Is Quinoa Paleo?

Here’s the deal with quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”), since so many people seem to think it’s totally different than a grain. If it looks like a grain and acts like a grain (not to mention tastes like a grain), it’s a grain. And quinoa contains some anti-nutrients that other grains contain, such as phytic acid, lectins, and saponins.

Read those links for more info on all of those anti-nutrients, but basically phytic acid binds to minerals in your gut and carries them out unabsorbed, and lectins and saponins contribute to gut permeability, or leaky gut. And like other grains, even if quinoa is properly prepared, meaning it’s soaked and cooked for an adequate amount of time, some of those substances will still remain.

Now for some people quinoa is fine, just like some people with guts of steel really can deal with rice or other grains. But for others with more compromised guts and therefore sensitive immune systems, quinoa may not be ok. They may have digestive symptoms or skin irritation or asthma or fatigue after eating it, just like they would with other grains.

Also, quinoa isn’t exactly God’s gift to high protein foods, as some people would like to think. Some even eat a cup of quinoa as their “protein” portion on their plate, and that’s just erroneous. A cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein. A cup of white rice contains just under 5 grams. Three ounces of lean beef contains about 25 grams of protein…

I don’t think quinoa is inherently bad. I just think that after a lifetime of eating improperly prepared, highly glutenous refined grains, pasteurized dairy, toxic seed oils and tons of sugar, a lot of people have compromised guts and immune systems and they can’t handle these foods like native people who’ve never eaten those kinds of Westernized foods. That’s all.


  1. I’m not going to be mad at anyone for eating it if they like it, can handle it, and want it. But don’t try to act like it’s an awesome food – There are better alternatives for any of the benefits anyone claims to get from Quinoa.

  2. Thank you for this! Now, how about a post regarding chia seeds? They seem to be all over the news lately and I am wondering if they fall in the same category as quinoa.

  3. In the grand scheme of things, I believe eating some quinoa here and there is not bad for you. Nuts and seeds, which are touted on the Paleo diet as a good fat and snack can be higher in phytic acids than quinoa.

    With any diet where on consumes foods with phytic acid (which are many), making sure one is getting their fat soluble vitamin intake of A, K and vitamin D is key.

    1. Sandra – I totally agree with you, which is why I always try to tell people to eat nuts and seeds in moderation, and they’re the first thing I take out of people’s diets when they’re having digestive issues on the Paleo diet. Moderation is key always.

  4. Agree with Graham. There are people who can tolerate many types of food and those who will eat these foods regardless. If you want to eat them that’s fine but many of these gain-lite foods aren’t really part of the picture if you are aiming for optimum health.

  5. I used to eat quinoa all the time – it was my favorite grain. After going paleo for 3 months, I decided to try to fold it back in. I ate about one cup of quinoa with a dinner that was otherwise paleo, and ended up with the equivalent of a horrible hangover for the better part of the next day, including vomiting from the headache pain. Makes me think back to all those migraines and general headaches I used to deal with and that my “good for you” foods may have actually been contributing to my pain. I have tested white rice too, and can deal with it with much fewer consequences. But quite frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion – why bother?

  6. Quinoa isn’t a grain (it’s gluten-free), it is technically a seed and related to spinach and beets (though I agree with the anti-nutrients). Please don’t generalize for the sake of a witty sentence. While most that look and quack like a duck are in fact ducks, some just mimic …

  7. Completely erroneous way to approach this topic. “beef contains 25 grams of protein…” i wont even go into that fallacy . Paleo people are a new breed

  8. So if no.nuts/seeds what can we snack.on? I was rather surprised that one paleo site suggested 1/4 cup of almonds – that’s a heck.of a lot, can barely palm. I did it this afternoon and have bloated as if I’d eaten rice! And have stomach ache! Am.trying lemon muffins now made with coconut flour – quite yum, very lemony.and only small so thats a good thing! Substuted honey with coconut nectar as less carbs/sugars. Expensive though as 1/4 cup used for 8 little muffins but its satisfying my sweet craving.

  9. I’ve read your posts on “no legumes” and understand it, but I saw that “unless these are pressure cooked”, I love beans and I pressure cook mine, would it be ok to eat them say once a week? I’m not looking to lose weight but reduce inflammation.

    1. Hi E,

      Technically quinoa is not Paleo. Some include it in their Paleo diets if they can tolerate it and are following more of an 80/20 approach. But even though it’s a seed, it digests more like other whole grains, and as such, is not technically Paleo. Hope that helps!

      Aimee McNew, MNT, Certified Nutritionist

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