Unless you’ve been living on a remote island without Internet access or a grocery store, you’ve probably heard of quinoa, the latest “supergrain.”

Whether you’re using it in place of rice or oatmeal, tossing a handful into a smoothie, or stirring it into your favorite stew, it turns out that quinoa lives up to the hype.

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa is often called a grain but is actually a tiny, edible seed from the Chenopodium quinoa, or goosefoot, plant. The Oldways Whole Grain Council considers quinoa a “pseudocereal,” a food eaten like a grain with similar nutrition. Quinoa is native to the Andes and related to beets, Swiss chard, and spinach.

Quinoa was an Incan diet staple which almost became obsolete after the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro destroyed Incan quinoa fields in the 1500s. Quinoa made a comeback in the 1970s but earned its household name over the last few years due to its versatility and impressive health benefits.

1. Vitamins

Quinoa provides B vitamins like riboflavin (vitamin B-2), thiamine (vitamin B-1), and folic acid (vitamin B-9).

B vitamins help metabolize the foods you eat into energy and help produce red blood cells. B vitamin deficiencies may lead to neurological issues, anemia, rashes, and digestive issues. 

2. Minerals

Quinoa is a good source of minerals. It contains:

  • calcium
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • phosphorous
  • zinc
  • potassium

It’s particularly high in magnesium, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is critical to over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, including:

  • muscle function
  • nerve function
  • protein synthesis
  • blood pressure control
  • blood glucose regulation

3. Fiber

Quinoa is a good source of dietary fiber, coming in at about 5 grams per 1 cup cooked. And one study on four quinoa varieties found much higher fiber levels per 1 cup cooked.

4. Helps Prevent Constipation

Much of quinoa’s fiber is insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber doesn’t have the same health benefits as soluble fiber but it helps increase stool bulk and helps move food more quickly through the digestive track. Insoluble fiber keeps the gut healthy and can help lower cholesterol.

This may help prevent and relieve constipation and irregular bowel movements.

5. Helps Manage Blood Sugar

Quinoa is a good source of carbohydrates yet has a low glycemic index (53), and is digested slowly. This is important because foods high on the glycemic scale may spike blood sugar. A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that pseudocereals like quinoa might help manage type 2 diabetes and its associated high blood pressure.

6. Protein and Essential Amino Acids

Proteins are responsible for growth, health, maintenance and repair of the body, and are found in every living cell.

Quinoa is one of few plant foods that is a complete protein. This means it includes all essential amino acids in good proportion. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein — more than one large egg!

7. Antioxidants

Quinoa is rich in flavonoid antioxidants.

A study published in the Journal of Food Science found that quinoa “may represent an excellent source of natural antioxidant compounds which may be more accessible than those found in durum wheat and emmer.”

Antioxidants help fight free radicals in the body and may help prevent chronic diseases.

8. Gluten-Free

Quinoa is gluten-free, so it’s a great choice for people with celiac disease or anyone avoiding gluten.

One study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology examined 19 people with celiac disease who ate 50 grams of quinoa daily for six weeks as part of a gluten-free diet. All participants tolerated quinoa well with no adverse gastroenterological effects.

9. Improves Fullness and Satiety

Quinoa’s nutritional profile makes it ideal for any healthy eating program.

It’s higher in fat than other grains, and this along with its low glycemic index and high protein and fiber content can help keep you feeling full for a longer period of time.

Plus, quinoa’s nutty flavor and versatility make it enjoyable to eat and easy to incorporate into your recipes.

10. Cholesterol Effects

Quinoa may help lower cholesterol. A study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition determined that LDL cholesterol significantly decreased in rats fed quinoa after consuming fructose.

A separate study followed overweight postmenopausal women who ate 25 grams of quinoa flakes or corn flakes for four weeks. Women who ate the quinoa flakes experienced a reduction of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, and an increase in GSH (glutathione), a powerful antioxidant.

The Takeaway

More research is needed to definitively prove some of quinoa’s health benefits, but evidence to date is promising. Quinoa’s notable nutritional profile has earned the pseudocereal its superfood status.