Quinoa is a cereal grain that’s distinctively healthy thanks to a number of unique properties.
First, it is unusually high in antioxidants as far as grains go; this is in part because it’s closely related to plants like spinach, which are very rich in antioxidants. It’s a popular replacement for other grains for people who are on a gluten free diet, and it outclasses most other grains when it comes to their nutrient profile.
Further, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids (most plants, even those rich in protein, only contain some).
Quinoa is a great base for hot cereal in the morning, or as a way to add in extra protein and antioxidants to a soup.
Looking for high-quality quinoa? We’ve ranked the ten top quinoa brands on the market, plus summarized the science behind the benefits of quinoa for your health.
1. Viva Naturals Royal Quinoa
Viva Naturals Royal Quinoa makes the best white quinoa on the market, hands down. This organically grown quinoa is harvested in Bolivia and comes in a hefty four pound bag.
It’s pre-washed and carefully sifted to remove twigs and debris, so you don’t have to waste time sifting through the grains on your own. Thanks to all of these advantages, it’s our top pick.
2. Anthony’s Organic White Quinoa
Anthony’s Organic White Quinoa is an excellent option for a bulk source of white quinoa.
It’s pre-washed, meaning you don’t have to soak or strain it to remove the bitterness of unwashed quinoa, and it’s organically grown in Peru. Anthony’s Organic White Quinoa is an excellent overall choice.
3. Pride of India Organic Red Royal Quinoa
If you want a nutty, chewy flavor that’s got some extra antioxidants, give Pride of India Organic Red Royal Quinoa a try. This organically certified red quinoa comes in a 1.5 pound jar, which makes keeping your quinoa fresh incredibly easy.
4. Better Body Foods Organic Quinoa
Better Body Foods Organic Quinoa makes a blend of white, red, and black quinoa, which gives it a robust flavor, nutty texture, and plenty of antioxidants.
The blend of the three most popular types of quinoa gives it a balance between the lightness and fluffiness of white quinoa and the deep, bold flavors and antioxidants in red and black quinoa.
If you want a well-balanced quinoa, Better Body Foods Organic Quinoa is a great choice.
5. Healthworks Whole Grain Quinoa
Healthworks Whole Grain Quinoa is a white quinoa that’s certified organic and comes in a resealable five pound bag. It cooks up with a light and fluffy flavor, which is par for the course for white quinoa
6. Kirkland Signature Organic Quinoa
Kirkland Signature Organic Quinoa is a pretty straightforward white quinoa.
It’s organically certified and comes in a four and a half pound bag, and besides that, there aren’t any particularly distinguishing features that set it apart, so it’s hard to rank this product much higher, even though it’s still a pretty good choice.
7. 365 Everyday Value White Quinoa
365 Everyday Value White Quinoa is pretty solid when it comes to its actual quinoa content: it’s certified organic and cooks up well.
However, the 16 ounce size is going to pose a problem for many people who go through a lot of quinoa on a regular basis, or prefer cooking big batches at once. If you fit into one of these camps, you’d be better served by a different product.
8. Ancient Harvest Traditional Quinoa
Ancient Harvest Traditional Quinoa is an organically certified white quinoa that comes in a 27 ounce package. Though it can be a bit difficult to reseal after opening, the flavor is good and the grains are pre-washed.
9. Alter Eco Organic Royal Black Quinoa
Black quinoa is arguably the healthiest type of quinoa thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants. It also has a bold, rich flavor, and Alter Eco Organic Royal Black Quinoa makes one of the best tasting black quinoa products out there.
The primary downside is the 14 ounce bag size—almost everyone is going to find themselves going through this package very quickly.
10. Roland Black Quinoa
If you go through a lot of black quinoa on a regular basis, Roland Black Quinoa is a solid choice. It’s a no-frills option, and it’s not organically certified, but this large five pound bag is a solid choice for bulk users.
Quinoa benefits and side effects
Technically classified as a seed, quinoa is a rich source of antioxidants, trumping grains like rice and barley while scoring even higher than cranberries. (1)
Since it’s usually prepared and eaten in the same way, it’s considered a whole grain and has an impressive nutritional profile. The nutty, crunchy texture makes it a good alternative to cereal, and it’s also gluten-free.
Along with buckwheat and amaranth, quinoa is sometimes referred to as pseudo-grain or pseudo-cereal. The tiny oval-shaped seeds are usually yellow, but may be pink or black, with taste ranging from sweet to bitter; the bitter seeds are highest in antioxidants.
