Quinoa has been grown in South America since ancient times – but only in recent years has it gained popularity as a ‘superfood’, with many people adding it to soups or salads, or swapping it for rice.

There are plenty of reasons to shout about this tiny grain. It’s easy to grow, nutritious, and gluten-free, so it’s really, it’s no wonder that the Inca people considered it a sacred food.

Plus, there’s mounting scientific evidence to suggest that adding more quinoa to our diets could bring a range of powerful health benefits.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at the many health benefits of quinoa, and offer some quick and easy ways to use it.

What is quinoa?

What is quinoa

What is quinoa?Quinoa, pronounced ‘keen-wa’, is a type of grain grown for its edible seeds, which can be boiled and eaten in various different ways.

Known as ‘the mother grain of the Incas’, quinoa has been cultivated in South America for around 5,000 years. But, in more recent years, quinoa has been called a ‘superfood’ due to its impressive nutritional profile and potential health benefits.

There are over 120 different varieties– including black, red, and white. And, while each variety cooks and tastes slightly different, they all offer the same nutritional value.

Quinoa is a rich source of fibre and protein. It also contains a number of important nutrients, including iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium.

For example, in 100g of cooked quinoa there are approximately…

  • 120 calories
  • 4.4g protein
  • 1.9g fat
  • 19.4g carbohydrates
  • 3.8g fibre
  • 17mg calcium
  • 64mg magnesium
  • 1.09mg zinc

Quinoa is also considered a complete protein, because it contains all nine amino acids. These amino acids are needed for a number of essential body functions including nutrient absorption and tissue repair.

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9 health benefits of quinoa

health benefits of quinoa

Due to its impressive nutritional content, research suggests that adding more quinoa to your diet may offer a number of potential health benefits.

We’ll cover some of these below…

1. Quinoa may boost heart health and reduce the risk of heart disease

Research suggests that upping your intake of quinoa may reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease.

In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that eating more wholegrains – like quinoa – could reduce the risk of premature death caused by heart disease by 17%. It may also reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes, respiratory conditions, and other chronic conditions, by the same amount.

In this study, mature adults who ate 15g of quinoa flour biscuits every day for 28 days had greater reductions in LDL (bad cholesterol), total cholesterol, and bodyweight than those who ate wheat-based biscuits.

Another study found that participants who ate 50g of quinoa daily for 12 weeks experienced significant reductions in triglyceride levels, compared to a control group that only ate 25g per day. Lower triglyceride levels are linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.

Quinoa’s heart health benefits are largely due to its rich nutrient content, which includes high amounts of essential vitamins and minerals, like magnesium and folate.

Present in every cell of the body, magnesium is essential for the function of over 300 enzyme reactions. So, it makes sense that a lack of it can cause things like high blood pressure and cholesterol, which are known to negatively impact heart health. Similarly, research has found that getting enough folate may reduce the risk of stroke.

2. Quinoa may aid healthy weight loss

Because quinoa is high in fibre and contains more protein than rice or barley, it can be a useful dietary addition for anyone looking to reach or maintain a healthy weight.

Protein and fibre are naturally filling, and can therefore help to prevent overeating and encourage portion control. Eating more protein has also been linked with lower levels of the hunger hormone, ghrelin.

In this study, when overweight women increased their daily intake of protein from 15% to 30%, they ate 441 fewer calories each day, without intentionally restricting anything.

Similarly, this study, which compared the eating habits of obese people and those of a healthy weight, found that those of a healthy weight ate more fibre than those who were obese.

3. Quinoa may help to balance blood sugar and improve diabetes management

While further research is needed to confirm quinoa’s effect on blood sugar, there’s evidence that quinoa may help to improve blood sugar regulation.

Because quinoa contains plenty of protein and fibre, it has a low glycemic index (GI). This means it’s digested slowly and doesn’t cause dramatic spikes in blood sugar.

For this reason, studies have linked a higher intake of quinoa with improved type 2 diabetes management.

You can find out more about the benefits of adding more low GI foods to your diet in our article; Low glycemic (GI) diet – what is it and are there benefits?

