How Quinoa Can Support Weight Loss

Quinoa is a tiny seed that contains protein, fibers, and healthy fats which support weight loss. Despite being a seed, it is classified as a whole grain because of its high carb content. Let’s learn more about this popular nutritious grain.

bowl of quinoa with avocado and vegetables

Compared to other carbohydrates, quinoa offers more protein and fiber and has a lower sugar content. The versatile grain is an excellent substitute for refined grains and can support your weight loss efforts. 

In this article, you will learn the nutritional benefits of quinoa and practical ways to include it in your diet regularly. 

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa is that small white and fluffy stuff you see in many grain bowls and other recipes these days. Even though it’s classified as a whole grain, it’s actually a seed.1This nutrient-dense seed has similar characteristics to other whole grains and can be easily swapped out for them. But because it’s higher in other nutrients, like protein and fiber, it actually gives you more bang for your buck when compared to other grains with a similar carb content.  

Did we mention it’s also gluten-free? So even friends and family who are intolerant to gluten can dig in (without fear of any repercussions) at your next get-together. 

Are There Different Kinds of Quinoa? 

There are different colored quinoa varieties:

  • White quinoa (most popular) 
  • Red quinoa 
  • Black quinoa

You can also buy blends that are referred to as tri-color quinoa and include white, red, and black. 

White quinoa offers a rich nutty flavor that blends easily with dishes. Red and black quinoa taste more bitter than white, and they are also chewier and tougher. The colored varieties are better options for salads. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read about </strong> <a href="/blog/ultimate-guide-low-sugar-foods">the best low-sugar foods for blood sugar balance and weight loss</a>.</p>

Nutritional Profile of Quinoa

Quinoa boasts a well-rounded nutrition profile. 1 cup of cooked quinoa contains:2

  • Calories: 222 kcal 
  • Protein: 8g 
  • Fat: 3.5g 
  • Carbohydrate: 39g 
  • Fiber: 5g 
  • Sugar: 1.6g 

Cooked quinoa can be added to salads, bean-based chilis, and soups. It is a great substitute for other common carbohydrates that offer less nutrient diversity per bite (like white potato, white rice, and white pasta). 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/slow-digesting-carbs-and-blood-sugar-control">the benefits of slow-digesting carbs like quinoa</a>.</p>

Macronutrients in Quinoa

There are three macronutrients that exist in our foods: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. All macronutrients have calories (energy) that your body needs to function. But they are also unique because they provide different vitamins and minerals that our bodies need.

The range of vitamins and minerals changes in different foods. They are non-caloric and are used for cell signaling, immune function, and helping your organs do their job. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/macronutrients-vs-micronutrients">macronutrients and micronutrients</a>.</p>

Is Quinoa a Carb or Protein Source? 

Quinoa is considered a carbohydrate because it contains a high amount of carbs per serving. 

Although it contains some protein, the macronutrient distribution is closer to what you find in other grains and starches. 

What Kind of Fat Is in Quinoa?

The majority of fat found in quinoa are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), with trace amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). 

A 2018 study from the British Journal of Nutrition showed that participants who ate a PUFA-rich diet for 5 days showed improved metabolic rates compared to people who ate MUFA-rich diets.3

The natural fats present in quinoa aline with the desired fats in the study. Including this food may help improve your metabolism, but more research is needed. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/omega-3-fish-oil-weight-loss">omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and weight loss</a>.</p>

Micronutrients in Quinoa 

Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and water. These nutrients must be replenished through your diet. They help with various physiological functions in your body, including immune function, cell signaling, hydration, and more. 

1 cup of cooked quinoa contains several micronutrients, including: 

  • Iron: 2.76mg
  • Magnesium: 118mg 
  • Selenium: 5.18µg
  • Folate: 77.7µg
  • Manganese: 1.17mg 
  • Zinc  2.02mg

Iron and magnesium are both important elements that support your metabolism. People who are low in iron have a more difficult time losing weight, the same is true for people who have low magnesium levels.4,5

kale, chard, and spinach
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and chard are also good sources of iron and magnesium.

What About Vitamin C?

Per the USDA nutritional database, quinoa contains 0mg of ascorbic acid (the scientific name for vitamin C). 

If you are worried about your vitamin C intake, you can increase your intake by adding vitamin C-rich foods to your quinoa. This might take the form of:

  • Adding fresh lemon to the dressing of a quinoa salad 
  • Cooking quinoa with tomato sauce and tomato products 
  • Adding strawberries to cooked quinoa for breakfast (prepared similarly to a bowl of oatmeal) 

Adding vitamin C to foods with iron can help you better absorb it.6

Is Quinoa Healthier than Rice?

