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If you follow a ketogenic diet, you know that working with a very low carb intake can be a real challenge. Not all carbs have the same nutritional value, so you need to choose your carbs carefully. Of all the whole grains out there, quinoa just might be the most nutrient-rich.
But is quinoa keto friendly? Let’s take a closer look.
Table of Contents
- What is Quinoa?
- Is Quinoa Healthy?
- Can You Eat Quinoa on Keto?
- Quinoa Keto Recipes
- Lower-Carb Quinoa Alternatives
- Going Forward With Quinoa
What is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a grain that is technically classified as a pseudocereal. It originally came from the Andes Mountains, where it has been cultivated as food for thousands of years. As a result, it is considered to be one of the “ancient grains.” Notably, it is one of the very few plants that is a source of complete protein.
The edible part of quinoa is the seed, and the seeds come in a variety of colors: you can purchase white, red, or black quinoa. The seeds naturally are coated with saponin, a substance with an unpleasant, soapy flavor. This coating helps protect the seeds from being eaten by birds. It makes the quinoa taste unpleasant to people, too, so it’s typically removed prior to cooking! Some manufacturers will remove it, but thoroughly rinsing dry quinoa is often enough to remove it, too.
Is Quinoa Healthy?
Quinoa may not necessarily be keto-friendly, but it does have an impressive amount of nutritional value. Much of this comes from the fact that it is protein-rich (a cup of quinoa contains 8 grams of protein) and is one of the rare plant sources of complete protein.
A complete protein is a protein source that contains all essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle, though they also have a range of other functions in the body. Essential amino acids are those that aren’t made in the body, so it is essential to get them from your diet.
Of course, like a variety of other plant-based foods, this whole grain is a great source of dietary fiber. One cup of cooked quinoa contains 5 grams of fiber. Of course, those on keto diets and other low-carb diets subtract grams of fiber from the total carb count to find the grams of net carbs. But fiber is also essential for good dietary functioning.
Quinoa also contains more vitamins than many other foods. Some of its many health benefits come from its relatively large amount of vitamin C.
This plant is also a great source of B vitamins, specifically vitamins B-9, B-5, B-3, B-2, and B-1. Many of these vitamins help ensure fat metabolism runs smoothly — a very important thing if you want to lose weight eating low-carb! Some B vitamins, especially B-9, may reduce your risk of certain cancers.
This plant is a great source of the minerals potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Potassium is an electrolyte that is important for muscle contractions and fluid balance. Phosphorus strengthens bones and teeth and supports many aspects of metabolism, and magnesium plays a crucial role in mental health and a variety of critical bodily processes.
Can You Eat Quinoa on Keto?
A strict keto diet usually has a carb allotment of 25 to 50 grams of carbs per day. And as you can see above, a serving of quinoa often gets close to that limit. A one-cup serving includes 39 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of dietary fiber. That gives us 34 net carbs — more than the daily allowance for strict keto diets.
The carbohydrate limit on a keto diet is crucial to success, as too many carbs can kick you out of ketosis. You need to maintain ketosis to optimize fat burning and lose weight. And the carbohydrate content doesn’t really make quinoa keto-friendly.
Thus, many people on a keto diet opt to not eat quinoa at all. But if you only eat small portions, you can enjoy quinoa while still eating keto. And if you really want to keep your total carbs low, you can even just incorporate quinoa into salads or other side dishes.
That being said, there may be space for quinoa in a relaxed keto diet. There are also two different ketogenic diet variations where quinoa fits in with your target carb intake: the targeted keto diet and the cyclical keto diet.
Quinoa and the Targeted Keto Diet
Lots of people who enjoy athletics have a concern with the keto diet: a very low-carb diet may impair athletic performance. The targeted keto diet is a way to boost blood glucose while training.
With this diet, you consume carbohydrates before working out. Eating more carbs has the potential to take you out of ketosis, but it also has a beneficial effect on training. Carbohydrate consumption raised blood sugar and releases insulin. This both allows you to perform better and to build muscle. Higher insulin levels in particular have been shown to have an anabolic effect on muscle when the insulin is released prior to exercise.