4. Quinoa is beneficial for gut health

Quinoa is higher in fibre than many other popular grains, such as brown rice. For example, 240g of cooked brown rice contains around 3g of dietary fibre – which is about 2g less than the same amount of quinoa.

Dietary fibre is important for digestion because, among other things, it feeds healthy gut microbes.

As a result, research suggests that eating more quinoa may increase the diversity, growth, and activity of beneficial gut bacteria and encourage regular bowel movements.

There’s also evidence that – because of these benefits – eating more quinoa may help to improve symptoms of inflammatory conditions such as colitis and Crohn’s disease.

5. Quinoa may reduce the risk of cancer

Quinoa is high in fibre and contains several plant compounds that are beneficial for health, which research suggests may help to reduce the risk of cancer.

The two main plant compounds found in quinoa are flavonoids called quercetin and kaempferol – both of which have been recognised for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories can help to reduce inflammation and protect cells from damage caused by harmful, unstable molecules, known as free radicals.

For this reason, an increased intake of flavonoid-rich foods like quercetin and kaempferol is linked with a reduced risk of cancer. In fact, this study estimated that eating more quercetin and kaempferol could reduce the risk of stomach cancer by as much as 40-50%.

Quinoa’s high fibre content has also been linked to a reduced risk of bowel cancer. According to Cancer Research, 28% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by eating too little fibre.

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6. Quinoa is a good source of all nine amino acids

Unlike many other plant proteins, quinoa is a complete protein – which means it contains all nine essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids are used for various processes throughout the body – including building muscle, maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails, and breaking down food. Research has also linked essential amino acids with things like improved mood, wound healing after surgery, and exercise performance and recovery.

However, the body can’t make essential amino acids on its own, so we have to get them from our diet.

Quinoa can be a particularly useful source of all nine essential amino acids for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet.

7. Quinoa may boost brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline

Research has found that eating more wholegrains – like quinoa – can help to support memory, and reduce cognitive decline and inflammation in the brain.

One reason for this is that wholegrains provide the brain with a steady release of glucose – and studies have linked high blood sugar and insulin resistance with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Higher wholegrain intake has also been associated with improved mood and a reduced risk of depression and anxiety.

8. Quinoa may help to improve the body’s defence against infection

As a source of plant compounds like quercetin and kaempferol, adding more quinoa to your diet may help to improve your body’s defence against infection.

One reason for this is that these plant compounds have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, which make them ideal for fighting infections and warding off illness.

For example, this study found that quercetin can help to boost the body’s defences against infection and inflammation.

9. Quinoa is a good option for people following a gluten-free diet

Naturally gluten-free with a rich nutritional content, quinoa is an ideal option for anyone who’s unable to eat gluten grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. For people with conditions like coeliac disease, this can make a huge difference.

Plus, due to its high-fibre content, quinoa is generally thought of as a healthier option than many other refined gluten alternatives, such as white rice or potato flour.

This is because, unlike gluten-free products that are made with refined ingredients, quinoa remains a good source of nutrients (like folate, magnesium, and zinc) that many gluten-free diets often lack.

How to cook and use quinoa?

How to cook and use quinoa

If after reading about its many health benefits, you’re interested in adding more quinoa to your diet, the good news is that this extremely versatile food is easy to prepare and delicious.

It’s available to buy in most supermarkets, as well as on Amazon.

Quinoa makes a popular addition to salads, soups, bread, chilli – and some people even like adding it to their morning porridge.

For inspiration on how to add more quinoa to your diet, why not try making one of these quinoa recipes from BBC Good Food? You’ll find everything from kale and quinoa patties to spicy cajun chicken quinoa and summer fruit quinoa salad.

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Final thoughts…

Quinoa has been recognised as a healthy grain for centuries. And, packed full with nutrients, adding more quinoa to your diet has the potential to bring a whole host of health benefits.

For further reading, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website. Here you’ll find everything from vitamin and mineral guides to balanced diet tips.

Have you experienced any of the health benefits of quinoa? Will you be adding more of it to your diet? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.