Often used as a gluten-free grain, quinoa is actually a seed that was first grown in Peru and Bolivia between 5000 BC and 3000 BC. (By comparison, rice was probably first grown between 7000 and 5000 BC.)

Quinoa belongs to a group of crops known as pseudocereals (along with chia seeds and buckwheat or kuttu). These pseudocereals not only taste like grains, but they are also good sources of energy (additionally, they tend to be cheap in places where they are grown locally).

Over the last few decades, quinoa has gained in popularity as a vegetarian protein source that is also rich in fibre, four out of eight B vitamins (folate, thiamine, riboflavin and pyridoxine) and minerals like manganese, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, copper, zinc and potassium.

Quinoa is quite filling and mild to taste. As such, it can easily replace rice in a pulao or a meal combo with daal or rajma (kidney beans). It can be used in poha, as a replacement for flattened rice. Or in a salad. In the last few years, quinoa biscuits, chips and beer have also been added to supermarket shelves in India.

Some basic facts about quinoa:

Botanical name: Chenopodium quinoa Willd.

Family: Amaranthaceae

Common names: Quinoa

Parts used: Seeds. The bitter saponins at the end of seeds are usually removed during milling—they are thought to have medicinal value.

Native region and geographical distribution: Originally grown in South America, quinoa is a sturdy plant that can withstand drought and frost. As such, it is grown in different parts of India from Uttarakhand to Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

Nutrients in 100 grams of uncooked quinoa     Quantity
Carbohydrates  64.16 g
Proteins 14.12 g
Fats  6.07 g
Dietary fibre 7 g
Water 13.28 g
Calcium 47 mg
Magnesium 197 mg
Potassium 563 mg
Phosphorus 457 mg
Sodium 5 mg
Iron 4.57 mg
Manganese 2.03 mg
Zinc 3.1 mg
Copper 0.59 mg
Choline 70.2 mg
Folate (vitamin B9) 184 micrograms
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) 2.4 mg

Source: US Department of Agriculture FoodData Central

Uncooked quinoa has 368 kilocalories in 100 grams.

  1. Quinoa health benefits
  2. Quinoa side effects

Quinoa is a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids, with good quantities of lysine and methionine especially. (Lysine is an important component of collagen—the most abundant protein in the body, collagen helps in supporting many structures in the body, tissue regeneration, healing wounds and keeping the skin supple and young. Research has shown that lysine supplementation can improve athletic performance, treat cold sores and control triglyceride levels in the blood, too. Methionine helps in healing wounds faster and is said to help treat liver disorders.)

Further, the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals (including phytosterols, saponins and phytoecdysteroids) in quinoa have a host of benefits for our health - from improving the metabolism to reducing cholesterol and promoting heart health. In 2016, researchers at the Gazi University in Turkey wrote in the Journal of Cereal Science that while there are few studies on the medicinal benefits of quinoa, “it is stated that quinoa may benefit high-risk group consumers, such as children, the elderly, high-performance sports people, individuals with lactose intolerance, women prone to osteoporosis, people with anemia, diabetes, dyslipidemia, obesity, and celiac disease due to its properties including a high nutritional value, therapeutic features, and gluten-free content. These features are considered to be linked with the existence of the fiber, minerals, vitamins, fat acids, antioxidants, and especially phytochemicals in quinoa, and they provide quinoa a big advantage over other crops in terms of human nutrition and health maintenance.”

These are some of the benefits of quinoa:

Quinoa is good for the heart

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition in January 2020 found that eating quinoa biscuits over 28 days slightly reduced risk factors for heart disease in healthy adults aged 50-75. Quinoa also helps to improve heart health in two indirect ways:

  • Reduces bad cholesterol: Research has also shown that quinoa contains omega 3 fatty acids and omega 6 fatty acids which can reduce bad cholesterol and improve heart health. Additionally, phytosterols in quinoa compete with blood cholesterol for absorption and may help to control or manage lipid and cholesterol levels in the blood. This may prevent or delay the buildup of cholesterol plaque in the blood vessels—cholesterol plaque can lead to a host of problems for the heart such as heart attack or coronary artery disease. (Read more: Diet for high cholesterol)

  • Is anti-hypertensive: Quinoa contains peptides (small chain proteins) that are thought to have “anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypocholesterolemic and antihypertensive properties”. And anything that reduces the chances of high blood pressure (BP) or keeps the BP in check (anti-hypertensive) also protects the heart. Of course, more research and clinical trials need to be done to understand if and how quinoa affects the BP.

