Quinoa seems to be the super food on everyone’s lips. Food bloggers and health gurus alike are endorsing it for breakfast, lunches and dinners as a healthy alternative.
Many are promoting this food as it is gluten free, wholegrain and grown in exotic places (Peru and Bolivia).
Firstly, how do you even say it! Quinoa is pronounced keen-wah (you’re welcome).
Secondly, what is quinoa? Quinoa is not a grain (more of a pseudo cereal), it is actually a seed which is harvested from a plant in the goosefoot family-which is the same plant family that Swiss chard and spinach comes from (1).
Thirdly, is it healthy? Yes! Quinoa contains healthy carbohydrates and it is also is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the essential amino acids your body needs. There are over 100 different varieties of the little seed which are full of fibre and a multitude of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (2, 3). It is also better than eating any grain containing wheat or gluten any day.
Is Quinoa Paleo?
After all this information, surely quinoa is Paleo and we should be eating it by the bucket load? To start with the Paleo community as a whole seems to be divided. Unfortunately the answer is no, but the answer is a bit more complicated.
People turn to Paleo and low carbohydrate lifestyles for various reasons. For many it is for weight loss or for others it is for health, energy and vitality. Another crucial reason to ditch the grains is gluten and grain intolerance or sensitivity.
Yes, quinoa does not contain gluten and technically it is not a grain, however, for many the outer coating of the quinoa can still cause gut problems in people that are avoiding grains for this very reason. Quinoa contains anti- nutrients like saponin and phytic acid, which still elicits a digestive reaction in many (4).
For Paleo followers who are carbohydrate sensitive, quinoa still holds a high carbohydrate load- 50-60% starch (1). If you are seeking weight loss the insulin response from eating quinoa is simply not worth it.
If you are using quinoa as a stopgap as you move away from more harmful grains and starches then it is a good alternative to these, but rather consider it a healthy stepping stone towards a grain free existence. There is no good reason to keep the quinoa in your pantry. Tip: If you feel the need to incorporate quinoa into your meal be sure to rinse the quinoa properly as the outer coating is often the part of the quinoa which causes digestive issues in many of us.
If you are struggling without your grains at mealtimes consider these tips to help you adapt to the Paleo lifestyle. The biggest reason why it is difficult to adapt to meals without the traditional grains and white potato is simply habit and culture. We only miss them because we grew up with them.
Quinoa and Paleo: Can I Still Eat It?
Decide what kind of Paleo follower you are and make your own decisions based on listening to your body and knowing what makes you feel good or what potentially doesn’t agree with you. Quinoa may not be acceptable on the strict Paleo list but it also has a lot of positive attributes and is a lot better than many of the true grains out there. Perhaps utilizing the 80/20 rule to make decisions will help with minimizing feeling restricted and if you need to you can put quinoa into the 20 % of the time category.
(Read this next: Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?)