Quinoa: The Mother of All Grains

Alpa Momaya

April 24, 2024

Popularly known as the “mother of all grains”, Quinoa was cultivated five thousand years ago in South America and has since been a staple in the region because of its nutritional and easy to prepare properties. As a result, it has slowly globalized and is now considered to be one of the best superfoods to consume by the health conscious.

What is Quinoa?

Quinoa is a pseudo-cereal that rich in protein, fiber, and various minerals and vitamins. Although, quinoa acts as a whole grain, it is actually a seed from a plant called goosefoot. When cooked, quinoa is soft and fluffy, with a slightly nutty taste. It can also be made into flakes, flour, and foods like bread and pasta.

Quinoa seeds come in many varieties and different colors. However, the white, red, and black seeds are the most commonly harvested for consumption. The most common ‘white’ quinoa takes the shortest amount to cook and has the mildest flavor and crunchy texture, while the ‘red’ quinoa is known to be rich in flavor and crunch. The ‘black’ quinoa, on the other hand, is the most flavorful and crunchiest, requiring the longest cooking time. Apart from these colors, quinoa is also available in yellow, grey, orange, purple, pink, green or yellow, giving the consumer a wide variety to choose from.

Nutrition Value of Quinoa

The nutritional value of a cup of cooked quinoa is:

  • Total calories: 222 Cal
  • Protein: 8.14 g
  • Fibre: 5.18 g
  • Carbs: 39.4 g
  • Fat: 3.5 g
  • Copper: 0.35 g
  • Iron: 2.75 g
  • Zinc: 2.01 g
  • Potassium: 318.2 g
  • Manganese: 1.165 g
  • Magnesium: 118.4 g
  • Over 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6
  • Small amounts of calcium, B3 (niacin), vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids

Is Quinoa Healthy for you?

Quinoa is a good source of protein, fiber, iron, thiamine, copper, and vitamin B6. It is also considered to be an excellent source of phosphorous, manganese, magnesium, and folate. Therefore, the unusual composition and exceptional balance of protein and fat along with minerals, antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids make it a highly wholesome food.

5 Health Benefits of Quinoa

1. Naturally Gluten-free

If one falls under the spectrum of gluten-sensitivity, celiac disease or gluten intolerance, quinoa is the best alternative to a gluten-free diet as it can dramatically increase the nutrient and antioxidant value of your diet. It can be used in place of other gluten-free food items like potato, tapioca, and corn. It is also nutritionally better than rice as it provides the required intake of protein, calcium, iron, and fiber making the diet more balanced, thereby meeting the dietary requirements of the condition.

2. High in Protein

Quinoa is known to be one of the only few plant foods that is a complete protein food, which contains all nine essential amino acids, which the body cannot make on its own. It is a source of essential amino acids like lysine, methionine, and tryptophan. It has more protein than rice, corn, barley, and oats. Moreover, having protein on your plate is key to proper nutrition and maintaining blood, skin, muscle, bone, and health.

3. Mineral Rich

Many people do not get enough essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron. Quinoa is very high in all four minerals, particularly magnesium and iron. Magnesium helps to relax blood vessels and helps in reducing type 2 diabetes, while promoting healthy blood sugar levels, and keeping the body healthy, free of headaches, muscle cramps, and insomnia.

Iron is one other nutrient that is necessary for a range of processes in the human body. The mineral is mainly required for the proper functioning of our red blood cells, higher and healthier muscle metabolism; and high brain functionality. Quinoa is full of iron and is the perfect food for those that suffer from iron deficiencies.

4. Potent Source of Plant Compounds

Quinoa contains large amounts of flavonoids. Flavonoids are a particular kind of antioxidants that fight to prevent diseases such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Two flavonoids that have been found in large amounts are Quercetin and Kaempferol. These flavonoids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-depressant properties which helps keep oneself healthy and balanced.

5. Improves Skin Health

Quinoa contains lysine, which is a key ingredient that is a building block in synthesizing collagen and elastin. It helps repair damaged skin and counterbalances the oxidant effect of free radicals from sun and pollution exposure. It also helps reducing brown spots as the vitamin B found in quinoa reduces the dark melanin deposits that leads to age spots and other pigment related conditions. 

