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Written by  //  October 21, 2011  //  Good Stuff You Gotta Know!, Should I Be Eating That?  //  9 Comments


I was corresponding with someone the other day who mentioned that she was trying to be paleo.  I applaud her choice.  As in so many things however, education is the key.  She mentioned that she was also trying to get her husband to follow this wonderful lifestyle (I applaud that too!) and she was making quinoa for dinner.  (Pronounced “Keenwa”)

Quinoa is a popular choice amongst grain alternatives.  Technically not a grain but a relative of green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard.

Quinoa has a glycemic index of 53.  But, here is the kicker, it has a glycemic load of 19.  Some sites have it as low as 16. We know that anything under 20 is a good choice.  Ah, but is it?

There is a website with a Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Database.  You can enter a food name and it will give you the info. On the left side column choose the database tab and enter the information.

So logically one would say that it would be a good choice.

Grains are eliminated from the Paleo diet because of the gut-irritating gluten most of them contain. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and millet. It is known to cause celiac disease, but an increasing number of autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus, may also be triggered by the consumption of gluten. Moreover, grains also contain lectins, a group of proteins that are hard to digest and can irritate the gut and create an array of health problems involving the immune system.

This excerpt is taken from the livestrong website:

“Although quinoa is not a grain, botanically, but rather a seed, it has properties similar to grains. Instead of containing gluten, the protein that attaches to a carrier molecule at the intestinal level to penetrate your bloodstream, quinoa contains saponins. Saponins constitute a substance similar to soap that is produced by the plant as a chemical defense system. This is why it is recommended to rinse quinoa before cooking it. However, not all saponins are removed and the part you end up eating produces small pores in the membranes of cells lining your intestinal wall, which irritates your immune system.”

Read more:

So, I will ask the same question to you that I ask of my clients.  Why eat it?

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9 Comments on "Quinoa"

  1. Kara April 30, 2013 at 11:31 pm · Reply

    Millets are gluten free. They do not contain gluten. Thought I’d bring that typo to your attention. :)

  2. Brent Robinson March 11, 2014 at 8:30 pm · Reply

    Not all Saponins are bad. Some have been found to be good, see the wikipedia article and live strong. Also, I wish I could find it again, but I read that Quinoa after it’s washed correctly and cook has a saponin count lower than what’s in raw spinach. So if what you say holds up, raw spinach should be avoided.

  3. Brent April 6, 2014 at 12:58 pm · Reply

    So don’t eat Quinoa because of saponins, does that mean we don’t eat raw spinach?

  4. Jon June 5, 2014 at 5:30 pm · Reply

    Because the reason you cited for not eating it falls into the category of an unsubstantied claim. One persons opinion with absolutely no research to back it up?

    In fact what little research there is directly contradicts the claim (from the livestrong link you posted):

    “Emerging research appears to contradict the idea that saponins from quinoa cause inflammation. Researchers examined the inflammatory effect of saponins from quinoa. Contrary to Cordain’s theory, they found saponins possess anti-inflammatory properties and reduce inflammation by suppressing proteins involved in the inflammatory process, called cytokines. Researchers concluded that quinoa saponins may be useful as functional food components to prevent and treat inflammation. The results were published in the April 2014 edition of the “Journal of Food Science.”

    • Eileen June 6, 2014 at 12:40 pm · Reply


      Thanks for writing in. I am quite sure you will find much research supporting that their may be benefits from eating almost any food. Robb Wolf has this to say about quinoa:

      “Saponins are so irritating to the immune system that they are used in vaccine research to help the body mount a powerful immune response. The bottom line is if you think grains or grain-like items like Quinoa are healthy or benign, you are not considering the full picture.” Robb Wolf author of The Paleo Solution.

      In the National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health – they had this to say about Saponins:
      Saponins as cytotoxic agents: a review –
      Influence of saponins on gut permeability and active nutrient transport in vitro. is another article: That you can review.

      In the light that we know Quinoa is a potent source of Saponins, and we can suffice it to say is many people this can be a problematic even if this pseudo grain is rinsed repeatedly, why include it in your diet? Are their not enough other wonderful choices of foods to eat? Since the aim of the Paleo Diet is to reduce inflammation, I do not endorse foods that are as questionable as Quinoa.

      I appreciate that you took the time to write. I always teach what we eat is always your choice.



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