Is quinoa harmful to health? The most important facts you need to know about quinoa

Ist Quinoa gesundheitsschädlich? Die wichtigsten Fakten, die du über Quinoa wissen musst

Often referred to as a superfood, quinoa is said to have all sorts of health benefits. But this raises the question of whether quinoa only has positive properties. Quinoa contains saponins - these are bitter substances that can be harmful to health if quinoa is consumed improperly.

It is therefore understandable if you are no longer sure whether quinoa is harmful or even good for the body given the divided opinions about quinoa. In order to create clarity, we will get to the bottom of all the rumors about quinoa in this article.

the essentials in brief

  • Quinoa is a pseudo-grain from the foxtail family and is considered a complete food thanks to its high protein content (1). The amino acid balance of quinoa is also convincing and it is also an important source of minerals and vitamins.
  • There are saponins in the peel of quinoa -- these are bitter substances that can trigger stomach pains (5). If you wash quinoa with a fine sieve before cooking, you will get rid of the bitter substances and can easily consume the pseudo-grain.
  • Quinoa can be used in many ways in the kitchen. You can make it as a main course, use it as a side, or even create a nutritious breakfast with quinoa.

What you should know about quinoa

Quinoa (Chenopodium), also known as quinoa, provides other important nutrients in addition to protein. These include omega-6, vitamin E, polyphenols, and phytosterols (1). Quinoa also contains flavonoids, which have health-promoting effects and are said to help prevent cardiovascular diseases in particular (2,3).

The bitter substance saponin, which is contained in the peel, can be easily washed off with water and is then of no further concern for consumption (5,7). To do this, simply use a fine sieve, add the uncooked grains and rinse them well under running water so that no important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are lost (10).

What exactly is quinoa?

Quinoa is a so-called pseudo-grain that comes from the Andes. It was originally grown in Argentina and has also found its way to Europe and the US for years (4,7). Due to its properties, quinoa can still be counted in the whole grain category (6).

Quinoa has antioxidant properties, which is due to the flavonoids. (2.3). Cardiovascular risk can also be reduced by regular quinoa consumption (6).

There is white, red and black quinoa. In terms of nutritional values, however, the three types of quinoa hardly differ. Each type of quinoa contains numerous trace elements, with red quinoa having been shown to have a higher antioxidant effect (8). Red quinoa also has a nuttier flavor than white.

Does quinoa contain harmful substances?

The only questionable ingredient is the bitter substance saponin. The saponins serve as the plant's defense mechanism against its natural enemies such as insects or snails. However, the bitter substance is only found in the peel and can easily be washed off (7).

The bitter substance saponin is only found on the peel of quinoa and can be easily washed off.

Occasionally, quinoa is offered without a coating and therefore does not even have to be washed (5). It is best to follow the instructions on your quinoa package.

So, the health and nutritional properties of quinoa clearly outweigh the saponins and are no reason not to eat quinoa. The bitter taste created by the saponins can be removed by washing it off (9).

After that, quinoa is even suitable for sweet dishes. Quinoa is therefore rightly a superfood and, due to its nutritional value, it was not for nothing that the General Assembly of the United Nations named it a potential plant in the fight against hunger and malnutrition (8).

Is quinoa healthy or bad for weight loss?

Quinoa is often used in all kinds of diets. Quinoa is often used instead of rice, as the pseudo-grain is considered a better source of protein and therefore saturates faster (4). The high fiber content of quinoa also boosts digestion.

In some cases, regular quinoa consumption can also lead to a reduction in blood lipids (6). This property is especially beneficial for people who want to lose weight. This means that fewer calories are consumed and the protein content gives the body more energy.

In the following table we have listed the trace elements of rice and quinoa for a better comparison (4):

grain type copper (Cu) iron (Fe) Magnesium (Mg) Manganese (Mn) Phosphorus (P) Zinc (Zn) Potassium (K)
benchmark 900 µg/d 8mg/d 420 mg/d 2.3 mg/d 700 mg/d 11 mg/d 4.7 g/d
rice 13 3 6 36 15 9 2
quinoa 66 69 47 85 67 26 14

Of course, just eating quinoa regularly is not enough to lose weight. Sufficient sport should be practiced and the diet should always be balanced.

Is the high protein content of quinoa considered harmful to health?

Quinoa is considered healthy mainly because of its high protein content of 15% (1,7). The human body needs sufficient protein to stay healthy. Quinoa is particularly suitable for a vegetarian or vegan diet, because the pseudo-grain contains a particularly large amount of protein in comparison.

Quinoa with other dishes

Quinoa is versatile. The pseudo-grain convinces both as a main course and as a side dish. (Image source: Bernadette Wurzinger / Pixabay)

In contrast to animal proteins, which, if consumed in excess, can increase health risks such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease or even cancer, plant-based proteins only have health benefits (11). Vegetable protein-rich foods such as quinoa have a protective effect on the human organism.

Is quinoa harmful to people with gluten intolerance?

No, because quinoa does not contain gluten and can therefore be consumed without any problems if you have such an intolerance. For this reason, quinoa is also often used as a rice or pasta substitute. Since most gluten-free products are low in calcium, magnesium, and iron, quinoa is a particularly good choice (4). Ground quinoa grains are also often used in the form of flour for baking gluten-free bread.

Quinoa does not contain gluten and is suitable for people with celiac disease.

If you are looking for another gluten-free alternative to quinoa, you can also try amaranth. Like quinoa, amaranth is a foxtail family, contains even higher mineral levels, and is also easy to make into great dishes (4).