Quinoa is often boiled and served as a side dish, but it can also be sprouted, popped like corn kernels, or even used as a baby food. (2)
Quinoa is exceptionally high in protein. At 15% protein, which is higher than most grains, quinoa offers substantial health benefits including a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as a stellar amino acid composition that makes the protein more accessible to your body. (3)
The Food and Agriculture Organization declared 2013 “The International Year of Quinoa,” issuing a statement describing the role quinoa can play in banishing world hunger. (4)
Quinoa has been a staple food in South America for thousands of years, and it’s almost always grown organically, as well as being non-GMO. NASA is looking into the possibility of growing it in space because of its high nutritional values and ease of cultivation. (5)
Quinoa is one of the most nutrient-dense gluten free foods. Nearly a third of Americans find a gluten-free diet appealing (6), and quinoa offers more nutrients than many other foods used to replace wheat and other grains containing gluten.
Falling in the middle range of the glycemic index (GI) scale at 53 (which is considered low), a cup of cooked quinoa clocks in at 222 calories. The carbohydrate content is just over 20%, with more than 80% of this consisting of starches. (7) The remaining carbs come from fiber and very small amounts of sugars. (8)
Fiber content runs at 10% of cooked dry weight (9), with up to 80% of the fiber classified as insoluble.
One cup of uncooked quinoa contains up to 27 grams of fiber, which is more than double what most grains have; since the seeds soak up water during cooking, the fiber count decreases to 2.5 grams per cup of insoluble fiber.
The high insoluble fiber content feeds friendly bacteria in the gut, making positive contributions to metabolic health. (12) The resistant starch also cultivates a separate bacterial population in the colon, adding to quinoa’s value for conditioning the gut. (13)
Quinoa has a complete essential amino acid profile. While the vast majority of other plant foods are lacking in essential amino acids like lysine, the protein in quinoa is complete.
An essential amino acid is one the body can’t make for itself. Proteins are composed of amino acids, and when a food is deficient in essential amino acids, it provides lower quality protein, as well as lower quantity. (14)
Delivering 8 grams of protein per cup of cooked quinoa, it’s a good choice for vegans and vegetarians.
Quinoa is rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One cup of cooked quinoa satisfies 25% or more of the RDA for phosphorus, magnesium and manganese, with iron, copper and folate in generous amounts giving you more than 15% of daily requirements. (15)
You’ll also get about 10% of the RDA for vitamins B1, B2 and B6, as well as small amounts of B3, vitamin E and calcium.
Quinoa can help control blood sugar and prevent weight gain. Quinoa brings a wealth of nutritional benefits to the table as a substitute for wheat and other grains containing gluten, so it’s useful for improving metabolic health.
One study showed using quinoa flour in baked goods rather than traditional replacements had positive effects on test participants’ blood sugar measurements, triglyceride levels and insulin readings. (20)
Including quinoa in your diet may also help keep weight in desirable ranges. The high protein content can play a role in reducing appetite and act as a metabolism booster, (21) and fiber is known to increase the satiation factor, which can lead to fewer calories consumed. (22)
Including foods in the diet that have medium and low GI ratings has also been shown to assist in weight control. (23)
Eating foods rated higher on the GI scale is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease and obesity, as well as diabetes. (24)
Versatile and simple to prepare, quinoa can slide right into slot you want to fill with a side dish for a satisfying meal. If you’re following a low-carb diet, you’ll need to keep the amount you eat fairly small.
The primary side effects related to quinoa are its high phytic acid content and its potential for bitter taste. The phytic acid in quinoa may reduce the amount of minerals the body can absorb due to the binding action it exerts. (25) Soak or sprout the seeds before cooking to cut down or eliminate phytic acid.
High oxalate content in quinoa can also affect the body’s ability to absorb calcium from other dietary sources, as well as being chancy for people with kidney stones. (26)
Some quinoa can taste bitter, but rinsing it before cooking will release saponins in the outer layer and mute the sharpness. Check package labels to see if it’s already been rinsed.
Quinoa is a type of seed that’s exceptionally healthy and gluten-free. It provides a range of vitamins and nutrients, on top of a robust antioxidant profile.
You can cook quinoa like you would rice, with twice as much water as dry quinoa. Bring it to a boil, turn down the heat, and in 15 or 20 minutes, the seed will fluff and swell. It’s supposed to be slightly crunchy, and the flavor is a bit on the nutty side.
People who have a history of kidney stones may want to avoid quinoa, as it is rich in phytic acid and can promote the accumulation of oxalates that can cause kidney stones.
If you don’t soak and rinse your quinoa before cooking it, you can end up with a bitter tasting grain, but proper preparation can avoid this problem.
Quinoa makes a tasty, nutritionally superior alternative to other grains and cereals, especially for those avoiding gluten, adding interest and variety to your diet while packing a strong antioxidant punch.