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Benefits of Quinoa for Low-Carb and GI-Friendly Diets

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on April 29, 2020

Quinoa is a seed that’s high in plant protein and fiber. It has all the nine essential amino acids that your body needs but that you get only from your diet. That makes quinoa one of the best non-animal food sources of complete protein.

Quinoa also is a nutritional powerhouse, packed with manganese, copper, and other vitamins and minerals.

Quinoa and Carbs

It’s not a low-carb food. A cup of cooked quinoa has more than 39 grams of carbohydrates. That’s 50% more than in the same amount of brown rice and almost as many carbs as in white rice.

If you have type 2 diabetes or other conditions, you may be watching how many carbs you eat. But not all carbs are equal. Quinoa is considered a whole grain, which is better for you than refined grains like white flour.

Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53, which is a measure of how quickly it will raise your blood sugar levels. That scores puts quinoa in the middle range of “good” vs. “bad” carbs.

Quinoa is relatively high in protein -- much more so than whole-grain peers like barley or buckwheat.

Protein keeps you full for longer, so you eat less. Keeping a healthy weight is a key part of controlling type 2 diabetes.

Quinoa and Gastrointestinal Issues

Quinoa isn’t a true cereal. So it’s free of gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye.

Gluten can damage your small intestine if you have a rare condition called celiac disease. One study found that people with celiac disease who ate about a quarter-cup of quinoa every day for 6 weeks tolerated it well.

But even if you don’t have celiac disease, avoiding gluten may help with a sensitive gut. That includes people with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Some researchers think quinoa may help by changing your gut bacteria.

You may try switching to quinoa bread or pasta instead of wheat to see if it eases your gastrointestinal symptoms.

Ways to Enjoy Quinoa

Quinoa can be a versatile pantry staple. It cooks quickly and is sold widely. Steamed quinoa can stand in for couscous or bulgur wheat in many recipes. You can steam, bake, and fry it. You also can:

Eat as a breakfast cereal. Add a small amount of fresh fruit or nuts. A sprinkle of cinnamon can boost flavor, too.

Substitute it for rice. Make a quinoa pilaf as a side dish.

Add to soups and salads. This can boost the protein and fiber content.

Eat as a snack. Quinoa can be cooked like popcorn.

Switch it for pasta. You can use it instead of pasta in pasta salad.

Talk to your doctor if you’re thinking about adding quinoa to your diet. They’ll let you know if it’s OK and help you figure out how much to eat.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Quinoa,” “Dr. David Ludwig clears up carbohydrate confusion.”

Journal of Medicinal Food: “Evaluation of indigenous grains from the Peruvian Andean region for antidiabetes and antihypertension potential using in vitro methods.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Quinoa, uncooked.”

Defeat Diabetes Foundation: “Quinoa.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Glycemic index for 60+ foods,” “A good guide to good carbs: The glycemic index.”

Celiac Disease Foundation: “Gluten Alternatives: Effects of Eating Quinoa in Celiac Patients.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Variable activation of immune response by quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) prolamins in celiac disease.”

The American Journal of Gastroenterology: “Gastrointestinal effects of eating quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) in celiac patients.”

Scientific Reports: “Quinoa whole grain diet compromises the changes of gut microbiota and colonic colitis induced by dextran Sulfate sodium in C57BL/6 mice.”

Mayo Clinic: “Inflammatory bowel disease,” “If it’s not celiac disease, what is it?”

Piedmont Healthcare: “What is a complete protein?”

Alternative Field Crops Manual: “Quinoa.”

The University of Sydney: “Glycemic Index.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Quinoa.”

National Institutes of Health: “Celiac disease.”

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