Is Quinoa a Good Source of Protein?

The health benefits of quinoa are well documented, but is quinoa a good source of protein? In this article, we explain that, when you really look into it, quinoa doesn’t really stack up compared to some other healthy options.

quinoa salad

17-Jul 2017, by Lee Sandwith

Unless you’ve had your head firmly buried under the sand lately you will be all too familiar with Quinoa. That said, it’s still a relative newcomer to the health food arena and there’s a fair bit of misinformation being propagated by many health food gurus.

Given that this intriguing psuedo-cereal (1) is associated with lots of health benefits it unequivocally falls into the superfood category. For example, Quinoa is a great source of complex carbs and fibre, it has powerful antioxidant properties, it’s low on the GI scale and it’s gluten free (2).

Quinoa’s ‘Complete Protein’ Profile

Further, the classification as Quinoa as a good source of protein is a common theme in many articles (3, 4), however, in my humble opinion, this is an unfortunate misconception.

Although Quinoa is classed as a ‘complete protein’ meaning that it contains all 9 amino acids (5), when it comes to the amount of protein per serving, it simply doesn’t stack up against other top sources and when you look at the facts, this viewpoint becomes difficult to refute.

Most articles don’t seem to address this in the correct way, quoting that Quinoa has “9g protein per cup of cooked Quinoa” (6), or referring to its “protein to carbs” ratio (7).

Protein to Calories Ratio

The important factor when analysing the macronutrient profiles is the relationship between the macronutrient under scrutiny and calories (i.e, in this case, the percentage of protein against total calories).

Simply put, if the ratio is too low you’d have to take on board a lot of calories to get a decent serving of protein which is clearly counterproductive, especially if you’re trying to keep an eye on the old waistline.

Quinoa Compared to Other Grains

With that in mind, let’s see how Quinoa stacks up against other popular grains:

  • Quinoa: 14g protein per 100g; 368 kcal; 4% protein to calories ratio
  • Pearl Barley: 10g per 100g; 352 kcal; 3% protein to calorie ratio
  • Buckwheat: 13g per 100g; 343 kcal; 4% protein to calorie ratio
  • Oatmeal: 13g protein per 100g; 375 kcal; 3% protein to calories ratio

Quinoa Compared to Other Protein Sources

Stacks up ok, right?

How about taking a look at how Quinoa stacks up against other top protein sources:

  • Shrimp: 20g protein per 100g; 106 kcal; 19% ratio
  • Chicken breast: 30g protein per 100g; 197 kcal; 15%
  • Tofu: 9g protein per 100g; 84 kcal; 11%
  • Lentils: 26g per 100g; 353 kcal; 7%
  • Feta cheese: 14g protein per 100g; 264 kcal; 5%

As you can see, a simple mathematical calculation demonstrates that the case for Quinoa being an excellent source of protein is pretty flimsy. It is obviously a great nutritional source, however, your calories are mainly coming from carbs so it’s important to keep that in mind, especially if you’re looking to lose weight.

So, Conclusion, Is Quinoa a Good Source of Protein?

When analysing the numbers, probably not! Quinoa is no better than most other healthy grains and cereals so shouting about it’s protein content is a bit misleading.

If you’re if you’re looking for a good quality protein source you will find meat and fish very difficult to beat and if you’re all about keeping it meat free you may be better opting for tofu, dairy, eggs, beans, pulses and legumes.

If you enjoyed this article please take the time to share it with your nearest and dearest. And if you’d like to learn more about the health benefits of quinoa, check out our quinoa superfood series article which is much more comprehensive than this one.


image credits: The New York TimesOnce Upon A ChefCooking LightAlter Eco

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