Quinoa is a go-to grain for diets these days, and it’s relatively inexpensive and good for you—or at least, that’s what the claims are. But with these claims a lot of questions arise. Where does quinoa fit on the glycemic index? Is quinoa safe for diabetics and is it low-carb? We did some research and looked at the various aspects of quinoa—the quinoa glycemic index, quinoa’s benefits for diabetes patients, and even a few recipes that you can try at home.
This is your complete beginner’s guide to quinoa that will help you understand the grain from a nutrition point of view, its health benefits, side effects, if any, and the best way you can include it in your diet.
Quinoa Glycemic Index
If you have certain medical concerns like diabetes, one of your first concerns when adding anything to your diet is where quinoa fits on the glycemic index (GI). For those who aren’t familiar, the glycemic index gives a rating to foods based on how carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels compared to pure glucose. This depends on the amount of fiber in that food, along with the sugars. The scale runs from 0 to 100 with anything 55 and below being considered low-glycemic, 56 to 69 being in the moderate glycemic range, and 70 to 100 being high-glycemic. Low-glycemic foods are always recommended as they have a good amount of fiber.
A serving size of 150 grams of quinoa contains approximately 32 grams of carbs (that includes 1 gram of sugar) rates a 53 on the GI. This is not the lowest level you can get, but it does place the grain firmly into the lower region of the glycemic index. Now that we’ve covered where quinoa fits on the glycemic index, we’ll look at the nutritional contents of quinoa.
Quinoa Nutrition Facts
Quinoa, 1 cup (185 g), cooked
Calories from fat: 32
|Nutrient||% of Daily Value|
|Total fat 4 g||5%|
|Sodium 13 mg||1%|
|Total carbohydrates 38 g||13%|
|Dietary fiber 5 g||21%|
*Source: SELF NutritionData
Quinoa may be high in carbohydrates, but where it makes up for this is in its vitamin and mineral makeup. One cup of quinoa has 30% of your recommended daily intake of magnesium. Magnesium is very important to bone structure and formation, and may assist with heart health by lowering bad cholesterol.
Quinoa is also a very good source of folate. This helps with proper nerve and immune functions, creating new cells, and synthesizing DNA. Finally, quinoa also has a very large amount of phosphorus, which is also essential in helping with bone growth, as well as helping the body with energy production.
Quinoa also has a relatively high amount of protein compared to many other cereals. It is free of gluten, and thus, good for people allergic to gluten. As you can see, quinoa is very healthy and good for most of us, but how does it affect those with diabetes? Don’t worry, we’ve covered that as well.
Is Quinoa Good for Diabetics?
To keep their blood sugar at a proper level, diabetics must be very consistent and careful with their diets. If you’re not paying attention, you can easily spike your blood sugar and end up having to deal with major and minor complications. So, where does quinoa come in?
As we discussed earlier, quinoa is on the low end of the glycemic index. That means it won’t spike a diabetic’s blood sugar. Quinoa also has a good amount of magnesium, which is known to help diabetics. A study published by the American Diabetes Association shows that oral magnesium supplements improve insulin sensitivity and metabolism in type 2 diabetes patients.
Hypomagnesemia is a condition wherein the levels of magnesium in the blood are low. This condition is common among diabetics. Although such supplements are debatable and need to be prescribed by a doctor, food sources rich in the mineral may help manage diabetes well.
Now that we know that quinoa may keep blood sugar levels stable in diabetics, the other question that is commonly asked is whether quinoa can help with weight loss. Is quinoa good for diets? The answer may surprise you.
Is Quinoa Good for Weight Loss?
If you are on a diet or looking to lose some weight, you’re always looking for other foods that can help you lose or maintain weight loss. Eating a chicken breast and salad may help you lose weight, but if you eat it for seven days straight, it may get a little boring. So, adding another food item to the possible menu is always great.