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Quinoa is good for skin

Research shows that quinoa may contain oils like squalene which are great for the skin. Squalene is a moisturiser that is well suited to all skin types.

The lysine in quinoa also helps to form collagen: the most abundant protein in the body, collagen gives our skin its elasticity and suppleness.

Quinoa is a good source of vitamin E, which also promotes good skin health.

Research has also shown that quinoa can help reduce the symptoms of psoriasis, an autoimmune condition in which skin cells grow at an abnormally fast pace.

Quinoa benefits for diabetes

Quinoa has a low glycemic index of 53; which means that it does not cause a sudden rise or fall in blood sugar level. This may help to prevent diabetes in healthy people and to manage its symptoms in people who are already living with this condition.

Research published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry in 2014 also found that the phytoecdysteroids in quinoa, especially 20-hydroxyecdysone (20HE), may have "anti-diabetic applications".

Quinoa helps reduce inflammation

Betacyanins, the pigments in red and black quinoa seeds, have phenols which are great antioxidants. Quinoa also contains flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol glycosides which are known antioxidants. Antioxidants reduce free-radical damage, and oxidative stress. They slow down ageing and reduce inflammation, among other things.

Our body uses the minerals in quinoa to make superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that helps to reduce the inflammation associated with arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Saponins in quinoa may have anti-cancer properties

You might have noticed that when you wash or soak soy at home, frothy bubbles appear on top. This is because of saponins—a bitter and detergent-like compound found in many daals, soy and, yes, quinoa.

Researchers have found at least 16 types of saponin in quinoa. These saponins are present on the coating of quinoa—this quoting is normally removed when quinoa is packaged in a factory. Research shows that these saponins have anti-cancer properties.

To be sure, more research and randomized clinical trials are needed to understand and establish this.

Quinoa helps reduce anxiety

Quinoa contains what researchers have called a unique nutritional profile. One of the things that makes quinoa special is that it is a “complete protein”. Meaning, it contains all the nine essential amino acids (these amino acids are called essential because our body cannot make them, they have to be consumed through foods). The nine essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.

Quinoa is considered to be an especially good source of lysine (the occurrence of this amino acid is limited among plant-based proteins). There is over 700 mg of lysine per 100 grams of quinoa; Indian men require about 29 mg of lysine per kilo of body weight per day. This means a man who weighs 72 kilograms would need about 2,088 mg of lysine; 100 grams of quinoa would meet about a third of the daily requirement for a grown man who weighs 72 kilos. Studies have linked higher lysine consumption with lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body and lower levels of stress-related anxiety. Studies have also linked lysine supplementation to better outcomes for people living with high blood pressure and diabetes.

In addition to this, quinoa contains tryptophan (167 mg). Tryptophan is known to promote good sleep, which in turn also reduces stress and improves overall health.

Quinoa good for anemia

Iron-deficiency is the leading cause of anaemia in India. A Global Burden of Disease Study showed that 53.2% of Indian women and 23.2% of Indian males are anaemic. In addition to 4.57 mg of iron per 100 grams, quinoa has another advantage when it comes to fighting iron-deficiency anaemia: it is low in phytic acids, which can interfere with the absorption of iron in the body. Quinoa contains 1.18 grams of phytic acid per 100 grams compared with around 3.9 grams in wheat germ and over 2 grams in 100 grams of soybeans.

Quinoa is good for the metabolism

People with celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome are advised to go off gluten, a protein found in many grains like wheat (it’s the stuff that makes roti or bread dough gooey and sticky).

Quinoa offers them a “cereal” choice that has a comparable amount of proteins to wheat, but without the gluten.

Further, quinoa aids digestion in three ways:
  • With seven grams of dietary fibre in every 100 grams, quinoa is good for maintaining a healthy gut.
  • Many minerals in quinoa assist in the metabolism of glucose in the body. They are also important components of various enzymes that help in energy regulation in the body.
  • Many of the proteins, vitamins and minerals in quinoa have high bio-availability and are easy to absorb.

Quinoa for weight loss

With around 7% fibre, quinoa helps you feel satiated more quickly. The protein content in quinoa seeds (over 14%) ensures that this feeling of fullness lasts longer.

In addition to this, the macro minerals (manganese and magnesium) in quinoa are important for glucose and cholesterol metabolism.

Researchers found that eating 50 grams of quinoa a day for 12 weeks significantly reduced serum triglyceride levels in a clinical trial with 50 overweight and obese people. Triglycerides are made of unused calories that get stored in the fat cells of the body.

