Quinoa is technically a seed, however, it is prepared and eaten similarly to grains.
Quinoa is gluten-free, has high amounts of protein, and is one of the few plant foods that have good amounts of all nine essential amino acids.
As well as that, this humble grain is a high-fiber food, containing magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, and much more.
This is why many people consider it to be a ‘superfood’.
Gluten intolerance seems to have increased in recent years, and many are opting for gluten-free diets in order to reduce digestive stress and other symptoms that appear to come from consuming gluten.
Quinoa is a great alternative and addition to many dishes.
Quinoa contains a lot more fiber compared to other grains.
In one study, it was found that there were around 17-27 grams of fiber per cup.
The crux is however that much of the fiber in quinoa is insoluble fiber, which is not quite as beneficial as soluble fiber.
Due to the high levels of fiber in quinoa, it can in fact cause digestion issues for some people.
This could be down to the fact that most of the fiber is insoluble.
If you don’t generally consume a lot of fiber, eating quinoa can cause symptoms like diarrhea or severe stomach ache.
Saponin is a chemical that naturally coats quinoa grains.
This saponin helps repel microbes whilst the seed is still growing.
This chemical can however cause acidity and bloating amongst other symptoms if the quinoa is washed properly prior to being eaten.
It can also give the quinoa a bitter and soapy taste, so if your dish starts to taste like washing up liquid, you know why.
Is it safe to eat quinoa everyday?
A study carried out by Harvard Public School of Health demonstrated that eating quinoa every day could in fact reduce the chances of early death risk from cancer, respiratory issues, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases by 17%.
This is very likely down to the fact this grain is packed full of nutrition.
It is high-protein and contains all of the essential amino acids.
Protein consists of amino acids, nine of them are essential, as the body cannot produce them and needs to receive them from an external source.
Foods that have all nine amino acids are complete proteins.
Most plant foods lack all nine, however, quinoa is an exception as it has all nine.
This is why it is a great source of plant protein.
It is worth noting however that despite being high in protein for a grain, it is still much lower in protein than legumes, meat or other animal products.
Around 185 grams of quinoa provides only 8 grams of protein.
As stated above, however, some people struggle to consume quinoa without severe pains and symptoms.
This is down to how much insoluble fiber is contained within these seeds.
Insoluble fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that cannot dissolve in water whereas soluble fiber does.
Soluble fiber provides bulk to stool, this includes foods like apples and oats.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber have their own benefits.
Insoluble fiber allows water into the stool, making it easier to pass through.
One of the reasons people may run into issues with consuming quinoa is if they are consuming too much fiber, too quickly.
As quinoa is a high-fibre food, consuming it when there is not a lot of fiber in the diet can lead to several issues such as constipation, temporary weight gain, and bloating.
One way to combat this is to begin adding quinoa slowly and not consuming large amounts immediately.
This allows the body to adjust and get used to this much fiber.
How much quinoa should I eat a day?
Some recommend around 1-2 cups per day, others ½-1 cup a day.
Whereas some say that to get a decent amount of protein, you would need 6 cups.
It is difficult to make a suggestion as to how much quinoa should be eaten every day because every individual is different.
Due to heigh, weight, age, health conditions, deficiencies, allergies, and nutritious needs, there is no one size fits all.
Instead, it is best that each individual makes an informed decision and understands what they need in their diet and the nutrition quinoa can provide them.
Despite being a complete protein and a great way for those on a plant-based diet to get their daily protein intake, it shouldn’t be the only or primary source.
Quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids, but it is lacking in one essential amino acid, lysine.
If quinoa was the main source of protein in your diet, you may end up incredibly low in lysine which will mean your body cannot efficiently make up the necessary proteins which can have a negative effect on bodily functions.
Whilst quinoa appears to be an important food if your body can sufficiently handle it, it should be consumed alongside a varied diet so the body is able to receive all the nutrients it needs.
As mentioned earlier, you can run into trouble if you eat too much fiber too quickly so it is best to start slow.
If you find that you don’t have issues eating it, then up your amount.
This way you can safely introduce this healthy grain into your diet.
What are the side effects of eating quinoa?
One of the reasons this occurs is due to saponin, which coats the quinoa.
Many people find themselves allergic or sensitive to saponin, however, it is easy enough to avoid this and ensure that you wash the quinoa well before cooking or eating it.
It is recommended to soak the quinoa for around 30 minutes and then wash it several times before you cook.
Because saponin exists to protect the quinoa as it grows, it contains toxins that may cause issues for some people.
Although these toxins are low in toxicity, depending on health and digestive problems, some may react to them.
It is not just the saponin that causes problems, some people can react or be allergic to the protein or oxalates in the quinoa.
Oxalates are an organic compound, once consumed can bind to minerals.
This is usually eliminated through the natural processes however for those who are more sensitive, a diet rich in oxalates can lead to a higher risk of kidney stones or other health problems.
In the gut, when oxalates bind to minerals, this can prevent the body from absorbing them.
This can cause issues as the body is not able to receive the right nutrients which can lead to further health issues.
Although quinoa contains minerals such as magnesium these may not be effectively absorbed by the body.
Quinoa also contains phytic acid which is considered by some to be an ‘anti nutrient’.
The presence of phytic acid means that much of the mineral content is reduced and unable to be properly absorbed by the body.
This means that this so-called ‘superfood’ does not end up being such a superfood after all.
The binding and blocking of minerals could lead to deficiencies and further down the line, other health issues.
What is a healthy serving of quinoa?
As mentioned above, it is important not to overdo quinoa as it can end up causing more harm than good.
To avoid this you want to stick to sensible portions.
Quinoa is a very versatile food and can be used in the main dish, in a salad, or just as an aside.
This is why it can be hard to pin down the right amount.
In this case of quinoa, however, it is best to err on the side of caution and consume less than you might with other grains.
A ‘healthy’ serving when it comes to quinoa is the smaller portion.
Ensure that you pair it with a varied and balanced dish.
Hailed as a superfood, quinoa has become a widespread and popular grain.
It is easy enough to prepare and can be eaten with a variety of meals.
As a complete plant-based protein it is a great choice for many.
However, many do experience side effects and allergy-like symptoms when consuming quinoa.
The best way to deal with this is to soak and wash the quinoa well before cooking.
Then ensure you do not eat too much too quickly, as the high-fiber content may cause issues.
If troubles continue, it may be best to avoid eating this grain, but this depends on each individual.
Most people will find that they are perfectly fine to consume quinoa regularly.
Ensure you introduce it into your diet slowly, and eat the right amount for your body, lifestyle, and needs.
I’m Chris Watson & the Founder of EatForLonger.com. I’m a food and wellbeing enthusiast researching and sharing foodstuffs and simple food-based concepts, such as fasting and clean eating.
I hope it inspires you to make tiny changes to what you eat and when you eat while optimizing your healthspan and all-around well-being.
Read more About Me here.