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Quinoa [GF]

GI ~ 53 - Gluten Free


A Gluten-Free, High-Protein 'Grain'

A Versatile 'Grain'

  • This is a versatile ‘grain’ that can be eaten as per other grains. It can also be made into a porridge.
  • Quinoa is a pseudo-cereal i.e. they are seeds of broad leafed plants [non-grasses]. Cereals are the fruit-seeds obtained from true grasses. Buckwheat and Amaranth are pseudo-cereals. The quinoa plant is a relative of green leafy vegetables such as spinach or Swiss chard.
  • You can certainly add some quinoa to the muesli to add even more complexity and you can have quinoa in the diet by making this one of the ‘grains’ you have as your carbohydrate source at lunch.
  • There are two types of Quinoa now readily available:

            1] Traditional Quinoa
            2] Inca Red Quinoa

  • Other colours of quinoa are orange, pink, purple and black (Murray, Pizzorno et al. 2005). The seed colour due to a resinous coating containing two to six percent saponin. (Quinoa). Red quinoa also has a relatively high level of Phenolic compounds. The pigmented grains also have a higher antioxidant capacity. (Dykes L 2007).

High Protein Content

  • The protein content of quinoa is high at 12% - 18%. It is thus a rich source of amino acids. It is a native ‘grain’ of South America but is really a seed.
  • Quinoa has protein that is regarded as a complete protein i.e. it has all the essential amino acids. “It provides an essential amino acid balance close to the ideal set by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). And the National Academy of Science calls it ‘one of the best sources of protein in the vegetable kingdom.” (Stanton 2007).

A Rich Source of Iron

  • It is also a rich source of iron a 1 cup [cooked] serving can provide 4 mg of iron. This is a higher level of iron than any unfortified grain product. (Stanton 2007).

Higher Lysine Levels - Scarce in the Vegetable and Grain Kingdom

  • This ‘grain’ also provides a greater amount of the amino acid lysine an amino acid quite scarce in the vegetable and grain kingdom. (Bowden 2007) (McMillan-Price 2008).

Low Glycemic-Index

  • This ‘grain’ has a low glycemic index [GI] as well thus helping to keep post eating insulin and glucose levels down. ‘Quinoa is a good source of saponins, phytochemicals that help to prevent cancer and heart disease.’ (Stanton 2007)..
  • The quality protein, high levels of lysine and iron and the fact it is a low glycemic index carbohydrate [boiled quinoa GI = 53] and it is also a gluten-free carbohydrate make this ‘grain’ a good choice for vegetarians and gluten-sensitive people.

What You Should Know

  • Quinoa does have small amounts of oxalate. You may need to reconsider quinoa if on an oxalate reduced diet.


  • Quinoa contains saponins which are potentially toxic. These can be washed away. Wash thoroughly before using. This is no different to any grain you use. Washing, soaking and fermenting grains over 1 or more days to remove anti-nutrients found in most grains has been an age-old tradition that seems to have been forgotten in the modern world. Taste a quinoa seed after washing to see if it is bitter. If it is, wash or soak some more. Remember the saying, ‘more time in the kitchen, less time in hospital.’ Food preparation is an important art for safety reasons.

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