What are the nutritional values ​​of quinoa?

White, red and black quinoa hardly differ in their nutritional values. In the table below we have listed the average nutrients of quinoa(12):

nutrient per 100 g (uncooked)
calorific value 363 calories
Fat 5.8g
carbohydrates 61g
protein 13g
fiber 7.2g

Which quinoa is the healthiest?

Since the three most common types of quinoa do not really differ in their nutritional values, it is difficult to say whether one is significantly healthier than the other.

The main difference between the varieties is that red quinoa has higher antioxidant potency (8). This means that the immune system can be better strengthened due to the bioactive potential. The benefit of black quinoa is that this type contains more anti-inflammatory compounds (10).

How do I prepare quinoa?

Before cooking, take a fine sieve and wash the quinoa in it to get rid of the saponins and thus the bitter taste. If you are preparing 4 servings, put 200g of quinoa and 400ml of water in a saucepan and add about 1/4 tsp of salt. Then let everything boil over high heat and after a few minutes switch back to medium or low heat and let the grains simmer for another 15 minutes.

For even easier preparation, you can also cook quinoa in the rice cooker after washing it.

There are countless great recipes with quinoa on the internet! Whether as a main course mixed with vegetables, as a casserole or as an accompaniment to meat, quinoa can be prepared in many ways.

You can season quinoa to taste for more flavor. Quinoa is also very popular as a breakfast in combination with cinnamon and pieces of apple. If you ever want to try something new, you can turn quinoa into gluten-free bread.

You can also use quinoa to prepare delicious salads. You let the quinoa cool down, mix it with the salad and add avocado, tomatoes, broccoli and nuts.

Conclusion

When prepared correctly, quinoa is in no way harmful to health. The opposite is even the case: the versatile pseudo-grain has a high nutritional value and is considered an important source of protein (1). Due to the antioxidant properties of flavonoids, quinoa is also a valuable food (3).

Quinoa can also be consumed by celiacs because it is gluten-free. In addition, quinoa has advantages over rice or other carbohydrates because quinoa contains more protein and fills you up faster. Quinoa can be eaten as a main meal, side dish, or breakfast, and can also be made into bread.

References

  1. Abugoch James LE. Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.): composition, chemistry, nutritional, and functional properties. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2009;58:1-31. doi: 10.1016/S1043-4526(09)58001-1. PMID: 19878856. Source
  2. Hirose Y, Fujita T et al. Antioxidative properties and flavonoid composition of Chenopodium quinoa seeds cultivated in Japan. Food Chemistry, Volume 119, Issue 4, Pages 1300-1306, 2010. Source
  3. Pon Velayutham Anandh Babu, Dongmin Liu. Flavonoids and Cardiovascular Health. In: Complementary and Alternative Therapies and the Aging Population. Editor: Ronald Ross Watson, Academic Press, Pages 371-392, 2009. Source
  4. Nascimento A, Carla Mota C et al. Characterization of nutrient profile of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus), and purple corn (Zea mays L.) consumed in the North of Argentina: Proximates, minerals and trace elements.Food Chemistry, Volume 148,Pages 420-426 , 2014. Source
  5. Letelier M, RodrĂ­guez-Rojas C et al. Surfactant and antioxidant properties of an extract from Chenopodium quinoa Willd seed coats. Journal of Cereal Science, Volume 53, Issue 2, Pages 239-243, 2011. Source
  6. Li L, Lietz G, Bal W, Watson A, Morfey B, Seal C. Effects of Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) Consumption on Markers of CVD Risk. nutrients. 2018 Jun 16;10(6):777. doi: 10.3390/nu10060777. PMID: 29914146; PMCID: PMC6024323. Source
  7. El Hazzam K, Hafsa J, Sobeh M, Mhada M, Taourirte M, El Kacimi K, Yasri A. An Insight into Saponins from Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa Willd): A Review. Molecules. 2020 Feb 27;25(5):1059. doi: 10.3390/molecules25051059. PMID: 32120971; PMCID: PMC7179108. Source
  8. Suárez-Estrella D, Torri L, Pagani MA, Marti A. Quinoa bitterness: causes and solutions for improving product acceptability. J Sci Food Agric. 2018 Aug;98(11):4033-4041. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.8980. Epub 2018 Apr 30. PMID: 29485194. Source
  9. Medina-Meza IG, Aluwi NA, Saunders SR, Ganjyal GM. GC-MS Profiling of Triterpenoid Saponins from 28 Quinoa Varieties (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) Grown in Washington State. J Agric Food Chem. 2016 Nov 16;64(45):8583-8591. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.6b02156. Epub 2016 Nov 4. PMID: 27525448. Source
  10. Lin M, Han P, Li Y, Wang W, Lai D, Zhou L. Quinoa Secondary Metabolites and Their Biological Activities or Functions. Molecules. 2019 Jul 9;24(13):2512. doi: 10.3390/molecules24132512. PMID: 31324047; PMCID: PMC6651730. Source
  11. Bazile D, Jacobsen SE, Verniau A. The Global Expansion of Quinoa: Trends and Limits. Front Plant Sci. 2016 May 9;7:622. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.00622. PMID: 27242826; PMCID: PMC4860459. Source
  12. Mattila, Pirjo et al. "Nutritional Value of Commercial Protein-Rich Plant Products." Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands) vol. 73.2 (2018): 108-115. doi:10.1007/s11130-018-0660-7 Source
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