Is Quinoa Low-Carb? Nutrition Facts, Main Types + Pros & Cons

Quinoa is not a low-carb food, but it keeps blood sugars stable due to its high protein and fiber. It has many health benefits in disease prevention.

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by
Sarah Bullard, MS, RD, LD
— Signos
Dietitian and Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
February 29, 2024
March 12, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Is Quinoa Low-Carb? Nutrition Facts, Main Types + Pros & Cons

Quinoa is a nutrition-packed seed that contains carbohydrates. While it is not a low-carbohydrate food, it contains protein, fiber, and healthy fats that help to stabilize glucose levels. 

This food should get a second look in a world where carbohydrates are villainized. Choosing high-fiber, whole-grain sources like quinoa can be ideal for excellent health, helps with weight loss, and reduces your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.1,2, 12, 13,14, 15 

Let’s examine quinoa’s nutrition facts, types, pros, and cons.

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What is Quinoa?

Quinoa is a food unicorn, something rare and highly valuable due to its nutritional components. 

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free, high in fiber and a complete protein. It also has a balance of fats and carbohydrates, is a source of vitamins and minerals, and contains beneficial plant compounds for health. Quinoa has unique cooking and food science features, allowing great versatility in many food products.1,2 

Quinoa is commonly lumped into the same category as whole grain carbohydrates due to its similarity in function and nutrition. Quinoa is a pseudo-grain, a seed from the Chenopodium quinoa plant, which is a different plant family than whole grains. Nutritionally, quinoa is similar to a whole grain but originates from a different plant. 1,2 

Main Types and Varieties

The most common and available types of quinoa are: white, red, and black. Quinoa is generally white in grocery stores. The red variety is known for holding its shape after cooking and is often used in cold salads. Black quinoa has an earthy flavor and adds color to dishes.4 

Quinoa Nutrition Facts

Let’s dive into the expanded nutritional profile of quinoa. This pseudo-grain contains fiber like other whole grains and the bonus of built-in protein. 

Quinoa provides all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.1,2 This is extremely unique since animal products are normally touted as complete proteins, not plants. Quinoa actually contains more protein than wheat, barley, and soybeans.1

The fat in quinoa is primarily polyunsaturated fats which are helpful to the immune system, metabolic function, and the prevention of cardiovascular disease.1

Quinoa also contains the B vitamins riboflavin, folic acid, and thiamine.

This little seed packs a nutrient boost and is suitable for gluten-free diets. Three-quarters of a cup of cooked quinoa provides5:

  • 170 calories
  • 6 g of protein
  • 2.5 g of fat (no saturated fats or cholesterol)
  • 29 g of carbohydrate
  • 3 g of fiber
  • No sugar
  • 2.1 mg of iron (10% daily value)
  • 250 mg of potassium (6% daily value)

The glycemic index of quinoa is 50 (on the border between a low glycemic index and moderately high).6,7 A glycemic index of 56 to 69 is moderately high or medium-high. The glycemic index is a 100-point scale measuring your blood glucose response after eating a specific food. Quinoa is lower than other carbohydrate foods due to its protein and fiber content.7

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more: </strong> <a href="/blog/quinoa-weight-loss">How Quinoa Can Support Weight Loss</a>.</p>

Is Quinoa Low Carb? 

Quinoa is a higher carbohydrate food. In a typical ¾ cup serving of cooked quinoa, you will consume 29 g of carbohydrates, which makes it difficult to fit this food into a low carbohydrate diet.5 However, quinoa is a nutritious carbohydrate option, so try incorporating this nutrient-dense food if room allows. 

Can You Have Quinoa on Keto or Low Carb Diets?

Most extreme low carbohydrate diets, like keto, restrict daily carbohydrate intake to 50 grams or less.8 Even with this restriction, you can incorporate quinoa in a smaller portion throughout the week and still gain valuable health benefits. 

Other low carbohydrate diets limit carbohydrate intake to 120 grams daily.9 Quinoa would be a fantastic inclusion to boost protein, fiber, and healthy fat intake. Protein and healthy fats are recommended on most low-carbohydrate diets, and quinoa surpasses many grains in terms of protein and healthy fat content.1,2 

Remember that the ¾ cup of cooked quinoa provides 29 g of carbohydrates, but that shouldn’t deter you from eating this delicious grain. You can reduce the serving size and carbohydrate content while still enjoying quinoa. Cooked quinoa with peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, and dark leafy greens in salads adds flavor but reduces carbohydrate intake. 

Pay attention to the sauces included in pre-packaged and flavored quinoa. Sauces can increase the carbohydrates and added sugar content of this food. Stick to plain, cooked quinoa or those cooked in broth. 

