How does Quinoa compare with other grains? Why might it be a healthy option? Are there any health risks?

Relatively recent research into the nutritional properties of quinoa have identified a number of beneficial constituents in the pseudo-grain.’ BBC February 2007  

Why might Quinoa be a healthy option?

  • It has a higher protein content than any other grain – and the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers the protein in quinoa to be as complete as milk.
  • It is rich in the amino acid lysine (which some plant proteins tend to lack). It contains more iron than most grains. And it is also a good source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, folate and a number of other B vitamins.
  • It has a low glycaemic index and is a good source of dietary fibre.
  • It is gluten free, so useful for those who are gluten intolerant, making it easily digested.
  • It can be used in cooking in the same way as grains such as rice and cous cous; and was the cornerstone of the Inca diet, along with corn and potatoes.
  • Like other whole grains it is helpful for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other signs of cardiovascular disease. Research reported in the July 2005 issue of the American Heart Journal suggested eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week helped slow both the build up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows and stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways. 

Are there any health risks?

Very occasionally individuals have proved allergic to quinoa. Two sources in Germany advise against giving quinoa to children under two. They believe it may have an adverse effect on their blood cells and the permeability of their intestinal walls.

Some sources advise washing even packet quinoa until the water runs clear to remove any remaining trace of the original bitter waxy coating (saponins) which is usually removed when it is processed.

However, other than these caveats, there appear to be minimal health risks to eating quinoa. In fact the view of the US Environmental Protection Agency is that, in relation to both adults and children, 'there is reasonable certainty that no harm will result from aggregate exposure to saponins of C. quinoa residues, including dietary exposures and all other exposures for which there is reliable information.'


The Harvard School of Public Health advises, ‘For optimal health, get your grains intact from foods such as whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and other possibly unfamiliar grains like quinoa, whole oats, and bulgur. Not only will these foods help protect you against a range of chronic diseases, they can also please your palate and your eyes.’

Published 02/07/2011. Reviewed August 2012. Next review date August 2015