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Quinoa: Pump up any meal with this power seed!

A lunchbox full of a quinoa dish topped with a half avocado, with some long green beans on the side, as well as green grapes and a Protein Bar in a package.
Content Editor & Ecotrophologist
While completing her studies in ecotrophology, Alisa spent all her time in lecture halls and labs learning about everything the body needs at a physiological, psychological and social level to stay healthy and high-performance.

When it comes to healthy cooking, quinoa is on everyone’s mind. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s pronounced keen wah, and it’s purported to be an ingredient that can improve and maintain your health. But what does the research say about how much it can actually help? And how do you prepare it to taste good? Here, we explain what you need to know about quinoa and give you a few recipes to start cooking with it ASAP. 

What is quinoa?

These days it’s no longer difficult to find quinoa at the supermarket. You’ll see it in the same aisle where you get oats, rice, and other grains, but the difference is that quinoa isn’t a grain at all — it’s a seed, and it’s totally gluten-free unlike its wheat-based alternatives. 

Although there are about 1800 varieties of quinoa around the world, only three types are commonly available: white, red, and black seeds, though sometimes you can find a mix of all three. Each variation has subtle flavor differences. White quinoa tastes mild like bulgur, whereas red is nutty, earthy, and overpowering for some. Quinoa is also available in puffed or flaked form, which is ideal for adding to sweet breakfast granolas and savory dinners alike. 

If you’re in need of a high-protein breakfast that makes your life easier, have you considered our protein muesli? We combine soy flakes, cashews, and almonds with puffed quinoa for a quick and satisfying morning meal! 

Protein Muesli
©foodspring
discover our mueslis

Botanically speaking, quinoa belongs to the lamb’s quarters family which also includes beetroot and spinach. Though that may be surprising at a glance, you’ll quickly understand why if you take a look closer at where the seed originates. Quinoa was discovered in the Andean region in South America by the Maya people about 6000 years ago, and they consumed the leaves of the plant along with the seeds. That’s why it’s also known as the “rice of the Incas.” 

The health benefits of quinoa

According to quinoa devotees, quinoa has nothing but nutrients. But does the research stand up to the anecdotal evidence? Are quinoa seeds beneficial for health? Below we analyze exactly what’s in this special seed. 

Calories and nutrients of quinoa

With about 360 calories per 100g serving, quinoa contains about the same number of calories as white rice. Here is an overview of the macronutrients it contains:

 

Macronutrients Per 100g of quinoa
Calories 360
Protein 16g
Carbohydrates 60g
Fat 5g
Fiber 7g

Beyond the numbers, here’s a bit more information to know about the nutrients in quinoa.

  • Protein: Compared to other plants, quinoa scores particularly well in the protein category. With 16g of protein per 100g serving, many vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores rely on it to get their fill. It’s also more bioavailable to us than other plant proteins because it contains all of the nine essential amino acids we need to properly absorb it.
  • Carbohydrates: With quinoa being made up of 60% carbohydrates, it’s definitely not a low-carb food. But that shouldn’t stop you from cooking with it, because it contains complex carbs, which are packed with nutrients and will give you plenty of energy.
  • Fat: Quinoa is low in fat and is a worthwhile addition to any low-fat diet. The fat it does contain is 70 percent unsaturated, meaning it’s an excellent source of healthy fatty acids as well. 
  • Fiber: With 7g of fiber per 100g serving, quinoa will provide you with a lasting feeling of satiety and maintain the health of your metabolism
A photo of a jar and a spoon filled with popped quinoa
©Yagi Studio

Vitamins and minerals

The macronutrients in quinoa alone demonstrate why people consider it such a boon for health. And the micronutrients it contains only confirm this. Quinoa gets top marks for its iron, potassium, and magnesium levels, as well as the fact that it’s full of vitamins B1 and B6

If you’d like to know more about vitamins in general, check out our article on the subject. It contains all the info you’ve always wanted to know.

In addition to vitamins and minerals, quinoa also contains secondary plant substances that, according to research, can have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects.

Quinoa is gluten-free.

As we mentioned earlier, gluten isn’t present in quinoa the way it is with other grains. The gluten protein can have negative side effects on certain people, especially those suffering from celiac disease, which can vary in severity from case to case. Many others also complain of gluten sensitivity, or problems digesting after having eaten gluten. Luckily anyone can consume quinoa with peace of mind, whether they’re gluten intolerant or not because it’s totally gluten-free. 