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Quinoa vs. Rice

Rice is a staple in many diets and often compared to quinoa since both are gluten-free grains. You might wonder if swapping quinoa for rice is a good option, so let’s look at the data. Three-quarters of a cup of cooked Jasmine white rice provides9:

  • 160 calories
  • 3 g of protein
  • 0 g of fat 
  • 36 g of carbohydrate
  • 0 g of fiber
  • No sugar

Three-quarters of a cup of brown rice provides10:

  • 160 calories
  • 4 g of protein
  • 1.5 g of fat 
  • 36 g of carbohydrate
  • 2 g of fiber
  • No sugar
  • 0.72 mg of iron (4% daily value)
  • 99.9 mg of potassium (3% daily value)
  • 0.17 mg of riboflavin (10% daily value)

When comparing brown and white rice to quinoa, quinoa wins. This is because quinoa has more protein and fiber. These nutrients fill you up and stabilize glucose levels. 

The average glycemic index for white rice is 73, and the average for brown rice is 65.11 High glycemic index foods are 70 and higher. These are significantly higher than quinoa’s glycemic index of 50. This is because quinoa’s fiber and protein content slows the absorption of carbohydrates.

6 Health Benefits of Quinoa (and Side Effects)

1. Ideal protein-packed whole-grain substitute for gluten-free diets

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free and high in fiber and protein.1,2 This unique blend of nutrients makes quinoa a healthy swap for other gluten-free grains like rice. Quinoa can add variety for someone following a gluten-free diet and help them meet their protein and fiber goals. 

2. Support blood glucose stability.

Fiber, protein, and fat help slow the absorption of carbohydrates and their impact on blood glucose spikes. This pseudo, whole grain helps you to stabilize your glucose levels. 

Consuming at least two servings of whole grains (including quinoa) daily has been found repeatedly in research to substantially reduce your risk of developing diabetes.12,13

3. Reduces inflammation

Quinoa contains beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols, tannins, and saponins with antioxidant capacity. Polyphenols are known to eliminate free radicals or reduce inflammation in the body.2,14 Consuming foods high in anti-oxidants help prevent and manage chronic disease.

4. Lowers cholesterol levels

A recent systematic review evaluated quinoa seed intake and its effect on cardiovascular risk factors. Results showed significantly lower body weight, waist circumference, fat mass, insulin levels, triglycerides, and cholesterols levels.15 

5. Gluten-free

Quinoa is a versatile gluten-free food. Many food companies incorporate quinoa into their products, such as flakes (similar to instant hot cereal), flours, pasta, or rice and quinoa blends.

Quinoa is also added to foods or grains containing gluten. Remember to check the food label to ensure the product is gluten-free. 

6. Boosts digestive health

The higher fiber content and quinoa’s ability to act like a whole grain help boosts digestive health. Consuming adequate daily fiber helps to prevent constipation and builds a happy and healthy gut. 

While the benefits of eating quinoa are evident, some people experience side effects when consuming this grain. These side effects are mainly related to minor gastrointestinal issues and a bitter taste caused by the saponin coating. Quinoa should be rinsed thoroughly before cooking to reduce these issues.1,2 Allergies to quinoa are rare and more related to excess saponin intake. 

As you quickly increase fiber intake with any food source, the increased fiber can lead to digestive issues. Consuming adequate water and increasing your fiber intake gradually helps to reduce any side effects. After a couple of weeks of higher fiber intake, your body will adjust. 

Is Quinoa Good for Weight Loss? 

Quinoa is good for weight loss. The higher fiber and protein content will keep you full longer, reducing unnecessary snacking. Adding quinoa has been found to significantly lower body weight, waist circumference, and fat mass.15 Give quinoa a try and see how it impacts your feelings of fullness. 

How to Store and Cook Quinoa Properly

Quinoa can be stored in an airtight container in your pantry for at least a year. Its long shelf life makes it a great addition to your pantry. Once cooked, it will stay fresh in the refrigerator for five to seven days, making it a versatile meal prep food. Prepare some quinoa on the weekend and use it for the entire week. 

As mentioned before, rinsing quinoa with water with a mesh strainer will reduce the saponin content. The saponin in quinoa can give this grain a bitter taste and may cause GI side effects. 

After rinsing, cook it according to the package directions. Usually, this entails placing 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of water in a saucepan with a lid. You can use also use broth when cooking quinoa. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow it to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, remove it from the heat, and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then, fluff with a fork and enjoy. 

7 Ways to Eat Quinoa 

Quinoa is an extremely versatile, tasty, and healthy food staple. Stuck on how to integrate this into your routine? Here are some fun ideas:

  • Use it in place of rice or pasta 
  • Eat it as a hot breakfast cereal
  • Cook it like popcorn 
  • Add it to soups or use it as a side
  • Blend into your smoothie
  • Sprinkle on your salads
  • Add it to baked goods like muffins or homemade energy bars

Learn More About Your Nutrition and Improve Your Eating Habits with Signos

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Take a quick quiz to determine if Signos is a good fit for you. You can learn more about how Signos works.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading: </strong> <a href="/blog/carb-tolerance-tests-with-alyssa-wilson">Create Your Own Carb Tolerance Test</a>.</p>

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About the author

Sarah Bullard is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in research and clinical nutrition, personalized nutrition counseling, and nutrition education.

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