The short answer is yes, quinoa can help with weight loss and it does so in a few different ways. Quinoa is full of fiber—one cup of quinoa is 21% of your fiber intake for the day. Fiber has the bonus of making you feel fuller, which may make you eat less and take in fewer calories. So, the low glycemic index of quinoa may help lose weight provided it is backed up with a balanced diet through the day and sufficient exercise. Quinoa also is very good on the calorie point. Quinoa may also help with energy production from the carbs due to the amount of iron present in it.
Now that you know the benefits of quinoa, it’s time to get to the fun part. Make it for yourself and use it in a few recipes.
How to Eat Quinoa
We’ve included here some basic recipes that include quinoa for you to try at home.
1. Basic Quinoa Recipe
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 2 cups water (chicken broth can also be used)
Bring quinoa and liquid to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low and cover. Let it simmer until tender and most of the liquid has disappeared.
Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork and enjoy.
2. Veggie Quinoa Soup Recipe
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- ½ cup thinly sliced Brussels sprouts
- ¼ cup diced white onion
- ¼ cup diced carrot
- ¼ cup diced red bell pepper
- 4 garlic cloves, sliced
- ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 cups unsalted chicken stock
- ¼ cup diced russet potato
- ¼ cup diced peeled sweet potato
- ¼ cup diced peeled celery root
- ½ cup diced zucchini
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
- ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Spread quinoa in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake it at 325°F until it is browned for about 30 minutes. Stir intermittently.
Heat a large stockpot over medium heat and add oil. Then add onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir the mixture occasionally. Uncover and add cumin seeds and rosemary. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly.
Stir in stock, celery root, potatoes, and baked quinoa and bring to a boil. Cover it, reduce the heat to sim, and cook for 12 minutes.
Stir in zucchini and Brussels sprouts. Cook until the vegetables and quinoa are tender for about two minutes. Stir in parsley and add salt to taste.
3. Kale and Mushroom Quinoa with Romesco Recipe
- 1 ¼ cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 1 (6-inch) whole wheat pita, cut into 6 wedges
- 1 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
- ¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 3 green onions, chopped, white and green parts divided
- 2 (8-ounce) packs pre-sliced mushrooms
- 5 ounces baby kale
- 4 large eggs in shells
- 2 to 4 tablespoons of water
- 2 ½ cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
Preheat your broiler to high.
Arrange pita wedges on a baking sheet. Broil one minute on each side or until toasted. Break the pitas into pieces.
Place pita, peppers, almonds, two tablespoons oil, juice, ¼ teaspoon salt, and paprika in a food processor. Process until smooth. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition until the sauce reaches your desired consistency.
Bring stock and quinoa to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and cover the saucepan. Let it simmer 15 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Stir in ¼ teaspoon salt and white parts of green onions.
Heat remaining two tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic, and cook for eight minutes or until mushrooms brown. Add kale and stir until wilted. Stir in remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt.
Bring a medium saucepan filled with water to a boil. Carefully add eggs to pan. Boil them for six minutes. Remove eggs from pan and place in ice water to cool. Peel and cut the eggs into two halves.
Spoon about ¾ cup quinoa mixture into each of four bowls. Top each serving with about ½ cup mushroom mixture, ¼ cup sauce, and two egg halves. Sprinkle with green parts of green onions and enjoy.
Quinoa: A Great Grain
Quinoa is a great grain that hopefully you understand a little bit better now. You’ve got all the facts on how quinoa is good for diabetics, how it may help with weight loss, and even a few recipes for you to try at home. Hopefully, this article has covered all the bases and you’re ready to try quinoa for yourself.
“Magnesium,” National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
“Folate,” National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-HealthProfessional/
Oral Magnesium Supplementation Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Control in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/4/1147, last accessed March 9, 2017
Olatunji, L. A. and Soladoye, A. O., “Effect of increased magnesium intake on plasma cholesterol, triglyceride and oxidative stress in alloxan-diabetic rats.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, June 2007; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19205579
Rodríguez-Morán, M., and Guerrero-Romero, F., “Oral Magnesium Supplementation Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Control in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects,” American Diabetes Association, April 2003; http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/4/1147
“Phosphorus,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/phosphorus