What can you find at the tops of the Andes Mountains as well as in the rice aisle of your local grocery store?
As you can imagine, this doesn’t leave too many options up for grabs.
The answer is quinoa. Pronounced “keen-whah”, quinoa closely resembles rice, however, they come from completely different resources. While you may be able to find it growing indigenously in the Andes, the rest of the world may not think of it as so common.
So, what is this mysterious plant-based seed that comes from the mountains of South America?
What is Quinoa?
What you may have originally thought of as a grain, quinoa comes from a quinoa plant that grows anywhere from three to nine feet tall.
With it’s preference for cooler temperatures, it’s no surprise that you’ll find it growing in odd places (such as the tops of mountains). Quinoa is considered an ancient food, being used by civilizations in the Roman Empire as well as being a sacred crop to the Incas.
Quinoa is also recommended to vegetarians due to its high protein content. In fact, quinoa is one of the few plant (or animal, for that matter) based foods that pack almost all essential nutrients needed for survival, including all nine essential amino acids (these amino acids include phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, leucine and histidine). Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Most vegetarians you meet today may not be getting adequate amounts of protein in their diet due to the lack of meat — but quinoa can fix that.
There are around 120 different types of quinoa, so you never have to make the same type of quinoa in the same week if you didn’t want to.
The most common types of quinoa you’ll see are white, red and black. While white is the most abundant type of quinoa found in grocery stores, red and black quinoa have their place is different salads and dishes due to their ability to absorb more and hold their shape once cooked.
Along with providing a plethora of variety, this seed also comes packed with nutritional value. Quinoa is abundant in manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, copper, iron, zinc and potassium.
Sure, quinoa can be a great option for vegetarians, but is it good for a low carb diet?
One cup of cooked quinoa contains 222 total calories, including 34 grams of net carbs, five grams of fiber, eight grams of protein and four grams of fat.
While it vastly depends on the specific type of diet you are following and your current macro intake for the day, chances are this superfood is a bit too high in carbs for a low carb or keto diet.
Let’s take a closer look.
How Does Quinoa Fit into a Low Carb or Ketogenic Diet?
While the carb count for one cup of quinoa is a bit high, there are still ways one could eat quinoa, even if you are trying to maintain ketosis.
For most people, one cup of cooked quinoa may end up being too much for them to eat regardless of what diet they’re following.
In this case, one half cup of cooked quinoa would range around 17 grams of net carbs. For individuals following a standard ketogenic diet (SKD), their goal is to eat around 20-50 grams of carbs a day.
If you are someone that can maintain ketosis while eating a higher range of carbs, a ½ cup of quinoa would be fine. However, most of the time you’ll want to save your carb intake for the hidden carbs found in your meals throughout the day.
Certain types of keto diets allow different carb intakes.
For instance, the targeted keto diet (TKD) is a type of keto diet that is meant for more active individuals.
This diet gives you anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes pre and post workout to ingest an additional 20-50 grams of carbohydrates so you are properly fueled for your workout. For most individuals that exercise on a daily basis, this should be enough.
However, athletes who work out rather intensely may need more carbs. This is where the cyclical keto diet (CKD) comes into play. The CKD follows a SKD plan five days of the week, with the other two days of the week being carb-loading days. This means that during those two days (anywhere from 24 to 48 hours), you should consume anywhere from 400 to 600 grams of carbohydrates with low fat intake to ensure your glycogen stores are adequately filled in order to keep up with the intensity of the training.
While this rapid influx of carbs may kick you out of ketosis, you should be able to switch back into ketosis within a day or two of being back eating high fat and low carb.
When Should Quinoa Be Avoided on a Low Carb or Ketogenic Diet?
Quinoa is a nutritional powerhouse, but unfortunately is not the best option for a low carb or ketogenic diet. While it can be found in many different dishes across the world, there are some great low carb alternatives to this superfood that you can use without feeling deprived of a great meal.
If you’re starting a low carb or ketogenic diet for weight loss purposes, you will definitely want to stay clear of quinoa. It rates as a 53 on the glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) of a food is a great way to tell how that particular food with affect blood glucose levels. Quinoa is still relatively low in terms of GI value and will be slowly digested and absorbed, causing a slower rise in blood glucose and insulin levels. This is good news, however there are still much better options for individuals seeking a lower carb option.
So is Quinoa Low Carb or Keto Friendly?
While quinoa can provide individuals with many different health benefits, the real question is — is quinoa low carb friendly or suitable for the ketogenic diet?
With it’s high carb count, quinoa is cutting it close to being low carb friendly. While you could incorporate quinoa into your diet here and there, chances are the other hidden carbs found throughout your day will push you over your macro goals and have a solid chance of kicking you out of ketosis.
Quinoa is only appropriate on a low carb or ketogenic diet if:
- You are following a targeted ketogenic diet (TKD).
- You are following a cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD).
- Your carb intake for the day including the quinoa does not exceed 50 grams of carbs.
Quinoa is not low carb or keto friendly.
Steph is a writer, competitive weightlifter and nutritional consultant with a passion for health and wellness. She is the founder of The Athlete’s Kitchen, a website dedicated to providing its audience with articles, recipes and the latest nutritional information on their favorite foods.