  • Calories and macronutrients ✓
  • Vitamins and Nutrients ✓
  • Gluten-free ✓

With all these health benefits, it’s clear that quinoa is very good for your health. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or feel good in general, quinoa can definitely help you do it. 

Are you interested in reaching your weight loss and fitness goals but cutting or increasing your caloric intake? Use our free Body Check to find out exactly what you need to be successful.

Quinoa vs other foods

Quinoa certainly stands above certain grains in terms of how many nutrients it contains. With plenty of complex carbohydrates and essential amino acids, it can’t be beat. But you can’t eat quinoa alone. When paired with vegetables, protein, and healthy fat sources, it makes part of a well rounded meal! At the end of the day, variety is the key to maintaining any balanced diet

Oatmeal, for example, is another great way to mix it up and keep it healthy. Although not always gluten-free, depending on the manufacturer, oats are full of a lot of the same nutrients you find in quinoa. 

A white bowl full of uncooked grains of red quinoa

©Michelle Arnold / EyeEm

The best way to cook quinoa

If you’re eager to cook with quinoa after learning about how great it is, we’ve got some delicious ideas to get you started! Before you get going, keep in mind that while white and black quinoa are very similar in terms of preparation and taste, red quinoa generally requires a slightly longer cooking time. Here are the most important things to remember:

  1. Rinsing quinoa before cooking it is essential because quinoa often contains trace amounts of saponin, a bitter, soapy substance that it creates to protect itself from insects. To remove any remaining saponin, place the seeds in a fine-mesh sieve and run them under cold running water.
  2. Each variety has its own cooking requirements, so be sure to read the instructions on the package before you get started. In general, here’s what you should do: Cook 80g of quinoa in 240ml of water until it has absorbed most of the liquid. As it fully cooks, each grain will lose its germ, which is the white, thready bit wrapped around the side. If you’re not sure if it’s ready, taste it! If it’s still a little too al dente for your taste, leave it for another couple minutes.
  3. After cooking, drain it in a colander. Though quinoa absorbs a lot of the water, it doesn’t absorb all of it, and to prevent it from becoming overcooked and mushy, draining it afterwards is key. 
  4. If you’re planning on using it as a side dish, you can eat it as soon as it comes off the stove. If you want to use it in a salad, though, it’s essential to let it cool down for a bit first. After about 15 minutes off the heat, it’ll be ready to mix with veggies and a vinaigrette. 

What to cook with quinoa

The nice thing about quinoa is that it’s super easy to turn into a meal, whether you have a bunch of other ingredients or not. Here are some easy, no-recipe ideas to get you started.

Quinoa Porridge

Making quinoa porridge is hardly different from what you’re used to making with oats, though the cooking time might be a little bit longer. Follow the ratio of 80g quinoa to 240ml liquid, but sub in whatever you usually rely on for porridge, whether that’s milk or a dairy-free alternative. When it’s finished cooking, add all your usual go-tos (nuts, dried fruit, sugar) and dig in. 

Overnight Quinoa

If you love the idea of overnight oats with quinoa instead but aren’t sure if it will work, I’m here to tell you that it will. Again, combine 80g quinoa with 240ml of whichever liquid you normally use (milk or soy milk for example), plus any other ingredients you want to use for flavor, seal it up, pop it in the fridge before you go to bed, and it will be ready when you wake up in the morning. 

Quinoa Salad

The quickest and cheapest quinoa salad is just moments away. While you cook quinoa, take a look through your veggie drawer. Whatever you have will make a great addition, whether it’s tomatoes and cucumbers or broccoli and lettuce. Just wait to mix it all up until your quinoa is fully cooled. 

Quinoa Pilaf

Plain quinoa is a fine side for dinner, but why wouldn’t you amp up the flavor when it’s so easy? Saute some aromatic veggies in a pot with olive oil until they’re translucent. Then, add quinoa and let cook for a minute or two until toasted. Then, swap water for chicken, beef, or veggie broth and let it all cook until the quinoa is puffed and tender. 

Article sources
We at foodspring use only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Antonio Vega-Galvez (2010): Nutrition Facts and Functional Potential of Quinoa (Chenopodium Quinoa Willd.), an Ancient Andean Grain: A Review

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20814881/

  • DGE: Pseudogetreide: Glutenfreie Alternativen für die Körnerküche
    https://www.bzfe.de/inhalt/pseudogetreide-28441.html

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