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?
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 E||13% of the RDA of thiamine|
|12% of the RDA of riboflavin||4% of the RDA of niacin|
|11% of the RDA of vitamin B6||19% of the RDA of folate|
|15% of the RDA of iron||30% of the RDA of magnesium|
|28% of the RDA of phosphorus||9% of the RDA of potassium|
|13% of the RDA of zinc||18% of the RDA of copper|
|58% of the RDA of manganese||7% 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?
The short answer?
Yes and no.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spoon quinoa into a bowl and add eggs, avocado, salsa, lemon pepper, and garlic salt.
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.
For the quinoa
For the shrimp
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.
For the chicken
For dipping sauce
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.
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.
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.