Quinoa: what it is, properties and nutritional values, calories, benefits and uses in the kitchen

Quinoa: what it is, properties and nutritional values, calories, benefits and uses in the kitchen

Quinoa is not a cereal, as we are often led to believe, but a herbaceous plant of the Chenopodiaceae family, like spinach or beets. It is particularly rich in proteins, carbohydrates and dietary fiber and is gluten-free, therefore suitable for coeliacs.

It is a perfect alternative to both meat and pasta, if you choose to follow a vegetarian diet or if you simply don’t like these foods. Furthermore, the absence of gluten in this “pseudo-cereal” allows it to be included in the diet of celiacs and those intolerant to gluten. It has a delicate flavour, it is used for first courses and flans.

The high percentage of fiber in quinoa promotes a sense of satiety, helps lower cholesterol and contributes to the well-being of the digestive system. Intestinal transit will benefit from it, as well as gastric acidity and other disorders attributable to it.

Furthermore, it has a moderate concentration of phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and iron, excellent for women, especially during the menstrual period. These minerals are all excellent adjuvants to deal with the tiredness and exhaustion of the warmer months.

Remember to always rinse the quinoa seeds with plenty of running water. Alternatively, you can soak them for about thirty minutes. This procedure allows you to eliminate saponin from the plant, a very bitter substance present in the protective envelope of the seed, which you can notice in the form of white foam.

This superfood is not just a seed to boil and season to prepare cold salads or soups. In fact, there is also quinoa flour on the market. You can use it to prepare desserts, bread or any gluten-free baked product.

What is quinoa

It is a very ancient plant native to South America, Bolivia to be exact, where the climate is arid and very few crops manage to take root. It can reach two meters in height, has round seeds and boasts more than 2,000 varieties.

Quinoa was little known until recently. In recent years it has managed to spread considerably, not only in its countries of origin, but also in different parts of the world. The highlight of the growing interest in quinoa was in 2013, when the International Year of Quinoa was officially established.

Nutritional values ​​and calories of quinoa

Quinoa is a particularly energizing food, in fact it provides 358 calories per 100 g.

Chemical composition of raw quinoa per 100 g of edible portion

Edible portion (%):100
Water (g):13,3
Protein (g):14,1
Lipids (g):6,07
Cholesterol (mg):0
Available carbohydrates (g):58,1
Amido (g):53
Soluble sugars (g):5,1
Total Fiber (g):7
Energy (kcal):358
Energy (kJ):1510

Excellent source of protein

The nutritional value of quinoa is superior to traditional grains. The seed of this plant has great potential for improving both human and animal nutrition. The nutritional characteristics make it a very interesting food source, comparable, if not better, to that of milk.

The most important characteristic of quinoa is given by its protein quality, i.e. the ability of proteins to satisfy the physiological needs of the organism. The value lies in the protein content and therefore in its basic constituents, i.e. the amino acids. Quinoa seeds have an exceptionally well-balanced profile of the eight essential amino acids (i.e. those that cannot be synthesized by the body and must be taken in with food).

The protein quality of various foods is determined by comparing them with the proteins present in eggs and milk, because they are the best foods based on their use by animals. The remarkable biological value of quinoa, higher than that of other traditional cereals, is essentially given by the high content of lysine, which is usually the limiting amino acid of cereals.

Quinoa achieves 96% of the FAO standard value for the ideal amino acid composition of lysine. It is the highest absolute value compared to cereals. Amaranth reaches 89%, wheat is 38%. However, a complementary protein intake from other foods (legumes, cheese, milk, eggs, meat) is still necessary in the diet to make it complete.

If you want to know more, read our in-depth study on all foods rich in proteins.

Gluten free

Another very important factor of quinoa is the absence of gluten, which makes it a suitable food in the diet of individuals with celiac disease.

Quinoa Calories

As we have seen, quinoa is an energizing food, with 358 Kcal per 100 g.

