Not to be confused with a grain, quinoa is actually a type of seed with similar nutrients to grains. Packed with protein, beneficial unsaturated fats and a healthy dose of carbohydrates, quinoa can take the place of more traditional starches on your dinner plate, like rice. A big portion of the calories in quinoa come from carbohydrates; however, carbohydrates need to make up a large amount of your diet.
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Calories from Carbohydrates
A one-half cup serving of cooked quinoa has a total of 110 calories. Over 70 percent of those calories are from carbohydrates, with the remaining amount stemming from roughly equal amounts of protein and fat. Each gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories. So the nearly 20 grams of carbohydrates in one-half cup of cooked quinoa give you almost 80 calories.
Function of Carbs
Digestible carbohydrates, like sugars and starches, go through a multitude of steps in your digestive tract to break them down. Sugars digest almost instantly in your gut, however, quinoa has just a trace amount of sugar -- less than 1 gram of sugar in one-half a cup. The majority of carbs in quinoa are starches, which digest at a slower rate than sugar. Eventually, they all wind up as glucose. Every cell in your body relies on glucose as a source of fuel to keep them going. The quick digestion of sugar provides glucose almost instantaneously, while the longer breakdown of starches give you a sustained glucose supply over time.
Carbs in Your Diet
Because of the steady demand for glucose, the biggest percentage of your caloric intake needs to come from carbohydrates. Forty-five to 65 percent of the calories in your diet should stem from carbs. This means that if 2,000 calories a day seems to be typical for you, 900 to 1,300 of those calories should ideally come from carbs. Divide calories by 4 to convert to grams, if you’re keeping track of grams instead. In this case, you’ll need 225 to 325 grams of carbs daily. You’ll get just 6 to 8 percent of your total carb allowance for the day from a serving of quinoa, for a 2,000-calorie diet.
Some of the carbohydrates in quinoa are fiber. Your body doesn’t have the necessary enzymes to break down fiber, so it doesn’t add any calories to your diet. Instead of providing energy, fiber travels through your bowels, almost like a street sweeper cleaning up the path. As it moves along, it grabs on to waste and pushes it along, helping you have regular bowel movements. Fiber has a separate recommendation from digestible carbs that give you energy. For every 1,000 calories in your diet, you’ll need 14 grams of fiber, which adds up to 28 grams if you usually have 2,000 calories, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 states. Based on that 2,000-calorie diet, a one-half cup of cooked quinoa takes up nearly 10 percent of your daily fiber needs, giving you 2.6 grams.