Quinoa has more nutrients than processed white rice, and most health professionals would consider it a healthier option. However, the USDA nutrient database shows that quinoa does contain similar carbohydrates to rice, which may not work for people who follow low-carb diets for weight loss

Per 100g serving: 

  • Cooked quinoa offers 21g of carbs. 
  • Cooked brown rice offers 23.5g of carbs.
  • Cooked short-grain white rice offers 21.1g of carbs.

One important question to ask is how to include quinoa (or rice) into my diet without going overboard. While some less nutritious carbs are tasty, it’s important to stick with high-quality, nutrient-dense carbs to help stabilize your blood sugar and optimize your body. After all, a car usually runs better on premium-grade gas compared to regular-grade gas, right?

Eating more carbs like quinoa, which has added protein and fiber, can help you feel more satiated and prevent you from having larger portions than your diet may allow. To help keep your portion sizes in control, you can weigh out your macronutrients (the Signos app can help guide you with serving sizes), or you can follow the healthy eating plate model. The plate model looks like this: 

  • A half plate filled with non-starchy vegetables, cooked or fresh. 
  • A quarter plate filled with low GI carb options. 
  • A quarter plate with lean protein, either animal-based or plant-based. 

You can use both the Signos app and the healthy eating plate model to help you stay on track with your carb intake. 

Quinoa for Weight Loss

If you are trying to improve blood sugars and lose weight, incorporating quinoa into your meals can help

Quinoa Has More Protein than Most Grains 

Per serving, quinoa outranks the protein content of rice and couscous.7,8Meeting your daily protein requirements can help you achieve your weight loss goals.9

Protein helps you feel satisfied at meals, which can decrease the chances of overeating and consuming excess calories. 

Protein also helps to increase the energy expenditure of your metabolism, which in return helps with  weight loss.10

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/protein-for-weight-loss">why protein is good for weight loss</a>.</p> 

Replace Refined Grains 

A diet high in refined carbohydrates has been linked to weight gain and obesity.11Refined carbs include white flour products, baked goods, sweetened cereals, and white rice. 

Replacing refined grains with whole grain options, such as quinoa, can help with weight loss.12Whole grains are naturally higher in fiber which helps you feel satiated after your meal and reduces the chances of overeating unnecessary calories. 

Whole grains are lower in sugars compared to refined grains. Reducing your sugar intake will help stabilize your blood sugars, maintain healthy insulin responses (high levels of insulin can lead to weight gain), and reduce the chances of eating extra calories that can make it harder to lose weight. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read more about </strong> <a href="/blog/how-eating-more-fiber-helps-weight-loss">how fiber supports weight loss</a>.</p>

Brown rice, whole oat groats, and whole hull barley are also good replacements for refined carbs.

Where Is Quinoa on the Glycemic Index?

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scoring tool used to measure how quickly carbs in food will raise your blood sugars. Only foods that contain carbs are assigned a GI score. Ideally, you want to include foods with a low GI score (between 1-55) most of the time.

Quinoa has a GI score of 53 and it falls within the low GI score bracket. 

How Does Quinoa's GI Compare to Similar Carbs?

Here are the approximate GI scores of other similar carbs: 

  • White rice: 73
  • Barley: 28
  • Couscous: 65
  • Rolled oats: 55
  • Millet: 67

Aside from barley, quinoa has a lower GI score than other popular grains. This means it can increase your blood sugar but not as rapidly as other carbs. 

This is great news. Changes and increases in your blood sugar are inevitable, but eating foods that help you slow down the rate of change in blood sugars make it easier to manage. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more: </strong> <a href="/blog/rice-weight-loss">Can you eat rice and still lose weight?</a>.</p>

How to Eat More Quinoa

One of the most popular ways to eat more quinoa is in a salad. It is easy to make it in bulk and have it for the week. Try this Mediterranean-inspired salad: 

  • Boil water and add 1 cup of uncooked quinoa; follow the box for time instructions.
  • While the quinoa is cooking, dice ½ cucumber, 1 red bell pepper, ½ red onion, 2 tomatoes, ⅓ cup fresh basil leaves, and your favorite olives, and garnish with 2 tbsp of feta cheese. 
  • Whisk your dressing: 2 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp red wine vinegar, ⅓ cup of olive oil, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 crushed garlic clove, ½ tsp dried oregano. 
  • Add the cooked quinoa, vegetables, and dressing to a salad bowl and mix until well combined. 

