Quinoa: under the superfood microscope

There are a lot of expectations that go along with a term like “superfood,” and while the hype around quinoa has died down a little since its peak around 2013, it still has a pretty devoted following. With the increased focus on nutrition that comes with pregnancy, even if quinoa wasn’t already a part of your life, it might have been recommended to you recently. But is it worth its reputation?

Nutrition facts

One of quinoa’s biggest claims to fame is that it’s a complete protein – it contains all nine essential amino acids the human body needs, something that’s not generally true of plant-based sources of protein on their own. Usually, plant-based protein sources need to be paired together to make a complete protein, like rice and beans. Quinoa is higher in fat than the brown rice, which it’s sometimes substituted for in cooking, but it is also higher in fiber and lower in carbohydrates. It has great magnesium content, which is a key element in helping the body absorb the calcium that’s so important during pregnancy. Quinoa is also high in iron, zinc, and folate, all of which are important parts of a balanced diet during pregnancy.

Working it in your diet

Quinoa is a great substitute for rice and other grains – anything you make with these, you can probably make with quinoa. There are also plenty of recipes on the internet for quinoa burgers, quinoa pancakes, quinoa breakfast parfaits and so much more. Whatever you’re making, quinoa can probably fit neatly in there somewhere.


The studies which back up quinoa’s status as a superfood do exist – a 2005 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that quinoa and other alternative grains leave a greater feeling of fullness and satiation for longer than more refined grains, like bread, for example. Another study, published in 2009 in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, shows that adding quinoa to a gluten-free diet can hugely enrich it, and a third, published in 2009 in the Journal of Medicinal Food discusses how it can be integrated healthily into the diets of people with type 2 diabetes. All of which sounds pretty super, right?

In each of these studies though, quinoa was evaluated alongside other traditional but currently obscure whole grains like barley, rye, amaranth, and millet, and was, in each case, found to be comparable to the other grains it was being tested alongside. The bottom line is that while quinoa is definitely good for you, and could be a great addition to your diet, it’s not alone in that. You’ll get many of the same benefits any time you branch out into more obscure whole grains.

  • Philip J Tuso. “Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets.” Perm J. 17(2):61-66. 2013. Web.
  • “Ch. 17: Nutrition During Pregnancy.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Apr 2015. Web.
  • AR Lee, et al. “The effect of substituting alternative grains in the diet on the nutritional profile of the gluten-free diet.” J Hum Nutr Diet. 22(4):359-63. Web. Aug 2009.
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