Quinoa and Weight Loss

With quinoa being an insoluble fiber, it helps increase the feeling of fullness, keeping you fuller for longer and aiding in weight loss. As it is also rich in dietary fiber and protein, it increases metabolism and reduces food cravings, thereby decreasing calorie intake. Substituting traditional grains like rice or wheat with quinoa could be a small change that will provide more protein and fiber and help reach weight loss goals. Quinoa is particularly helpful for vegetarians trying to lose weight who have trouble finding foods that will fill them up. Quinoa is also low on the glycemic index (GI) and it means that quinoa is safe for diabetes  and helps keep blood sugar under control. Therefore, quinoa is an excellent choice for weight-conscious people, for it helps curb appetite and also adds a nice texture to food.

Quinoa vs Millets

A rarity among grains, quinoa is a complete protein and contains all nine essential amino acids. It offers approximately 6 grams of protein per serving (1/2 cup). Millets, on the other hand, lack the essential amino acids and has a low overall protein constitute. However, apart from the difference in  protein, millets and quinoa are both excellent choices for they are both rich sources of fiber and antioxidants which fight disease causing free radicals.

In terms of cooking, quinoa preparation is very similar to rice and takes about 15 minutes to cook. Millets, however, is more demanding to cook as it quadruples in size. With lots of water, millets are fluffy grains that gives a texture between pasta and mashed potatoes. When serving, both grains have mild flavors, however, millets has a strong nutty taste and texture to it when compared.

Quinoa Recipes

The uses of quinoa are diverse. Quinoa can be cooked for breakfast, as lunch serving or for dinner. White rice can be replaced by quinoa and food preparation will be significantly healthier. Below we share a recipe with quinoa, that can easily replace white rice in your diet. 

1. Quinoa Vegetable Pulao

Serving size: 4-5 people

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes


  • Quinoa – 1 cup
  • Chopped Onion – 1 cup
  • Corn – 1/4 cup
  • Chopped mixed vegetables (carrots, beans, cauliflower) – 1 cup
  • Green peas – 1/4 cup
  • Peanuts – 1 tbsp
  • Ginger-garlic paste – 1 tbsp
  • Ghee – 1 tbsp
  • Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
  • Cloves – 2-3
  • Cinnamon -1-inch piece
  • Black peppercorns – 4
  • Bay leaf -1
  • Salt to taste
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Chili powder – 1 tsp
  • Garam masala – 1 tsp
  • Water – 2 cups
  • Lemon juice – 1 tbsp
  • Coriander leaves – 1 tbsp chopped


1. Heat ghee in a non-stick pan. Add peanuts and sauté. Add cumin seeds and whole spices and bay leaf. Let seeds splutter. Add ginger-garlic and sauté for a few seconds. Now add the onions and sauté it for a minute.

2. Add mixed vegetables, corn and peas and sauté for a minute. Now add turmeric powder, chili powder, and garam masala. Let it cook for a minute. Wash the quinoa properly and add it into the sautéed veggie mixture. Cook for a minute and add water and salt to taste.

3. Cover with a lid and cook on low flame for 10 -15 minutes. Let the pulao sit for 5 minutes. Open the lid, fluff up with a fork and serve garnished with lemon juice and coriander leaves. 

2. Quinoa Chickpea Curry


  • Quinoa, rinsed and drained- 1 cup
  • Water or vegetable broth- 2 Cups
  • Olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee- 1 Tbsp
  • Cumin seeds- 1 Tsp
  • Onion, finely chopped – 1
  • Garlic cloves, minced – 2
  • Ginger, grated – 1-inch piece
  • Green chilli, Finely chopped (adjust to taste) – 1
  • Ground coriander – 1 teaspoon
  • Ground cumin – 1 teaspoon
  • Turmeric powder – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Garam masala – 1/2 teaspoon
  • Chickpeas, soaked and drained- 1 cup
  • Tomatoes, diced tomatoes -1
  • Coconut milk – 1 cup
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh coriander leaves for garnish


  1. Rinse quinoa under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain well.
  2. In a saucepan, add the rinsed quinoa and water or vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa is cooked and water is absorbed. Once done, fluff it with a fork and set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and let them splutter. Add chopped onions and sauté until they turn translucent.
  4. Stir in minced garlic, grated ginger, and chopped green chili. Sauté for another minute until fragrant.
  5. Add ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric powder, and garam masala. Stir well to coat the onions and aromatics with the spices.
  6. Add chickpeas and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir to combine.
  7. Pour in coconut milk and season with salt to taste. Bring the curry to a simmer and let it cook for about 10-15 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld together and the sauce to thicken slightly.
  8. Once the curry is ready, add the cooked quinoa to the skillet. Mix everything together gently until well combined and heated through.
  9. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves and serve hot. You can enjoy this quinoa chickpea curry on its own or with some roti or rice on the side.

