and couscous. It's also ground into a flour that can be used for cooking and baking, or in products like pizza crusts and spaghetti noodles. You can also find granola, cereal, polenta, and other products made with quinoa.

Storage and Food Safety

Dry quinoa has a long shelf life and can be stored in your pantry in its original package or an airtight container. Because it is a seed, it typically has a "best by" date but can be used safely past that date. Once it is cooked, quinoa will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 6 to 7 days. You'll know that it is starting to go bad once it becomes hard and develops mold. You can store dry or cooked quinoa for longer in the freezer in an airtight freezer container.

How to Prepare

The cooking method for quinoa is similar to that of rice. Many brands recommend soaking and/or rinsing quinoa prior to use in order to remove naturally occurring saponins, which can add a soapy taste. Place raw dried quinoa seed into a fine strainer to rinse.

After rinsing your dried quinoa, cook it according to the package directions—generally by placing it in a saucepan with two cups of water (or low sodium vegetable or chicken broth) for every one cup of quinoa. Bring it to a boil and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the seed has absorbed all of the water, about 20 minutes or longer. The finished product should be fluffy and light.

Quinoa is a great substitute for processed, refined carbohydrates such as white rice and pasta. Use quinoa for delicious side dishes and save leftovers for hot breakfast meals. Or top proteins with it as a replacement for breadcrumbs.

Recipes

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Article Sources
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