Is Quinoa High in Protein?

quinoa spinach eggplant feta salad
A quinoa salad with eggplant and feta. (Image: nata_vkusidey/iStock/Getty Images)

Quinoa is a high-protein, gluten-free vegan treasure that cooks in less than 20 minutes and complements any diet. Often considered a grain, it's actually a seed. Quinoa is one of the most protein-rich plant foods around, and it also contains fiber and numerous vitamins and minerals.

Quinoa: The Mother of All "Grains"

Quinoa plants are native to the Andes mountains in Bolivia, Chile and Peru. People of these regions have eaten it for 5,000 years, referring to it as "vegetable caviar," while its literal meaning in the Inca language is "mother grain." Quinoa is actually related to beets, spinach and chard, and its leaves can be eaten in a similar way. The United Nations has designated quinoa a "super crop" for its nutritional value and ability to efficiently feed masses of people.

A Rarity in the Plant Kingdom

Proteins consist of units called amino acids, often referred to as the building blocks of protein. To meet ideal nutritional needs, people need to consume foods with all of the essential amino acids. Animal products are complete proteins, because they provide all essential amino acids. Plant products often offer some but not all amino acids. Quinoa, however, is a complete protein, making it a rare and special entity in the plant kingdom.

Protein and So Much More

A cup of cooked quinoa has about 220 calories. It also has more than 8 grams of protein, the same as a cup of milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends protein comprise anywhere from 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories. A cup of quinoa also has 5.2 grams of fiber, along with calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and several B vitamins.

Easy to Cook

Quinoa is available in a range of colors, including white, red and black. It expands like rice, yielding about three times the original amount. When calculating protein content, consider that about 3 ounces will yield a cup of cooked quinoa. Enjoy quinoa on its own with your favorite spices or as a side dish or in soup. To add flavor and boost protein content even further, consider mixing it with beans, lean meats or seafood.

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