HealthifyMe Suggestion

Quinoa is generally well tolerated, but some people may be allergic to it or develop moderate allergic reactions such as stomachaches, itchy skin, hives, and other common food allergy symptoms. Saponin, a chemical found in the seed and its covering, may be responsible for these symptoms. If you are allergic to the saponins found in quinoa cereals, you can still consume them if you wash the seeds before using them. Ideally, soak quinoa seeds for at least 30 minutes and rinse multiple times before cooking; this will help eliminate the natural coating containing saponins that cause skin irritation.


Quinoa is a gluten-free, pseudo-cereal that is rich in carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. It contains all 9 essential amino acids making it a great choice for vegans, vegetarians, and people trying to cut down on meat. Quinoa is also high in B-vitamins that contribute to the metabolic reactions in the body, converting food into fuel for energy. Eating quinoa also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Furthermore, quinoa is considered to be the best alternative to rice due to its nutrient dense characteristics and can thus be inculcated into a diet that meets all fitness and health goals.

Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is just to disperse knowledge and raise awareness. It does not intend to replace medical advice from professionals. For further information, please contact our certified nutritionists Here.

Research Sources

  1. Nutritional Composition and Bioactive Components in Quinoa 
  2. The Revival of Quinoa: A Crop for Health
  3. Nutritional and health benefits of quinoa
  4. Quinoa
  5. Effect of quinua (Chenopodium quinoa)consumption as a coadjuvant in nutritional intervention in prediabetic subjects
  6. Quinoa Seed Lowers Serum Triglycerides in Overweight and Obese Subjects: A Dose-Response Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

Is quinoa a millet?

No, quinoa is not a millet. It belongs to the Amaranthaceae family and is botanically classified as a pseudo-cereal.

Is quinoa gluten-free?

Yes, quinoa is naturally gluten-free, making it a suitable option for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease.

Is quinoa good for diabetics?

Yes, quinoa can be beneficial for individuals with diabetes due to its low glycemic index and high fiber content, which helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Is quinoa good for weight loss?

Quinoa can be a valuable addition to a weight loss diet due to its high protein and fiber content, which helps promote satiety and may aid in weight management when consumed as part of a balanced diet.

Is quinoa a grain?

While quinoa is often referred to as a grain, botanically it is not a grain but rather a seed. However, it is commonly used as a grain in cooking and has similar nutritional properties to whole grains.

Is quinoa good for health?

Yes, quinoa is considered a nutritious food due to its high protein content, essential amino acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It can contribute to overall health and well-being when included in a balanced diet.

Does quinoa have carbs?

Yes, quinoa contains carbohydrates, but it also offers a good balance of protein and fiber, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and provide sustained energy.

Is quinoa the same as dalia (broken wheat)?

No, quinoa and dalia (broken wheat) are different. Quinoa is a seed, while dalia is made from broken wheat grains. They have distinct nutritional profiles and culinary uses.

Is quinoa a carbohydrate or protein?

Quinoa contains both carbohydrates and protein. It is particularly notable for its high protein content compared to other plant-based foods, making it a valuable source of protein, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

Is quinoa better than rice?

Both quinoa and rice have their own nutritional benefits. Quinoa is higher in protein and fiber compared to most varieties of rice. However, the choice between quinoa and rice depends on individual dietary preferences and nutritional needs.

Is quinoa good for thyroid?

Quinoa is considered a nutritious food for individuals with thyroid conditions due to its high nutrient content, including iron, magnesium, and selenium, which are important for thyroid health. However, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized dietary advice.

About the Author

As the holder of a Post Graduate Diploma in Dietetics from the University of Mumbai, Alpa Momaya has always understood the value of good nutrition in an individual's life. She is a Registered Nutritional Practitioner (Canada) with over 15 years of experience in the field. Specializing in Clinical Nutrition, Pre & Post Natal Diets, and Weight Management, Alpa found her calling as a Sr. Nutritionist with HealthifyMe. Alpa's love for cooking and good nutrition has seen her contribute several recipes to the HealthifyMe database over the years. Additionally, she takes a keen interest in reading and painting.

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