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Is Quinoa Keto? Everything You Need to Know About Quinoa and the Ketogenic Diet—Plus 5 Keto-Friendly Recipes

By Fitoru | 26 December 2019
quinoa tomato and cucumber salad in a bowl

Is quinoa keto? Quinoa is an ancient pseudograin that’s considered a superfood by many due to its rich nutrient profile. One of the few non-animal-based foods that contains all nine essential amino acids, quinoa is associated with a number of health benefits. With its abundance of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, it’s easy to assume that quinoa’s a natural fit for anyone following a ketogenic diet. But is it really?

Health Benefits of Quinoa

Before we answer the question that brought you here, we’re first going to take a closer look at what makes quinoa so unique: its many health benefits.

A problem for many vegetarians and vegans is getting enough amino acids to build the proteins that run just about every biological process in the human body. After all, amino acids are most abundant in animal-based foods—that’s why they’re called complete foods.

So when a food comes along that provides a good balance of all nine essential amino acids—otherwise known as the amino acids we can’t produce on our own—it’s a pretty big deal. That’s why quinoa is such a hit among non-meat eaters.

But amino acids aren’t the only thing that make quinoa unique.

It’s also an incredibly rich source of important vitamins and minerals. For example, a 1-cup serving contains:

6% of the RDA of vitamin E13% of the RDA of thiamine
12% of the RDA of riboflavin4% of the RDA of niacin
11% of the RDA of vitamin B619% of the RDA of folate
15% of the RDA of iron30% of the RDA of magnesium
28% of the RDA of phosphorus9% of the RDA of potassium
13% of the RDA of zinc18% of the RDA of copper
58% of the RDA of manganese7% of the RDA of selenium

And did we mention its fiber content? That’s a whopping 21% of the RDA—in just 1 cup of quinoa!

Combine that with quinoa’s rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids and beneficial phytonutrients—many of which have been found in studies to play a role in protecting against the development of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—and it’s easy to see why so many people are in love with this tiny but potent seed.

What’s more, quinoa is a completely gluten-free alternative to traditional whole grains. And it’s low on the glycemic index, too, so it won’t spike your blood sugar. Plus, with protein to boost metabolism and fiber to stave off hunger, it may even help speed weight loss.

But what about someone following a keto diet?

Is Quinoa Keto?

The short answer?

Yes and no.

Say what?

Along with its high levels of protein and fiber, quinoa also contains 34 grams of net carbs.

But hold on a second. Don’t freak out quite yet.

Because, even though it’s not technically a low-carb food, quinoa is still a nutritional powerhouse, and its versatility and nutrient profile mean it can still have a place in all but the most restrictive of keto and low-carb diets.

Quinoa and the Ketogenic Diet

The most important thing to keep in mind when discussing the role of carbs in the keto diet is net carbs. While a standard ketogenic diet restricts total carb intake to between 20 and 50 grams of carbs a day, this is referring to net carbs.

What are net carbs?

Net carbs are the total amount of carbs that remain when you subtract grams of fiber from grams of total carbohydrates. 

Why is this important?

Because the body doesn’t digest fiber, so it isn’t counted as part of your carb intake. This is a good thing, when you think about it, because fiber provides a lot of benefits of its own and is necessary for overall health.

Still, the number of net carbs in quinoa is rather high for someone following even a standard keto diet meal plan, and going overboard on it could max out your total carbs for the day, especially if you’re regularly consuming foods with hidden carbs.

However, you don’t have to eat an entire cup of quinoa at one sitting. For example, if you reduce that 1-cup serving of quinoa by half, you end up with 17 grams of net carbs—a much more manageable amount, especially if you include it with other high-fat or low-carb foods.

In addition, people who follow less restrictive keto diet meal plans—say, those engaged in strenuous exercise—are allowed even more total carbs to compensate for greater energy needs. For these types of individuals, the addition of quinoa, especially prior to a workout or on carb-loading days, would be a perfect fit.

It’s also important to remember that some people have more trouble staying in ketosis than others. If that describes you, then, yes, quinoa might be too carb-heavy. But for athletes and those who are better able to maintain a ketotic state, quinoa can make a great addition to your meal plan.

quinoa  tomato and cucumber salad in a bowl

5 Keto-Friendly Recipes

If you’re interested in including a little quinoa in your low-carb or keto diet, the following five recipes are a good place to start. All of them contain a hearty dose of protein, healthy fats, and, of course, fiber, so you can reap the benefits of quinoa and still keep your carb count down.

1. Quinoa Breakfast Scramble

With the additional protein of eggs and the healthy fats of avocado, this breakfast recipe from Wendy Polisi demonstrates how easy it is to combine quinoa with keto-friendly foods.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon salsa
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

Instructions:

Spoon quinoa into a bowl and add eggs, avocado, salsa, lemon pepper, and garlic salt. 

