Quinoa, pronounced “keen-wah,” has become known as a superfood due to its vitamin, protein, and antioxidant content (1). Commonly used as a grain, its tiny round shape and nutty flavor make this seed a unique addition to many dishes.
Since quinoa is often used in place of other grains, many people wonder if quinoa is gluten-free. Continue reading to learn whether quinoa is appropriate to eat on a gluten-free diet and to learn more about its nutritional value.
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a seed that originated in the Andean region of South America. It was part of the ancient Incas diet and has been eaten for centuries.
Though quinoa is technically a seed, it’s known as a “pseudo-grain” or “pseudo-cereal” since it is commonly eaten as a grain would be (1). There are many varieties of quinoa, with the most common being white, red, and black.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and is generally considered safe to eat on a gluten-free diet. However, quinoa is sometimes harvested with grains that do contain gluten, such as wheat, leading to cross-contamination (2).
When purchasing quinoa, selecting a brand with a gluten-free certification on the label is essential in avoiding cross-contamination of gluten from other grains. Caution should also be taken when selecting quinoa-based dishes at restaurants, since they may not be prepared in a gluten-free kitchen.
Gluten is a protein made up of two prolamins– gliadin and glutenin. It’s most commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye.
There are a few groups of people who need to avoid gluten in their diet. If a person has celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, their immune systems see gluten as a threat and attack their digestive systems as a result.
Consuming gluten if you have one of these conditions can lead to numerous problems, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, inflammation, and even malnutrition. People without the above conditions can generally eat gluten safely (3).
Quinoa and celiac disease
There has been some recent evidence that quinoa contains different prolamins, which may behave similarly to the ones found in gluten. One study found that certain varietals of quinoa produced a similar immune response that gluten would in people with celiac disease (4).
However, this study was done in test tubes, not humans. These findings have not been replicated in human studies, so they can’t be used to guide any recommendations quite yet.
Though more research is needed, the current evidence overwhelmingly supports quinoa being gluten-free (5). One study specifically looked at the effects of people with celiac disease eating 50 g of quinoa (¼ cup uncooked) per day and found no negative immune responses or symptoms (6).
If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor or dietitian, and consider slowly incorporating quinoa into your diet to watch for any possible reactions.
Health Benefits of Quinoa
In addition to being safe to eat on a gluten-free diet, quinoa packs quite the nutritional punch. It’s a fantastic source of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants.
Quinoa is an excellent source of fiber, with 5 grams of fiber in 1 cup of cooked quinoa (7). This provides about 20% of the average person’s daily fiber needs.
Quinoa is considered to be a source of insoluble fiber, which can help with constipation. Fiber can also help reduce inflammation in the digestive system and improve blood sugars (8).
Plant protein source
Quinoa is also a good source of plant protein, with 8 grams of protein per cup (7). Further, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all of the essential amino acids (5).
This is a particularly great option if you follow a vegan diet since it can help you meet your protein needs in a balanced way.
Quinoa is considered to be a high-quality protein because it’s easy to digest. It has been shown to be just as easy to digest as casein, which is the main protein in milk known for its high digestibility rating (5).
Vitamin and mineral content
The vitamin and mineral content of quinoa is what often qualifies quinoa as a superfood. One cup of quinoa contains the following micronutrients (7):
- 2.8 mg of iron (35% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for men and 15% for women) (8)
- 118 mg of magnesium (30% of the RDA for men and 38% for women) (9)
- 318 mg of potassium (9% of the RDA for men and 12% for women) (10)
- 1.2 mg of vitamin E (10% of the RDA for both men and women) (11)
- 78 mcg of folate (20% of the RDA for both men and women) (12)
Quinoa is rich in powerful antioxidants, including γ- and β-tocopherol, polyphenols, and flavonoids (5). These antioxidants help the body fight inflammation and harmful free radicals, which can help reduce the risk of numerous chronic conditions (13).
In particular, antioxidants have been shown to protect against heart disease, cancer, and lung disease (13).
How to Eat Quinoa
If you’re ready to start reaping the health benefits of quinoa, you may be wondering how to incorporate it into your diet. Quinoa can be cooked and eaten just like most grains, including rice or even oatmeal.
Quinoa can uniquely be prepared in both sweet and savory contexts. It’s commonly used in grain bowls, salads, stuffed in vegetables, in place of rice, or as a hot cereal.
It can be cooked in a rice cooker to reduce cooking time, or purchased in a quick-cooking form.
Learning how to cook light, fluffy quinoa will expand your meal options and bring a fun twist to your common dishes.
How to Cook Quinoa
- 1 cup quinoa rinsed
- 1 3/4 cups water
- Combine the quinoa and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to sit for an additional 10 minutes, covered.
- Fluff with a fork and serve.