The more you learn about quinoa, the more you realize there's every good reason to add this whole grain to your diet. Not only is it a complete source of plant-based protein, but it can also help stabilize blood sugar, a key benefit when the goal is weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight.    

What is quinoa? 

Quinoa is a gluten-free grain that originated in South America, and while it’s technically an edible seed, it’s often referred to as a whole grain because its nutrient content is similar to that of other whole grains, says Jennifer Agha-Khan, M.S., R.D. with Culina Health in New York. Quinoa does have a nutritional advantage over other whole grains. 

Quinoa has 8 grams of protein per cup, making it one of the best sources of plant-based iron. Plus, it’s one of the few plant foods that qualify as a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body needs. And that makes it unique in and of itself. “Few grains contain all nine essential amino acids, which your body can’t produce on its own and you have to get from food,” says Chelsey Amer, R.D.N., in New York and SideChef ambassador. If you’re plant-based or trying to be, you need to make sure you’re consuming a varied diet to get all of the amino acids, and quinoa is an easy way to achieve that.

Quinoa is a great source of fiber

Quinoa is an excellent source of fiber, something that 95 percent of Americans don’t eat enough of. Women need a minimum of 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams of fiber a day, and more is better. You can only get fiber from plants, but not all fruits and vegetables contain as much as quinoa, which has over five grams of fiber per cup. “Fiber is essential in promoting good gut health, heart health, and bowel regularity, plus balancing your blood sugar levels,” Amer says. Adding fiber to your meals also helps your blood sugar remain steady.

Quinoa contains iron and vitamins

One cup of cooked quinoa provides about 16 percent of the daily recommended amount of iron you need, something many plant-based eaters don't get enough of since they avoid meat and eggs which are iron-rich foods. “Traditional plant-based diets may be low in iron if not carefully planned, so including foods that are potent sources of iron is important,” Amer says. To enhance the iron absorption in your body, pair quinoa with foods rich in vitamin C like bell peppers or strawberries. 

Quinoa also delivers a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals such as: Manganese (58 percent of the daily recommended amount or RDA), magnesium (30 percent of your RDA), folate (19 percent of your RDA), zinc (13 percent of your RDA), and over 10 percent of the RDA for B1, B2, and B6.

So how does quinoa compare to a staple like brown rice? Give quinoa the nutritional edge, as it has more vitamins, minerals, fiber and in some varieties, protein, Amer says. 

What are the health benefits of quinoa?

Quinoa is beneficial to anyone trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. It's oversimplifying to assume that one food by itself could help you lose weight, but quinoa does help keep you full longer, since both protein and fiber help curb appetite.

So while no single food is a magic pill, Kahn says: “because quinoa contains a healthy dose of protein and fiber in just one serving, it can help keep you feel fuller longer, which is ideal for weight management."

The high fiber content of quinoa helps to regulate blood sugar, which is not only important for those with type 2 diabetes – but for everyone, keeping blood sugar stable helps prevent a spike in insulin and allows the body to burn energy rather than store it.

Quinoa’s also heart-healthy, namely because it contains about 9 percent of your daily potassium requirement. “That’s lower than a medium-sized banana or an average baked potato, but that potassium will help balance sodium in your body, helping control blood pressure,” Amer adds.  

How to add quinoa to your diet

Quinoa comes in several different varieties, the main ones being white, red, black, and tricolor. Each type of quinoa has a slightly different nutritional profile, due to varying levels of antioxidants and polyphenols that give them their unique hue, which is why Amer suggests rotating the quinoa variety you eat. 

One of the easiest ways to use quinoa is by adding it to salads or grain bowls. Top your greens or other seasonal vegetables with quinoa, add in more plant-based protein like beans, pumpkin seeds, and a light vinaigrette for a tasty and satisfying meal, Khan says. Add quinoa when making soups, stews, veggie burgers, meatballs, and even baked goods like cookies or muffins. Or add it to granola for a satisfying crunch, Amer says. 

Which variety of quinoa is best

Khan recommends white quinoa in place of white rice or a fluffy dish like hot cereal while darker quinoa varieties, which have more texture and a heartier taste, are better suited for recipes that require hold, like meatballs. You can also add darker quinoa where you need more crunch like as a salad topping.

Bottom line: Add quinoa to your diet for protein, fiber, and healthy weight loss

Whether you're trying to eat healthy for long-term heart health or weight loss, quinoa adds all nine essential amino acids to your daily diet, which is important since your body needs these from food and can't make them on its own. The fiber in quinoa also keeps you feeling full longer and can keep blood sugar stable, which is important when the goal is to burn calories.

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