A lab study done with mice showed that hyperglycaemic mice who were given quinoa had lower adiposity (fat tissue deposits) and higher insulin sensitivity than mice who were only given a high-fat diet for the experiment.

Quinoa for hair growth

Quinoa is a great source of proteins. Though more research needs to be done on this, beauty experts say that quinoa water can nourish the hair and its roots to promote longer and thicker hair.

What you will need:

  • 3 tablespoons quinoa
  • A small jar
  • A spray bottle or oil applicator
  • Tap water

How to do it:

  • Soak the quinoa in water overnight.
  • Strain the water into a spray bottle.
  • Apply the liquid liberally on to the hair and scalp.
  • Rinse it off with water after 30 minutes.
  • Do this twice a week for at least a month.

Quinoa can reduce malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies

Quinoa is a sturdy crop that can grow in harsh conditions like the desert. It may be an important crop to address food insecurity in some parts of India, along with highly nutritious indigenous grains like millets (bajra, jowar, ragi, sama and korra or foxtail millet, for example). Researchers have pointed out that anywhere from 30% to 70% of our daily energy requirement is met by grains and cereal-like foods. Crops like quinoa can help meet this demand, and reduce hunger.

Researchers have also found that adding quinoa to the diet of four to five year olds improved the levels of plasma insulin-like growth factor 1 in their bodies, which reduced the signs of malnourishment in young children.

In India today, malnutrition isn’t just linked to hunger. How and where we get our calories also matters. Quinoa has a high nutritional value per kilocalorie of energy. Case in point: each of the minerals in quinoa has a crucial role to play in the smooth functioning of the body. Quinoa contains:

  • Magnesium: Helps maintain higher bone density and prevent post-menopausal osteoporosis, helps the muscles contract and relax, plays a key role in glucose metabolism, is important for heart health and is a part of some 300 chemical reactions that keep the body in good shape. Adults need 310-420 mg of magnesium a day, depending on gender, age and life stage (such as pregnancy). A 100 gram bowl of quinoa meets about half our daily requirement.
  • Phosphorus: Is important for good bones and teeth, helps muscle contract and heal after exercise, is crucial for the function of the nervous system, is a component of RNA and DNA (the genetic material of the human body) and helps in using energy in the body. Grown-ups need about 700mg of phosphorus. A 100-gram bowl of quinoa meets over 65% of our daily requirement of this mineral.
  • Calcium: In addition to healthy bones and teeth, our body needs calcium to regulate blood flow and for nerve conduction. Adults need 1,000-1,300mg of calcium a day, depending on gender and life stage (example, women over the age of 50 need more dietary calcium). A bowl of 100 grams quinoa meets about 5% of our daily requirement.
  • Manganese: It reduces inflammation, promotes bone formation and health and helps in the metabolism of amino acids (building blocks of proteins), cholesterol and carbohydrates and is important for blood clotting. Adult women need 1.8 mg of manganese a day, whereas men need 2.3 mg. A bowl of 100 grams of quinoa supplies almost all the manganese you need in a day.
  • Zinc: Is important for a healthy immune system and faster wound healing, helps in making proteins and DNA in the body and is crucial in maintaining our sense of taste and smell. Grown-ups need 8-12 mg of zinc a day, depending on gender and life stage. For example, adult women need 8 mg per day but breastfeeding women need 12 mg. 100 grams of quinoa meets about a third of our daily requirement of zinc.
  • Choline: Though not a mineral technically, choline is an organic compound that is crucial for maintaining the structure of each and every cell in our body and for proper brain function. Adults need 425-550 mg of choline a day, depending on gender and life stage. Both men and lactating women need 550 mg a day of choline—they can get roughly 13% of this from 100 grams of quinoa.

In addition to this, every 100 grams of quinoa contains over 14 grams of proteins, including all nine essential amino acids, and six grams of fat, of which five grams is monounsaturated fatty acids comprise 1.6 grams and polyunsaturated fatty acids make up 3.3 grams. Quinoa is also a good source of vitamin E.

Quinoa for healthy bones

Quinoa is rich in major minerals like magnesium, phosphorus and calcium which improve bone density and strengthen the bones.

In addition to this, research has shown that eating quinoa regularly can help in faster recovery from fractures—this is also attributed to the high mineral content of quinoa.

Some people may be allergic to quinoa, especially to the bitter and frothy saponins in untreated quinoa. The signs of this allergy are similar to those of other food allergies. They may include:

Medicines / Products that contain Quinoa Seed


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