The energy of carbohydrates

Part of the energy value is given by carbohydrates. Among the three main groups into which carbohydrates are divided, i.e. sugars (monosaccharides, disaccharides), oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (starches), the composition of quinoa is mainly made up of starches, present between 52% and 69%, depending on the variety. The simple sugars of quinoa make up about 3% of the chemical composition of the seed.

Carbohydrates, in our case, have beneficial hypoglycaemic effects and induce a lowering of free fatty acids.

Fiber intake comparable to cereals

Quinoa has an excellent supply of crude fibre, which helps to create a sense of satiety which limits food excesses. The total dietary fiber found in this food is comparable to that of cereals, i.e. around 7-9%; while the soluble fiber content fluctuates between 1.3% and 6.1%. The content of simple sugars, on the other hand, is only 3%.

The fiber helps to lower cholesterol and contributes to the well-being of the digestive system by promoting intestinal transit and reducing the onset of gastric acidity phenomena.

Lipids and fatty acids

Quinoa has been considered an alternative crop to oilseeds due to its lipid composition. The fat content ranges from 4.1 to 8.8%. In addition to the high content and good biological quality of its proteins, quinoa seeds have an interesting lipid composition, considerably higher than that of wholemeal wheat and rice, and in any case higher than the average of cereals.

Regarding the composition of its fatty acids, quinoa oil contains 31% oleic acid, 45% linoleic acid and 3% linolenic acid. The remaining 21% consists of saturated fatty acids. It should be noted the high content of essential fatty acids (linoleic and linolenic) and a good ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats.

Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids are essential because they cannot be synthesized by humans, who must obtain them from food.

constituentsper 100 g
Ferro (mg):4,57
Calcium (mg):47
Sodium (mg):5
Potassium (mg):563
Phosphorus (mg):457
Zinco (mg):3,10
Magnesio (mg):197
Rame (mg):0,59
Manganese (mg):2,03

Mineral salts useful for the health of the organism

Many minerals are present in quinoa in concentrations higher than those found for most cereal crops. Among these we point out manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and calcium.

Their content here is higher than that of cereals. The abrasion of the seeds (for the elimination of saponin) causes a decrease in the mineral content of the pericarp, especially as regards calcium.


Manganese plays an important role in the functioning of the brain and the rest of the nervous system, in the metabolism of cholesterol, carbohydrates and proteins. It also appears to be involved in bone formation.


Phosphorus is involved, in combination with calcium, in the formation of bones and teeth. Furthermore, it is responsible for the conservation of cellular energy and high-energy phosphate bonds (ATP, GTP, CTP, creatine phosphate).


Copper is an element that enters the composition of many oxide-reducing enzymes, carrying out an antioxidant action capable of counteracting the damage to cells caused by free radicals.

Among its most important functions are the participation in energy metabolism and in the production of red blood cells, bones and connective tissues. It is involved in skin and hair pigmentation and affects the functioning of the heart.


Magnesium is also an activating component of many enzymes and also a stabilizer of nucleic acids. It performs a structural function in bone tissue and cell membranes and participates in the synthesis of proteins, lipids and nucleic acids.

It is useful for the transport of ions such as calcium and potassium through cell membranes and in this way regulates the contraction and relaxation of muscles, controls the release of neurotransmitters and participates in the transmission of signals ensuring the normal functioning of the nervous system.

This mineral also participates in the regulation of vascular tone and heart rate.


Iron is the main component of hemoglobin and myoglobin. It is also essential in foods, it is part of the pigments and of a series of enzymes. This mineral participates in the body’s production of certain hormones and connective tissue.


The zinc content in quinoa is also important, with one third of the requirement in 100 g of product. Acts on the synthesis and degradation of carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and nucleic acids.

Recent studies indicate an essential role of zinc in the transcription and translation of polynucleotides, as well as in gene expression processes.


Finally, we find potassium, which is also well represented in quinoa.

It is an essential cation in energy metabolism: