Quinoa, you might be surprised to learn, is actually a seed, although it is cooked and eaten like a whole grain. Naturally gluten-free, quinoa comes in multiple varieties, distinguishable primarily by color. You can find quinoa -- red, gold or black -- in health food stores and most supermarkets. Red and gold quinoa are both nutritionally dense and contain similar quantities of nutrients, although there are slight differences in their nutritional profiles, particularly in terms of dietary fiber content.
The Difference Is Mostly Skin Deep
The main difference between red and gold quinoa, also sometimes called white or ivory quinoa, is the color of the seed. The first has a dusky, earthy red color, while the second, the most common of the three quinoa varieties, is a pale beige. Both colors are low in calories, with 170 calories per 1/4 cup of dried red quinoa and 180 calories per 1/4 cup of dried golden quinoa.
Red quinoa has slightly less protein per serving than golden quinoa does, with 5 grams per 1/4 cup compared to 7 grams per 1/4 cup. However, both varieties are considered a complete protein, as they provide all 20 of the essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and quinoa is one of the few non-animal-based complete protein sources. Every part of your body needs protein. As your body breaks down protein on a regular basis, you need to replenish your protein stores through your diet.
Dietary Fiber Content
Both quinoa varieties are high in dietary fiber, but red quinoa has over double the amount of fiber per 1/4 cup, with 5 grams. Golden quinoa has only 2 grams per 1/4 cup. Dietary fiber not only adds bulk to your diet, helping you feel fuller on less food, it is also important for digestive health as it helps prevent and relieve constipation. Diets high in fiber are also associated with a reduced risk for heart disease. Golden quinoa provides 7 to 9 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of fiber for women and 5 to 7 percent of the RDA for men. Red quinoa provides 17 to 24 percent of the RDA of fiber for women and 13 to 24 percent of the RDA of fiber for men.
Using Red or Golden Quinoa
Red and golden quinoa can both be steamed or cooked in a rice cooker. White quinoa is slightly less crunchy than red and cooks faster, ready after only 10 to 15 minutes. Red quinoa requires a couple of extra minutes. Because different colors of quinoa are so nutritionally similar, most cooks choose their variety based on appearance. Both the stunning red color and the pale ivory show off cooked meats, fish and veggies well. To keep your quinoa meal healthy, use minimal amounts of oil and fat in seasoning your food.