What's the Deal with Quinoa? Part 1

Quinoa was the food of 2013. I'm not kidding you on this: the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) officially declared that the year 2013 be recognized as "The International Year of the Quinoa." You couldn't go anywhere without it popping up in recipes and in the media. I've heard it called a superfood, the perfect grain, even something to help you sleep better. But is it really all that?

To start off, quinoa is gluten-free, and is considered both a whole grain and a "complete protein". How's that for buzz words?! The complete protein means that it has all 9 of the essential amino acids, a rarity for plant-based protein sources. Quinoa gets about 15% of its calories from protein, which is comparable to wheat. However, it has almost twice as much protein as rice or corn (8%). 


One serving of quinoa is 1/4 cup (dry, uncooked), and has about 160 calories, 3g of fat, 27g of carbohydrate and 6g of protein. You can see that it is a low-fat food, but the fats that are present are the healthy fats that we try to ADD to our diets. About 1/4 of the fat in quinoa is oleic acid (heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat), and about 5% of that fat is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid). 

Speaking of anti-inflammatory, this is where I think the "superfood" label kicks in. But I will warn you, there are more science words coming. Quinoa has two phytonutrients that are antioxidants. They are called quercetin and kaempferol, and are found in high concentrations in quinoa.

Let's back up. Phytonutrients is a term for nutrients naturally found in plants that help protect the plant. It's not a vitamin or mineral, which humans need to live. It's more of an "x factor", a "je ne sais quoi" that can prevent disease and keep us healthy.

Other anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found in quinoa include: polysaccharides like arabinans and rhamnogalacturonans; hydroxycinnamic and hydroxybenzoic acids; and saponins including molecules derived from oleanic acid, hederagenin and serjanic acid.

There will be a test later.

Other nutrients to get excited about? Fiber and iron. In our one 1/4-cup serving of quinoa, we get 3g of dietary fiber. Of that fiber, about 1/3 is soluble - lowers cholesterol and blood sugar - and 2/3 is insoluble - keeps you regular. That same amount also has 10% of your daily iron needs. That's for pre-menopausal women. If you're a man, or post-menopause, it's about 22% of your needs. 

Tune back in tomorrow for part 2.

And finally, let's set the record straight. It's pronounced "KEEN-wah", not like this:


Katie Goldberg

Katie Goldberg, MCN, RDN, LDN, has been a registered dietitian since 2013, but has always had a passion for good food and a healthy lifestyle. Katie earned her Master’s of Clinical Nutrition from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has worked in private practice, higher education, in a clinical setting, and as an in-house dietitian for a food company. Whether it's at through large groups or one-on-one, Katie enjoys connecting people with easy and practical solutions for better health.