With many high-protein foods suddenly off-limits, some people living with alpha-gal syndrome struggle to get enough high-quality protein in their daily diets. Enter quinoa. This ancient grain is a complete protein that’s safe for alpha gals.
The information provided on this site is based on my personal experience living with alpha-gal syndrome. I consistently cite and link to expert sources, but nothing published on this site should be perceived as medical advice.
Alpha-gal sensitivities vary by person. You should understand your dietary restrictions and make any adjustments needed when using this site, directing any questions to your physician.
Packed with protein and high in fiber, quinoa is a seed that is cooked and eaten like rice and related grains. Here’s everything you need to know about this superfood.
In This Article
How to Pronounce Quinoa
A six-letter word that is 67% vowels and starts with a “q” can be understandably confusing to pronounce. In English, “qu” usually has a “kwa” sound, as in queen, quick, and question. But in Spanish, “qu” has a “kee” sound, like the word key.
To pronounce quinoa like a pro, start by saying “keen” and then add a “wah” sound similar to the “wa” in “want.” The emphasis in quinoa is on the first syllable, so be sure to pronounce that slightly louder than the rest of the word. When you put these pieces together, “quinoa” is pronounced as “KEEN-wah.”
What is Quinoa?
Although it’s technically a seed, quinoa is considered a pseudocereal. That means that quinoa is not a true cereal grain – like wheat or rice – but it is cooked and eaten in a similar way. Native to the Andes Mountains in South America, quinoa is often called a superfood because it is a complete protein, which means that it contains all nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot make on its own.
Quinoa is also considered a good source of fiber (which helps you feel full longer), antioxidants (which help fight heart disease and cancer), and important minerals (like iron, zinc, manganese, and magnesium).
There are seven types of quinoa:
Quinoa can be used as a substitute for rice and other grains in a variety of dishes, such as pilafs, salads, and soups. It can also be ground into flour. Quinoa flakes make a protein-rich, gluten-free substitute for breadcrumbs, and quinoa puffs can replace puffed rice.
Where is Quinoa From?
First grown nearly 7,000 years ago in the Andes Mountains, the Incas called quinoa “the mother grain,” and it played an important role in their culture and mythology. Quinoa is considered an ancient grain. As opposed to modern grains – like wheat and rice – ancient grains are grown as they were thousands of years ago without genetic modification or hybridization.
Quinoa hails primarily from the South American countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. However, today it is also farmed in other parts of the world, including the United States. Quinoa can be grown at high altitudes, making it a suitable crop for mountainous regions.
Does Quinoa Have Protein?
Oh, yes! When comparing quinoa with the most commonly grown grains – wheat, barley, oats, rye, and rice – quinoa is the queen of protein. I chatted with Karen Kelly, a certified health coach and gluten-free blogger at Seasonal Cravings who shared, “I often advise my clients to try quinoa as a replacement for gluten containing pasta. It’s packed with protein and essential amino acids. It’s also a perfect blank slate for all sorts of flavors and makes delicious salads and grain bowls.”
One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8.1 grams of protein. So when you make a bowl of porridge-like quinoa for breakfast, you add 140% more protein to your morning than when you eat oatmeal. And when you substitute a cup of cooked quinoa for white rice as a side dish at dinner, you add nearly double the protein to your evening.
Is Quinoa Gluten Free?
Yes! This protein-rich ancient grain is a great option for people who follow a gluten-free diet. And if you have celiac disease, this article cites a study that found that some celiac patients experienced additional benefits from incorporating quinoa into their diet.
Is Quinoa a Carb?
With just over 39 grams of carbohydrates in one cup of cooked quinoa, it has about as many carbs as rice. However, because quinoa is a whole grain, it contains complex carbohydrates, which are better for you than refined grains (like white rice or white flour).
Is Quinoa Good for You?
Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people who ate 70 grams per day of whole grains (like quinoa) experienced health benefits. Specifically, they had a 22% lower risk of total mortality, a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 20% lower risk of cancer mortality when compared with those who ate little to no whole grains. And because quinoa is high in both dietary fiber and protein, it helps increase your metabolism and feel full longer, which aids in weight loss.
Overall, quinoa is a nutritious food that can be a good addition to a healthy diet. But, as with any food, it is important to pay attention to portion sizes and eat a range of foods to ensure you get the right balance of nutrients.
Is Quinoa Healthier Than Rice?
It depends on the type of rice – do you want to compare quinoa with white rice, brown rice, or wild rice? And, what factors are you considering when determining the healthier option? Here’s how quinoa compares with all three types of rice, based on the calories, protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber in one cooked cup.
Wild rice is the only option that is tough enough to go head to head with quinoa. It beats quinoa in terms of calories (56 fewer per cup) and carbohydrates (4 grams less per cup). But quinoa is the gold medal winner when it comes to protein (about 25% more) and dietary fiber (2.2 grams more per cup).
What Does Quinoa Taste Like?