2. Garlic Shrimp and Quinoa

If you’re in the mood for seafood, why not give this recipe from As Easy As Apple Pie a whirl? Unlike clams and oysters, shrimp is considered carb-free, which makes this recipe perfect for the keto diet, especially if you have some carbs to spare.  

Ingredients:

For the quinoa

  • 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the shrimp

  • 1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 raw shrimp, tails on, peeled and deveined
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For garnish

  • Fresh parsley
  • Juice of half a lemon

Instructions:

For quinoa

  1. Rinse quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Sauté garlic and onion for approximately 3 minutes or until onion begins to soften.
  4. Add quinoa, chili powder, pepper, and salt and sauté for approximately 1 minute.
  5. Stir in broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until the water is completely absorbed.
  6. After removing from heat, add parsley and combine well.

For shrimp

  1. Cook shrimp in olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. 
  2. Toss in chili powder, pepper and salt to taste, and sauté until shrimp turns pink and opaque.
  3. Add garlic and continue cooking until fragrant.
  4. Toss quinoa and shrimp and garnish with lemon juice and parsley.

3. Spicy Quinoa-Crusted Chicken Fingers

The next recipe on our list of keto-approved quinoa recipes is this offering from Faithfully Gluten-Free. Not only do these quinoa-crusted chicken fingers make a great appetizer, salad, or wrap, with the combination of chicken and avocado—plus a couple of low-carb substitutes for the rice flour and cornstarch—the carb content of the quinoa is also nicely offset.

Ingredients:

For the chicken

  • 1-1/3 pounds chicken breast, cut into 1-inch strips
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup keto-friendly flour (coconut, almond, cashew, etc.)
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch substitute
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

For dipping sauce

  • 2 small avocados
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, loosely packed
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Instructions:

  1. Bring water and quinoa to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until water is absorbed.
  2. Fluff cooked quinoa with a fork and refrigerate.
  3. Once quinoa is chilled, add chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  4. Preheat oven to 400 °F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. Combine flour, cornstarch substitute, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a resealable bag and shake until fully coated.
  6. Whisk together eggs and lime juice in a small bowl.
  7. Coat each chicken strip with egg mixture and flour mixture and place on a baking sheet.
  8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until fully cooked.
  9. Place all dipping sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

4. Broccoli Cauliflower Quinoa Bites

Chock-full of healthy, non-starchy vegetables and two types of cheese, this low-carb recipe from Sugar-Free Mom makes the perfect addition to a keto-friendly lunch or potluck.

Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces frozen broccoli, chopped
  • 12 ounces frozen cauliflower
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Instructions:

  1. Steam broccoli and allow to cool.
  2. Steam cauliflower florets, pulse in blender or food processor until cauliflower rice forms, and then cool.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Toss with cooled cauliflower rice and broccoli until well combined.
  5. Grease mini muffin tin with coconut oil and press veggie mixture into muffin cups.
  6. Bake at 350 °F for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

5. Low-Carb Quinoa Salad with Herbed Chicken

Our final recipe from Carb Manager combines the protein of chicken with the healthy fats in both avocado and olive oil to create a protein-rich low-carb quinoa salad.

Ingredients:

  • 2-1/2 pounds chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/3 cup fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup fresh thyme
  • 1/3 cup fresh dill weed
  • 2/3 cup tricolor quinoa
  • 1-1/3 cups water
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper
  • 6 cups lettuce
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 15 small asparagus spears
  • 1/2 teaspoon avocado oil

Instructions:

  1. Cut chicken breasts in half horizontally.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of salt, herbs, and chicken to a resealable bag, massage until evenly coated, and refrigerate.
  3. Add quinoa to a small saucepan on medium-high heat and toast until quinoa gives off a nutty aroma, approximately 3 minutes.
  4. Stir in water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes or until water is absorbed.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to sit, covered, for an additional 5 minutes.
  6. Spread cooked quinoa on a baking sheet and transfer to the refrigerator to cool.
  7. Grate the garlic clove into 1/4 cup of olive oil, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  8. Julienne the bell pepper, cut each slice in half, and add to cooled quinoa. 
  9. Cut the lettuce into bite-sized pieces and toss in.
  10. Slice the cucumber into bite-sized pieces and toss in.
  11. Cut the asparagus into 1-inch pieces. 
  12. Add avocado oil to a small pan over medium-high heat.
  13. Sauté asparagus for approximately 1 minute, turn off heat, and allow it to sit until spears begin to soften.
  14. Toss cooked asparagus in with quinoa mixture.
  15. Preheat grill to 350 °F and cook chicken until thoroughly done.
  16. Toss salad with dressing, top with grilled chicken, and serve.

While everyone agrees that quinoa is jam-packed with nutrition and may offer a whole host of potential health benefits, most think the carb content of this pseudograin makes it unfit for inclusion in the ketogenic diet. However, as long as macronutrient intake is closely tracked—and you don’t have ongoing trouble staying in ketosis—most people will find it’s possible to enjoy all the amazing benefits of quinoa and still remain in that coveted ketotic state.

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