Is Quinoa a Superfood and Does It Fit in a Paleo Lifestyle

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Quinoa, which is pronounced ‘keen-wah’ is a super tasty and wheat-free alternative to many starchy grains. Both types of quinoa, red and creamy white, are marginally bitter in taste and when cooked open up to release small white curls as they begin to soften through being cooked. The quinoa seeds are grown within Southern America (such places include Peru, Chile and Bolivia) and have quickly become a staple diet ingredient for those of Incas descent. Although, within recent years the quinoa has become increasingly popular in both the US and the UK as an alternative to either bulgur wheat, couscous or rice.

Strangely, quinoa (being the common name for Chenopodium quinoa) is from the same family as beets, spinach and chards and is grown as a grain crop. Many individuals have claimed that quinoa is a superfood and therefore provides various health benefits for those who consume it, more so than any other ‘normal’ type of food. Superfoods are those that can rescue our bodies from illnesses, health-related problems and simply promote a happier mind and body whilst also being low in fats and calories. A pretty hefty list of requirements right? However, quinoa might be one of these foods! Let’s find out why…

The health benefits and superfood qualities of quinoa.

Low in calories.

In general, cooked quinoa is perfect for those on a diet as ½ cup contains only 111 calories,  no sodium and no cholesterol! Therefore, if you’re looking for a vegetarian protein-rich food (4 grams in a ½ cup serving), quinoa is just the ticket you’re looking for.

High in protein.

Quinoa, as previously mentioned, contains roughly 4 grams of protein per a ½ cup serving and therefore provides a good portion of an individual’s daily recommended intake. Protein is important for all manner of things within the body, including making enzymes, hormones, body chemicals and healthy bones, blood, cartilage, hair and nails too.

A natural appetite suppressor.

Due to being reasonably high in fibre, quinoa can actually cause your body to feel fuller for longer and therefore suppressing the appetite of the consumer. This is a fantastic health benefit for individuals who are prone to either overeating or unnecessary snacking, meaning they will likely not feel as hungry as usual and be able to avoid these unhealthy food consumption patterns.

Who knows, by adopting some healthier eating habits you may even begin to lose weight!

Anti-aging benefits.

paleo Anti-aging benefits

As a protein rich plant product, quinoa is the perfect food when it comes to keeping the body healthy and looking younger. The small amounts of vitamin E found within quinoa help to reduce and reverse the effects the sun has on our skin, therefore making us appear younger and more blemish free.

Nutrients contents.

The nutrient contents of quinoa are quite impressive. We have found, courtesy of Authority Nutrition, per a 1 cup serving they are as follows:

Protein: 8 grams

Potassium: 9% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA)

Manganese: 58% of the RDA

Fibre: 5 grams

Magnesium: 30% of the RDA

Phosphorus: 28% of the RDA

Folate: 19% of the RDA

Zinc: 13% of the RDA

Copper: 18% of the RDA

Iron: 15% of the RDA

Small amounts of calcium, niacin (vitamin B3) and vitamin E can also be found within a cup of quinoa.

In addition to this, over 10% of the RDA for the vitamins B2, B6 and B1 can also be included in the nutrient content of the food.

High in dietary fibre.

Being high in dietary fibre is a fantastic thing when it comes to foods! The body uses this for all sorts of processes and benefits, the most notable being a healthier digestive system and easier to pass stools. Consuming fibre on a regular basis should help problems such as constipation, diarrhea and allow for a healthier experience when sat on the toilet!

Quinoa contains 5 grams of fibre per cup and therefore is a brilliant source of the stuff! With numerous studies showing that soluble fibre can help to lower cholesterol, increase feelings of fullness, aid in weight loss and even reduce blood sugar levels what have you got to lose by trying this fibre-full seed?!

Gluten-free.

A survey of US individuals found that around ⅓ of people are trying to minimise or avoid entirely their consumption of gluten, either due to medical illnesses or for a simply healthier lifestyle. Gluten-free diets can certainly be beneficial as well as healthy, and therefore naturally gluten-free foods such as quinoa can be extremely important dietary replacements.

Instead of consuming/ using your typical gluten-free ingredients such as refined potato, tapioca or corn flour you can drastically increase both your nutritious value and antioxidant content of a diet, just by replacing these with natural gluten-free products such as quinoa.

Useful for blood sugar control.

For those who do not know, the glycemic index is a measure of how quickly any one food can raise the body’s blood sugar levels. Eating foods that are high on the index can cause feelings of hunger and contribute towards an individual becoming obese, whereas foods low on the index allow the body to stay fuller for longer and reduce the likelihood of blood sugar spikes.

Quinoa rates relatively low on the scale at a 53, meaning this is a healthier alternative to foods that are higher up on the index. Although, it is wise to consider the carbohydrate content of the food being quite high and therefore isn’t suitable for a low-carb diet.

High in antioxidants.

Being high in antioxidants can lead to a numerous amount of health benefits including the fighting of free radicals, the improvement of your metabolic health, anti-aging effects and the ability to fight many diseases.

