Is Quinoa Good for You? Everything You Need to Know About the Superfood

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By Katie Robinson

Medically Reviewed by Kelly Kennedy, R

Quinoa is a gluten-free seed that can make a great substitute for rice and other grains. 

It seems these days, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is still all anyone talks about. Everywhere we turn there are quinoa salads, quinoa fried rice, and now even quinoa protein shakes. Forged in South America thousands of years ago and called “the mother grain" by the Inca, quinoa today is still considered a wonderful “superfood” — especially once the United Nations declared 2013 the “International Year of Quinoa.” (Yes, that happened).

But when and why did quinoa become so popular? What is it that makes this low-carb rice substitute so invaluable in the world of nutrition despite all the years that have passed?

What Is Quinoa Exactly?

According to the Whole Grains Council, quinoa is a gluten-free, whole-grain carbohydrate, as well as a whole protein (meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids). Most of this information is well known. But when it comes to whether quinoa is a whole grain or not, many people get confused. So, let’s clear this up.

Technically, the quinoa we all know and love is actually a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant. So no, it is not a grain. Whole grains (or cereal grains), like oats and barley, are defined as seeds extracted from grasses — not plants.

But the way we eat quinoa does resemble a whole grain. Because of this, the nutrition world considers it a whole grain. Or if you want to get real technical with it, quinoa is actually quantified as a “pseudo-cereal” — a term used to describe foods that are prepared and eaten as a whole grain, but are botanical outliers from grasses.

But the preferred colloquial term (though it may be slightly untrue) is whole grain.

What Are the Nutritional Facts for Quinoa?

Overall, quinoa has an incredible nutrition base. Compared with refined grains, whole grains like quinoa are considered better sources of fiber, protein, B vitamins, and iron, according to the Mayo Clinic. But aside from these key nutrients, one of the greatest nutrient profiles quinoa can offer is its level of protein.

Because protein makes up 15 percent of the grain, as reported by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council, quinoa is a high-protein, low-fat grain option. It’s also naturally gluten free, high in fiber, and provides many key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B and magnesium. Because it is so nutrient-rich, quinoa is a wonderful choice for people on a gluten-free diet or any generally healthy diet.

According to the nutrition facts stated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA

 1 cup of cooked quinoa amounts to:

  • 222 calories
  • 39 grams (g) of carbs
  • 8g of protein
  • 6g of fat
  • 5g of fiber
  • 1g of sugar

*Try Quinoa today in recipes as a replacement for white rice to get real a nutrition upgrade.

Jim Bohs