Quinoa is the seed of a plant known scientifically as Chenopodium quinoa.

It is higher in nutrients than most grains and often marketed as a "superfood" (1, 2).

Although quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is prepared and consumed like a cereal grain, it’s categorized as a pseudocereal, as it doesn’t grow on grass like wheat, oats, and rice.

Quinoa has a crunchy texture and nutty flavor. It’s also gluten-free and can thus be enjoyed by people who are sensitive to gluten or wheat.

Quinoa seeds are flat, oval, and usually pale yellow, though the color can range from pink to black. Its taste can vary from bitter to sweet (2).

It’s usually boiled and added to salads, used to thicken soups, or eaten as a side dish or breakfast porridge.

The seeds can also be sprouted, ground, and used as flour or popped like popcorn. Quinoa is an excellent food for babies (2, 3).

The United Nations declared 2013 “The International Year of Quinoa” due to the seeds’ potential to contribute to food security worldwide (4).

Though quinoa technically isn't a grain, it’s still considered a whole-grain food.

This article tells you everything you need to know about quinoa.

Cooked quinoa consists of 71.6% water, 21.3% carbohydrates, 4.4% protein, and 1.92% fat.

One cup (185 grams) of cooked quinoa contains 222 calories.

The nutrition facts for 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked quinoa are (5):

  • Calories: 120
  • Water: 72%
  • Protein: 4.4 grams
  • Carbs: 21.3 grams
  • Sugar: 0.9 grams
  • Fiber: 2.8 grams
  • Fat: 1.9 grams

Carbs

Carbs make up 21% of cooked quinoa, which is comparable to barley and rice.

About 83% of the carbs are starches. The rest consists mostly of fiber, as well as a small amount of sugars (4%), such as maltose, galactose, and ribose (5, 6).

Quinoa has a relatively low glycemic index (GI) score of 53, which means that it should not cause a rapid spike in blood sugar (7).

The GI is a measure of how fast blood sugar levels rise after a meal. High-glycemic foods are linked to obesity and various diseases (8, 9).

Fiber

Cooked quinoa is a relatively good source of fiber, beating both brown rice and yellow corn (10).

Fibers make up 10% of the dry weight of cooked quinoa, 80–90% of which are insoluble fibers like cellulose (10).

Insoluble fibers have been associated with reduced diabetes risk (11, 12 , 13).

Plus, some of the insoluble fiber may be fermented in your gut like soluble fibers, feeding your friendly bacteria and promoting better overall health (14, 15).

Quinoa also provides some resistant starch, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, promoting the formation of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), improving gut health, and cutting your risk of disease (16, 17).

Protein

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of all tissues in your body.

Some amino acids are considered essential, as your body is unable to produce them, making it necessary to acquire them from your diet.

By dry weight, quinoa provides 16% protein, which is higher than most cereal grains, such as barley, rice, and corn (3, 5, 18).

Quinoa is considered a complete protein source, which means that it provides all nine essential amino acids (6, 18, 19).

It’s exceptionally high in the amino acid lysine, which is usually lacking in plants. It’s also rich in methionine and histidine, making it an excellent plant-based protein source (1, 2, 3).

The protein quality of quinoa is comparable to casein, the high-quality protein in dairy products (3, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23).

Quinoa is gluten-free and therefore suitable for people who are sensitive or allergic to gluten.

Fat

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of cooked quinoa provides about 2 grams of fat.

Similar to other grains, quinoa fat is mainly composed of palmitic acid, oleic acid, and linoleic acid (21, 24, 25).

SUMMARY The carbs in quinoa consist mainly of starch, insoluble fibers, and small amounts of sugar and resistant starch. This grain is considered a complete protein and provides 2 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces (100 grams).

Quinoa is a good source of antioxidants and minerals, providing more magnesium, iron, fiber, and zinc than many common grains (3, 26, 27).

Here are the main vitamins and minerals in quinoa:

  • Manganese. Found in high amounts in whole grains, this trace mineral is essential for metabolism, growth, and development (28).
  • Phosphorus. Often found in protein-rich foods, this mineral is essential for bone health and maintenance of various body tissues (29).
  • Copper. A mineral that is often lacking in the Western diet, copper is important for heart health (30).
  • Folate. One of the B vitamins, folate is essential for cell function and tissue growth and considered particularly important for pregnant women (31, 32).
  • Iron. This essential mineral performs many important functions in your body, such as transporting oxygen in red blood cells.
  • Magnesium. Important for many processes in your body, magnesium is often lacking in the Western diet (33).
  • Zinc. This mineral is important for overall health and participates in many chemical reactions in your body (34).
SUMMARY Quinoa is a good source of several minerals, including manganese, phosphorus, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, and zinc.

