Is Quinoa Good For Digestion?

Quinoa seed
Glass bowls of cooked and uncooked quinoa on wood. (Image: voraorn/iStock/Getty Images)

You can prepare and use quinoa just like other grains, whether you cook it like rice or use ground quinoa flour for baking. It’s not a true grain, though -- quinoa is actually a seed. Still, it's easy to digest and contains several nutrients that support your digestive tract, including fiber and B vitamins.

Fiber for Digestive Movement

Fiber adds bulk to the mass of churned food that leaves your stomach, which helps stimulate muscles in the wall of your digestive tract to contract. In the small intestine, these contractions mix food with digestive enzymes and facilitate the absorption of nutrients into your blood stream. In the large intestine, fiber absorbs moisture, adds bulk to stool and prevents constipation. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 5 grams of fiber. This amount provides 20 percent of the 25 grams of fiber women should eat daily, and 13 percent of men’s recommended daily intake of 38 grams.

Nutritional Support

Quinoa contains B vitamins and an amino acid, both of which support digestion. Thiamin is essential for the production of hydrochloric acid, so it’s an important nutrient for digestion in your stomach. Your body depends on riboflavin for the normal development of cells in the lining of the digestive tract. Quinoa also contains the amino acid glutamic acid, which your body can convert into glutamine. Glutamine provides the primary source of energy for cells in your intestinal tract and keeps the mucosal lining healthy, according to a 2012 report in the “Journal of Epithelial Biology and Pharmacology.”

Gluten-Free Alternative

Whether prepared as a grain or ground into flour, quinoa offers a gluten-free alternative to wheat, rye and barley products. If you have celiac disease, gluten triggers an immune response that results in damage to structures in the small intestine that absorb nutrients. Avoiding all gluten is the only way to maintain a healthy digestive tract and ensure normal absorption of nutrients. Quinoa provides an especially nutritious gluten-free option because it provides complete protein, as well as more protein, potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron than other gluten-free grains, such as corn and rice.

Preparation Precautions

The outer layer of each quinoa seed consists of phytochemicals called saponins. Saponins are naturally found in plants, and when they’re consumed in foods such as beans they may help lower cholesterol. However, the saponins covering quinoa seeds are very bitter and must be removed before the seeds are consumed. Some brands of quinoa seeds are prewashed. For all other products, rinse the seeds in cold water several times, draining and using fresh water each time to be sure you remove all the saponins.

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