Quinoa has a subtle and unique flavor. While quinoa has a mild, slightly nutty flavor to me, some people describe its taste as slightly earthy or grassy, while others find it to be slightly sweet.
How to Cook Quinoa
Prepared quinoa has a fluffy, creamy texture. You can easily make the perfect batch of quinoa:
- in a rice cooker,
- on the stovetop,
- in a Crockpot or slow cooker, and
- in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker
Regardless of the tool you use, the general rule for fluffy quinoa is a 2:1 liquid-to-grain ratio. So for every cup of quinoa, use two cups of water, milk, or broth.
What to Eat with Quinoa
Quinoa is a flexible ingredient that can be enjoyed in many ways. Serve it as an alternative side dish to your favorite entree instead of rice pilaf. Stir it into soup, use it as a protein-rich base in a bowl of salad, or enjoy quinoa porridge with a drizzle of pure maple syrup in the morning.
Best Quinoa Recipes for Alpha Gals
Looking for creative ways to incorporate more quinoa into your diet? Here are a few tasty options.
Important Recipe Notes
Before you dig into these delicious quinoa recipes, alpha gals should note:
- Because the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology reports that most people with alpha-gal can tolerate “moderate, lean dairy,” some of the quinoa recipes below include cheese. If you are an alpha gal who avoids dairy, please make a dairy-free substitution.
- Alpha gals can safely substitute chicken broth for vegetable broth if they want to plump up the protein in any of these quinoa soup recipes.
Quinoa Oatmeal Breakfast Bowls
Made with quinoa, steel cut oats, and coconut milk, these quinoa oatmeal breakfast bowls from Flavor the Moments are a delicious way to start the day. And with a variety of toppings, like blueberry almond butter and banana chocolate chip, you can make a different version nearly every day of the work week!
Mushroom Asparagus Quinoa Quiche Cups
What’s better than mini quiches? Mini quiches with the extra protein punch of quinoa. And that’s exactly what you get with these mushroom asparagus quinoa quiche cups from Sumptuous Spoonfuls.
Coconut Quinoa with Fruit
Cooked with coconut milk, this quinoa recipe from Oh So Delicioso tops the powerful grain with fresh seasonal fruit. It’s the perfect protein-packed alternative to oatmeal for breakfast or a great afternoon snack.
Greek Quinoa Salad
Pairing Mediterranean ingredients like cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese with cooked quinoa, this Greek quinoa salad recipe from Pinch and Swirl is one of my favorites. And if you don’t eat it all in one sitting, the leftovers are perfect for lunch.
Quinoa Tuna Salad
Another delicious Mediterranean-style quinoa salad is this quinoa tuna salad from Babaganosh. It’s filled with veggies, has the added protein of canned chunk tuna, and is topped with light lemon vinaigrette and fresh herbs.
Peanut Crunch Salad in a Jar
You can make a batch of this peanut crunch salad by A Virtual Vegan, store it in mason jars, and have a grab-and-go lunch option ready to roll. And, because chicken is an alpha-gal friendly animal protein, you can also add shredded or diced cooked chicken breast to this salad if desired.
Quinoa Poke Bowl with Seared Tuna
Alpha gals who love tuna are also sure to enjoy these quinoa poke bowls from Wholly Tasteful that include sliced mango and seared ahi tuna. It’s a fast, easy, filling meal for a busy weeknight.
Slow Cooker Tex-Mex Quinoa Bowls
For another fast, easy meal, try these tasty Tex-Mex quinoa bowls from XOXO Bella. As a busy, working mom, my favorite weeknight recipes are the ones where I put all of the ingredients in a slow cooker and forget about it for a few hours. (And no one can taste that it was that easy!)
Chicken Burrito Bowl with Cilantro Lime Quinoa and Zesty Crema
Another delicious Mexican-inspired quinoa dish is this chicken burrito bowl recipe from Kid Tested Recipes. Grilled chicken, black beans, and quinoa are topped with fresh veggies like corn and sweet peppers and then drizzled with a fresh-made jalapeno crema.
Easy One-Pot Garlic Shrimp Scampi Over Quinoa
One guaranteed way to take quinoa to a whole new level is to top it with spicy shrimp. And that’s exactly what’s going down in this easy one-pot shrimp scampi recipe from Bless This Meal.
Spicy Red Sriracha Quinoa
If you like your side dishes to pack some heat, this spicy red sriracha quinoa from Strength and Sunshine is the perfect dish for you! I recommend serving this quinoa dish instead of rice with main dishes like Creole chicken or blackened salmon.
Quinoa Chocolate Chip Cookies
If you think quinoa is just a breakfast dish or a replacement for rice, you might be surprised by these chocolate chip cookies from Strength & Sunshine. Quinoa flakes and quinoa flour kick up the protein in these classic cookies.
Do You Like Quinoa?
What’s your favorite way to eat quinoa? Do you have a favorite quinoa recipe? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.