You can store this salad in the fridge for up to five days.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Find more </strong> <a href="/blog/5-low-glycemic-dinner-recipes">low-glycemic dinner recipes for busy weeknights</a>.</p>

Timing Your Intake 

Any time of day is great for quinoa. However, whenever you eat a high-carb item you should pair it with protein, fiber, or healthy fats to slow down the digestion of that food. This will help slow down how quickly sugars from the quinoa enter your bloodstream. 

Consider adding these foods to your quinoa: 

You can better understand how quinoa is affecting your blood sugars by using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). A CGM provides with you real-time data on changes in your blood sugar, which can help you make better choices to keep your blood sugar level stable. 

Quinoa and Weight Loss: Final Takeaways

Quinoa is technically a seed but because of its nutrition characteristics, it is classified as a whole grain. 

Compared to other popular carbs, such as corn or rice, quinoa has more protein and fiber. Both of these nutrients can help you successfully lose weight and are critical for weight loss maintenance. 

Quinoa has a lower GI score and is expected to have less impact on your blood sugars compared to other similar carbs. 

You must cook quinoa before eating it. After it is cooked, you can use it for warm salads, side dishes, or serve it as a hot breakfast cereal. Get creative with your toppings and try to include a protein or healthy fat to further decrease the glycemic impact of the grain. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep reading about </strong> <a href="/blog/weight-loss-for-beginners">weight loss tips for beginners</a> or learn the <a href="/blog/sustainable-weight-loss">benefits of sustainable weight loss</a>.</p>

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References

  1. Filho, A. M., Pirozi, M. R., Borges, J. T., Pinheiro Sant'Ana, H. M., Chaves, J. B., & Coimbra, J. S. (2017). Quinoa: Nutritional, functional, and antinutritional aspects. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(8), 1618–1630. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2014.1001811 
  2. US Department of Agriculture. (2019b, January). FoodData Central. Quinoa, Cooked. Retrieved August 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168917/nutrients 
  3. Polley, K. R., Miller, M. K., Johnson, M., Vaughan, R., Paton, C. M., & Cooper, J. A. (2018). Metabolic responses to high-fat diets rich in MUFA v. PUFA. The British journal of nutrition, 120(1), 13–22. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114518001332 
  4. Aktas, G., Alcelik, A., Yalcin, A., Karacay, S., Kurt, S., Akduman, M., & Savli, H. (2014). Treatment of iron deficiency anemia induces weight loss and improves metabolic parameters. La Clinica terapeutica, 165(2), e87–e89. https://doi.org/10.7471/CT.2014.1688 
  5. Askari, M., Mozaffari, H., Jafari, A., Ghanbari, M., & Darooghegi Mofrad, M. (2021). The effects of magnesium supplementation on obesity measures in adults: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 61(17), 2921–2937. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2020.1790498 
  6. Teucher, B., Olivares, M., & Cori, H. (2004). Enhancers of iron absorption: ascorbic acid and other organic acids. International journal for vitamin and nutrition research. Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal international de vitaminologie et de nutrition, 74(6), 403–419. https://doi.org/10.1024/0300-9831.74.6.403 
  7. US Department of Agriculture. (2020, January). FoodData Central. White Rice, Unenriched. Retrieved August 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/790214/nutrients 
  8. US Department of Agriculture. (2019, January). FoodData Central. Couscous, Cooked. Retrieved August 2022, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169700/nutrients 
  9. Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Lemmens, S. G., & Westerterp, K. R. (2012). Dietary protein - its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. The British journal of nutrition, 108 Suppl 2, S105–S112. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114512002589 
  10. Pesta, D. H., & Samuel, V. T. (2014). A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutrition & metabolism, 11(1), 53. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-11-53 
  11. Sanders, L. M., Zhu, Y., Wilcox, M. L., Koecher, K., & Maki, K. C. (2021). Effects of Whole Grain Intake, Compared with Refined Grain, on Appetite and Energy Intake: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 12(4), 1177–1195. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmaa178 
  12. McKeown, N. M., Troy, L. M., Jacques, P. F., Hoffmann, U., O'Donnell, C. J., & Fox, C. S. (2010). Whole- and refined-grain intakes are differentially associated with abdominal visceral and subcutaneous adiposity in healthy adults: the Framingham Heart Study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 92(5), 1165–1171. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.29106 

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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