Can you Eat Quinoa on a Keto Diet?

a is a popular whole-grain superfood that has become more popular over the last few years. Together with other whole grains like rye, barley, and buckwheat, quinoa can enrich your healthy diet with phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Quinoa is naturally gluten-free, which makes it suitable for Celiac disease patients as well as for those with gluten allergies or intolerances.

But what if you stick to a keto or low-carb diet? Can you eat quinoa and still stay in ketosis? Keep reading for the answer to these questions.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. Nutritional profile of quinoa

  2. Is quinoa an appropriate food when trying to stay in ketosis?

  3. Quinoa on a low-carb diet

  4. Low-carb quinoa substitutes


Nutritional profile of quinoa


According to the USDA Food Data Central, 100 grams of cooked quinoa contain 4.4 g protein, 1.92 g fats, 21.3 g carbs, and 120 calories. [1] 100 gm equates to slightly more than ½ cup serving.


Quinoa is also rich in healthy dietary compounds like phytochemicals and contain various vitamins and minerals:

  • Calcium

  • Iron

  • Magnesium

  • Phosphorous

  • Potassium

  • Zinc

  • Selenium

  • B vitamins

  • Vitamin E

Apart from these micronutrients, 1 cup of quinoa supplies you with 5.18 grams of fiber, which is about 20% of the total recommended daily fiber intake. [2]


When it comes to the glycemic index (GI), quinoa’s GI averages at 63.37 (categorized as medium GI: between 55 and 70.) [3] This means that eating quinoa may cause sharper spikes in blood sugar levels compared to low-GI grains such as barley, oats, and bulgur.


Is quinoa an appropriate food when trying to stay in ketosis?


While quinoa is a very healthy high-fiber carbohydrate to include in the diet, it may be a challenge to include a significant amount of this food when aiming to stay in ketosis.

The ketogenic diet encourages the consumption of low-carb, high-fat meals. While there are no official keto diet guidelines for how much carbs to eat, the general recommendations suggest eating no more than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day for optimal keto diet adherence. [4]


In terms of what that looks like in quinoa consumption, 50 grams of carbs equates to a little more than 1 cup of cooked quinoa. This would get you to your maximum goal for carbohydrate intake, and would limit your carb intake to quinoa alone for the day. This would be extremely difficult to maintain, as most plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, and legumes also contain carbohydrates.


If your healthcare provider or dietitian has recommended a keto diet, efficient adherence is important in order to maintain ketosis: a metabolic state in which your body uses fats (instead of carbs) to produce energy.


The Keto diet eliminates a whole range of healthy foods that can make your diet more balanced and nutritious (e.g., some fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains like quinoa.) [5] Therefore, if this diet is not recommended for specific medication reasons, it may not be sustainable for your lifestyle or beneficial for your health long term.


Quinoa on a low-carb diet


Quinoa is not typically included in large portions in a low-carb diet because of its high carbohydrate content. Yet, you may include it in your meals occasionally and in moderation.


Generally, a low-carb diet focuses on consumption of primarily low-carb proteins and non-starchy vegetables, while limiting intake of grains, legumes, fruits, starchy veggies, and sweets. Unlike the ketogenic diet, low-carb diets are flexible. While guidelines suggest eating 20-57 grams of carbs per day, the amount may vary from day to day and may even exceed 57 grams occasionally. [6]


Depending on how strict your low-carb diet is, you may include a small amount of quinoa (or other complex carbohydrate foods).


The health benefits of a low-carbohydrate diet include potential weight loss and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer. [7] However, the typical balanced and diverse diet encourages consumption of whole grains, since they are highly nutritious and may provide many beneficial health effects. Some of these benefits include lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, together with facilitating weight management and improving gut health. [8]


With that in mind, it could be worthwhile to stick to a flexible low-carb diet and allow yourself some nutritious whole grain foods.


Speak to your healthcare provider or dietitian about the benefits and risks of a low carb diet and receive advice on whether this diet is suitable for your health condition and lifestyle.


Low-carb quinoa substitutes


In terms of nutritional value, quinoa can be replaced with other whole grains, including oats, barley, rye, brown rice, and whole wheat products.

Common grain substitutes used in keto meal preparations are:

  • Broccoli or cauliflower “rice”

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Legumes (in moderation)

  • Nut flours: soy, coconut, almond, walnut [9]

Takeaway advice from Claudia Hleap (Registered Dietitian):


A ketogenic diet is not for everybody. This diet tends to be extremely restrictive and difficult to sustain. Unless you are prescribed this diet by a healthcare provider, consider trying a reduced carbohydrate diet and focusing on high-fiber carbohydrates in place of simple sugars. Reducing (not eliminating) carbohydrate intake and choosing high fiber options will improve blood sugar control while improving bathroom regularity, satiety and fullness, and overall gut health.



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