Quinoa contains many plant compounds that contribute to its flavor and health effects. They include:

  • Saponin. These plant glycosides protect quinoa seeds against insects and other threats. They’re bitter and usually eliminated by soaking, washing, or roasting before cooking (2, 35).
  • Quercetin. This powerful polyphenol antioxidant may help protect against various illnesses, such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer (36, 37, 38).
  • Kaempferol. This polyphenol antioxidant may reduce your risk of chronic diseases, including cancer (39, 40).
  • Squalene. This precursor of steroids also acts as an antioxidant in your body (41).
  • Phytic acid. This antinutrient reduces the absorption of minerals, such as iron and zinc. Phytic acid can be reduced by soaking or sprouting quinoa prior to cooking (42).
  • Oxalates. They may bind with calcium, reduce its uptake, and increase the risk of kidney stone formation in sensitive individuals (43).

Bitter quinoa varieties are richer in antioxidants than sweeter types, but both are good sources of antioxidants and minerals.

One study concluded that quinoa had the highest antioxidant content of 10 common cereals, pseudocereals, and legumes (44).

Quinoa and related crops have even been identified as better sources of flavonoid antioxidants than cranberries, which are considered very rich in flavonoids (45).

Keep in mind that the antioxidant levels may decrease with cooking (46, 47).

SUMMARY Quinoa is high in many plant compounds, especially antioxidants. Some of the undesirable plant compounds can be eliminated by soaking, washing, or roasting prior to cooking.

Nutritious and rich in many minerals and plant compounds, quinoa can be a healthy addition to your diet.

Some data shows that quinoa may increase your overall nutritional intake and help reduce blood sugar and triglycerides.

Lower blood sugar levels

People with type 2 diabetes are unable to use insulin effectively, causing high blood sugar levels and various complications.

Refined carbs are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, while whole grains like quinoa are associated with a reduced risk (13, 48, 49, 50, 51).

A study in rats on a high-fructose diet showed that eating quinoa significantly lowered blood cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar, which are all linked to type 2 diabetes (52).

One human study compared the effects of quinoa with traditional gluten-free wheat products.

Quinoa lowered both blood triglycerides and free fatty acids. It also affected blood sugar levels to a lesser degree than gluten-free pasta, gluten-free bread, and traditional bread (53).

May aid weight loss

Quinoa has many properties that make it a weight-loss-friendly food.

It’s higher in protein than similar foods, such as rice, corn, and whole wheat (5).

Protein is considered a key factor for weight loss, as it boosts metabolism and feelings of fullness. In doing so, it may help prevent obesity and related diseases (54, 55).

Fibers are also important for weight loss, promoting decreased calorie intake by increasing feelings of fullness and improving gut health (56, 57).

Quinoa is higher in fiber than many whole-grain foods.

The GI value of quinoa is relatively low, and low-glycemic foods have been shown to prevent overeating and decrease hunger (9, 58, 59).

Quinoa is gluten-free

As a gluten-free pseudocereal, quinoa is suitable for people who are intolerant or allergic to gluten, such as those with celiac disease (3).

Research indicates that using quinoa in a gluten-free diet, instead of other common gluten-free ingredients, dramatically increases the nutrient and antioxidant value of your diet (60, 61, 62).

Quinoa-based products are well tolerated and may therefore be a suitable alternative to wheat, both in its original form and in products like bread or pasta (63).

SUMMARY Quinoa may reduce blood cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglycerides. It’s weight loss friendly, gluten-free, and has been shown to increase the nutrient and antioxidant value of gluten-free diets.

Quinoa is usually well tolerated with no reported side effects.

Phytates

Similar to most other cereals and grains, quinoa contains phytates.

These may reduce your absorption of minerals like iron and zinc (3).

Oxalates

Quinoa is a member of the Chenopodiaceae family and thus high in oxalates. Other species in the same family are spinach and beetroot (43).

These foods may contribute to kidney stone formation in sensitive individuals (64).

These effects can be reduced by rinsing and soaking quinoa before cooking.

SUMMARY Quinoa is generally well tolerated but contains phytates and oxalates. These may reduce your absorption of minerals and contribute to kidney stone formation in some individuals.

Quinoa packs more nutrients than most other grains and is relatively high in quality protein.

It’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds, as well as antioxidants.

Quinoa is gluten-free, may help lower blood sugar levels, and aid weight loss.

If you want to increase the nutrient content of your diet, replacing other grains like rice or wheat with quinoa may be a good start.