Is Quinoa Paleo? A Deep Dive

Quinoa Quinoa is a popular food item these days, and many people seem to be convinced that it falls into the category of paleo friendly foods. We decided to take an in depth look at this issue and determine whether or not it fits into the paleo diet plan.

What Is Quinoa?

Quinoa (pronounced “keenwah”) is a seed that is harvested from a species of a plant called goosefoot. It is officially a seed, which is part of a group of pseudocereals, making it neither cereal nor grain, and more closely related to spinach and beets.

It is because of this unusual categorization from the typical groups of foods that many people are confused as to what quinoa actually is and how it affects the health of people who eat it regularly. Essentially, a person could read 10 different articles about quinoa and get nearly as many different theories about it and where it belongs in a healthy diet.

So, Is Quinoa Paleo?

Well, yes and no. This is clearly a vague answer, but the true place of quinoa in a paleo diet really depends on the decision of each individual person. Let’s explore this a bit.

How Does Quinoa Fit In The Paleo Diet?

Quinoa is technically not a grain, which makes many people jump to the immediate conclusion that it is paleo. It is a seed, and many other seeds are allowed, so why not quinoa?

This is a good point, and for those looking for a grain alternative that has much less potential for damage than regular grains, quinoa is often a good choice. With that being said, quinoa actually does contain some of the same potentially harmful properties of grains.

How Doesn’t Quinoa Fit In The Paleo Diet?

Wheat products are avoided in the paleo diet because they need to be heavily processed to be consumed, which goes against the very basis of the paleo way of thinking and eating.

Beyond that, they are avoided because they contain gluten, saponins and lectins, among other anti-nutrients, which have been shown to be harmful to the lining of a person’s digestive system as well as their immune system. Many people don’t process quinoa effectively and because of that, they should avoid it.

If you’re a fan of Portlandia, they highlight that quite humorously in this clip.

For those that don’t have issues processing quinoa, it’s still contains quite a few carbs. If your goal is to become a fat burner, rather than a carb-burner, you’ll want to avoid quinoa as it’s a 53 on the glycemic index – quite high for a food that you don’t have to be eating.

The Verdict on Quinoa

So, quinoa, while it might technically be gluten free and better than most grains – quinoa is definitely NOT paleo. You’ll want to avoid this for a few reasons – namely the digestive issues & the high carbohydrate content (So if you’re transitioning to paleo for the weight loss benefits, you’ll want to avoid quinoa). Essentially, it’s ok in principle, but not as ok in practice. If you follow a paleo diet plan, it’s not paleo (under the stictest requirements). While it’s not the worst thing in the world – many people simply can’t handle the possible negative effects on your digestive system.

Please note: if you feel rebellious & do choose to eat quinoa, it is generally a good idea to wash it thoroughly, as its outer coating is responsible for some of its wheat like properties.

Also, if you really feel the need the include quinoa in your diet, the best question is “why?” While quinoa might be best used as a “stop-gap” while transitioning from a standard american diet to a full paleo lifestyle, once you’ve made the transition, there’s really no reason to incorporate it into your regular diet – as there are a bunch of other much better food options both for proteins (eggs, meats, etc) and carbohydrates (safe starches, sweet potatoes, bananas, etc).

Verdict: NOT PALEO


For one more fun video – remember – no matter whether or not you choose to eat it, “queen-o” definitely isn’t gameday ready. :)

Additional Reading

photo credit: SweetOnVeg

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  1. sheridan says

    you mentioned that there are better paleo alternatives to quinoa or grains… can you please name a few for me? thank you

  2. Faith says

    Yes, please post alternatives to quinoa. I switched to it in order to avoid gluten, but I’m also trying to lose weight and therefore it seems I’m still working against my plan. Alternatives would be excellent, thanks! :)

  3. says

    I’ve been eating gluten free and mostly paleo for about one month, and quinoa is something I’ve eaten a few times when craving carbs. I think its best reserved as a “safer” alternative to eating junk you shouldn’t eat, and if it doesn’t bother your stomach may be a good thing for those who are underweight or extremely active. That said however, I’ve had no trouble feeling energetic on days I’ve only consumed eggs, avacados, green veggies, fruits and meat or fish. I’ve also lost 12lbs now with zero dieting or calorie counting (and I switched to this diet to improve my psoriasis and ibs symptoms, the weight loss is just a lucky side effect :)

    • admin says

      Hey Caroline,

      It’s definitely not the *worst* thing you could eat – but in the strict sense of the word – it’s not paleo either.

    • Erica says

      How is your psoriasis? I changed to this diet because it makes sense but I am really curious if my psoriasis will stay inactive.

  4. Anya says

    This may not be the same for everyone, but I find Quinoa much easier to digest than the other “safe starches”- I have digestive issues and I’ve found that bananas, sweet potatoes and butternut squash really don’t work for me. I’ve tried exercising without carbs for 6 weeks and the muscle cramping was awful. Is there anything easier to digest that I can eat that will give me enough carbs for a really intensive exercise programme?
    I do around 3hours of fairly high intensity exercise a day.

    • Brock says

      Hi Anya,

      You’re still gonna run into the same problems with Quinoa being a grain. It’s not strictly paleo – but at least it’s not straight wheat. Part of the issue will be your 3 hours of daily cardio. Unless you’re a super efficient fat burner, it’s gonna be tough to deplete your glycogen stores for that long without replacing them with a carbohydrate source of some sort.

  5. Morgan Hurd says

    Quinoa is not wheat, nor is it in the wheat family (rye, buckwheat, barley…) thus is has ZERO GLUTEN. Any gluten that comes from a package of quinoa is a byproduct of sharing machinery or processing with wheat.

      • Mandy says

        You stated that it contains gluten. I’ve been GF for 3 years and I eat quinoa daily without negative side effects ( seizure, depression, suicidal tendencies, etc for me). This was the first article I read on this site and now it makes me question the reliability of your other information.

        • Joel Runyon says

          Hi Mandy,

          Please re-read the article. We don’t state that quinoa contains gluten at all. The only part we talk about gluten is when talking about wheat (and how gluten is viewed as an alternative to it).

  6. Jason says

    Soaking quinoa for about 12 hours will neutralize the anitnutrients. Its so high in protein its hard to give up. I got this info from the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon (pages, 454 and 475).

    • Brock says

      1 cup of quinoa has about 8g of protein. There are certainly better sources of protein out there that don’t have the anti-nutrients & high carb load that quinoa carries.


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