One study looked at 10 different foods and their antioxidant contents, it was found that quinoa had the highest antioxidant content out of all the foods looked at. The foods looked at were 5 different cereals, 2 different legumes and 3 different pseudocereals.

Note: Pseudocereals are non-grasses, of which are used in very much the same way as cereals by using their seeds to grind into flour and otherwise be used to create cereals. Examples of such are quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat.

Is quinoa Paleo suitable?

Possible Cures for Harmful Brain Disorders

In a short and simple answer, no, quinoa is not suitable to eat while following a paleo-only diet. As quinoa is technically a seed rather than a grain, many individuals are fooled into thinking that this food is paleo as many other seeds are allowed within the diet. With that being said, however, quinoa does contain some of the same potentially harmful compounds as that are found within grains.

Many do not process quinoa correctly, and for this reason it may contains various anti-nutrients which have shown to be harmful to the lining of our digestive systems and immune system too. Thus making quinoa non-paleo (if you follow the diet strictly) and probably best to be avoided.

However, if you are rebellious and would like to take the risk we advise thoroughly washing the seeds beforehand in order to remove the outer coating which is mostly responsible for the majority of the wheat-like properties the food holds.

For those looking to transition from an average/ traditional American diet to a paleo based lifestyle, we recommend using quinoa as a ‘stop-gap’  in order to slowly introduce yourself to these types of healthier foods. Although once fully acquainted with the paleo way of life, quinoa should become no longer necessary to consume.

The basic paleo principles are as follows:

  • Eat real foods which have been prepared to a high standard, making your own meals whenever and wherever possible.
  • No consuming wheats, rices, corns or any other grains (this includes quinoa, seeing as they share many grain-like properties).
  • Do not eat sweets/ candies and try to avoid sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup and any artificial sweeteners too.
  • Avoid the consumption of modern oils such as canola oil or corn oil, as these are derived from grains/ seeds. This therefore extends to abstaining from consuming fried foods, either when cooking at home or while out at a restaurant.
  • Avoid soy products unless they are fermented, however this may not be acceptable as some individuals may struggle to tolerate soy-based products also. Use your discretion and knowledge of your own body in order to come to a decision here.
  • No beans or legumes.
  • Consume plenty of high-quality meats which are, ideally, sourced from pastured animals.
  • Eggs are also another great food to consume regularly, preferably from pastured hens also. Also, remember to keep in mind that nutrient dense yolks are of much more nutritional value than nutrient-poor egg whites.
  • Consume vegetables regularly.
  • Beware of sources of toxins and chemicals such as the BPA lining in most canned goods.
  • NO processed foods.

These are some simple and basic rules surrounding the paleo diet, however it is important to realise that not everyone is as strict or as lenient as these rules. Your diet can depend entirely upon yourself and what YOU deem is appropriate for you to consume, keeping your body and health status in mind. Don’t feel pressured by strict rules or ideas of what you should and should not eat, unless you suffer from a condition which determines so. Many paleo followers tend to be so strict upon their diets due to underlying medical conditions (such as irritable bowel syndrome, or ibs, for example) -be aware of this.

Side effects or reactions from consuming too much quinoa.

Gluten-free, BUT!

Quinoa is entirely gluten-free, however research has shown that the seed contains substances such as prolamins which (in some celiac suffering individuals) can trigger immune responses. Although more studies are needed to confirm these initial findings, we here at Balance Me Beautiful recommend introducing the food into your diet slowly if you are celiac and monitoring the effects it has on your body -just to be safe!

Oxalate content.

If you are susceptible to kidney stones, watching your consumption of oxalates or oxalic acid may be a wise move. Although, nearly all of the oxalates you consume are taken care of within your urine, some can bind with calcium in order to form kidney stones -which are less than pleasant to deal with!

High-fibre side effects.

If you’re not used to regularly eating high amount of fibre, the amount within quinoa could easily cause some side effects. One cup of cooked quinoa contains around 5 grams of fibre, delivering ⅕ of a woman’s daily intake in just one serving of food, which if eaten in excess (for those who aren’t used to that kind of fibre intake) can cause gas, bloating and stomach cramps.

Saponins may cause irritation.

Quinoa is coated in a substance called ‘saponin’ which is highly toxic when consumed in higher amounts, some individuals have claimed this substance can even pierce holes through the digestive tract. Saponins are also responsible for causing diarrhea, constipation, vomiting and stomach cramps to name just a few side effects.

In order to avoid the consumption of this phytochemical, we recommend washing your quinoa thoroughly and processing correctly while cooking in order to eradicate them completely thus avoiding any irritation they could cause.

Final thoughts.

We here at Balance Me Beautiful love hearing from our readers, so feel free to comment below on how you like to enjoy your quinoa, or if you’d prefer to stay away from it altogether! If you have any questions regarding the website or would like to submit a future article idea, feel free to contact us via our Contact Page.

As ever, thanks for reading guys and don’t forget to come back soon!

By Chess Taylor.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.