Generally, those on a targeted keto diet will eat about 25-50 grams of carbs prior to exercise. However, you might want to experiment with how many grams of net carbs support your athletic performance without having a major impact on fat loss.
Generally, this version of the keto diet is recommended for those who are either beginners or intermediate athletes. If you perform some level of high-intensity training more than once per week, the cyclical keto diet may be a better option.
If you want some more info on the targeted keto diet and how to time your high-carb meals, check out this helpful video!
Quinoa and the Cyclical Keto Diet
You can also make quinoa keto-diet friendly when you follow a cyclical ketogenic diet. On this diet, you have 1-2 days per week when your diet has a high carb count.
Why? High-intensity exercise depletes your glycogen stores. Muscle glycogen is essential for optimal performance. If your glycogen stores are chronically depleted, you will have a lot of trouble sustaining a high level of training. The two days of high carb consumption are meant to fully replenish your glycogen stores.
Obviously, if you follow this diet, you’ll need to make sure you have a regular workout schedule that is very intense. Generally, the more carbs you have on your carb-heavy days, the more intense your workout schedule will need to be.
Quinoa Keto Recipes
If you’re looking to make an easy keto snack or even a keto quinoa dinner, it can be helpful to have some recipes handy. After all, like fruits, quinoa has a lot of health benefits, but eating too much can throw you out of ketosis.
There aren’t a whole lot of keto quinoa recipes out there. But here’s one for a keto quinoa salad — it makes a great side dish!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 cup dry quinoa (any color is fine)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 eggplant
- 1 zucchini
- 1 bell pepper
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tbsp vinegar
- 1/4 tsp black pepper powder
- 1/4 cup green peas
- Fresh parsley (to taste)
- 2 cups water
And here’s how to make it:
1. Wash and then dice the eggplant, zucchini, and peppers and cook them on the grill. If you don’t have a grill, you can lightly cook them in a skillet.
2. Blanch the peas and set them aside, and chop up the parsley.
3. Place quinoa in a strainer and rinse thoroughly under a faucet.
4. Put the quinoa and the 2 cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Be sure all water is thoroughly absorbed.
5. Remove from heat and place in a bowl to cool.
6. Toss ingredients together. You can serve warm or chill before serving if you like.
Lower-Carb Quinoa Alternatives
As you now know, the answer to “is quinoa keto approved?” is “usually not.” If you’re mindful of your total carb intake, you can incorporate cooked quinoa into a low-carb diet. But if you want to make a dish that includes a large amount of quinoa but reduce the number of carbs, you might be interested in some quinoa substitutes that are not high in carbs.
You may have heard of cauliflower rice, a fairly popular rice substitute that is very low in carbohydrates. You can also find broccoli rice, a lesser-known alternative that is similar in both nutritional value and texture.
If you want to try something a little different, shredded daikon radish is a great thing to try. This special type of radish is able to absorb the flavor of whatever you cook it with, so it’s ideal for creating a flavorful and well-rounded dish. It’s also very high in vitamins A and C.
Another lesser-known, low-carb alternative is water chestnut rice. This one is an especially crunchy choice. Plus, a serving only contains 9 grams of net carbs, so water chestnut rice fits in with almost any keto diet!
Going Forward With Quinoa
If you’re on a keto or other low-carb diet, quinoa may be too high in carbs for you. But if you want to incorporate some of this superfood, you can always use a keto quinoa recipe that only includes a little bit of quinoa or try out a substitute. Either way, quinoa and its alternatives can really help revitalize any ketogenic diet!
Still have some questions on keto, quinoa, and grains? Here are some answers:
What grains can you eat on keto?
Since a ketogenic diet generally is very low in carbohydrates, a lot of people don’t eat any grains at all on keto. That being said, those on cyclical or targeted keto diets may have a little more room for grains. If you include grains in your diet, it’s a good idea to include ones with more nutrients like quinoa, whole grain rice, etc.
What is a keto substitute for quinoa?
Eating quinoa on keto diet might not always be feasible depending on your allowed total carbs each day. If you want a low-carb alternative, try cauliflower rice, broccoli rice, water chestnut rice, or shredded daikon radish.