Is Quinoa Keto? How Many Carbs, Can You Eat It, Plus 5 Substitutes

Is Quinoa Keto? How Many Carbs, Can You Eat It, Plus 5 Substitutes
Daniel Thompson

on October 17, 2019

High in fiber, protein and packed with nutrients, many consider Quinoa a healthier alternative to rice. But is quinoa keto friendly? 

Certain fruits, veggies, and legumes like carrots, potatoes, and chickpeas that are widely considered healthy are a no-go for Keto dieters. Another surprising addition to the “no” column? Quinoa. 

While the ancient grain is considered a “superfood” as a nutrient-dense complete protein, its high carb count all but discounts it from the Keto diet.

What is Quinoa?

To make an informed decision about whether quinoa is acceptable on the keto diet, it’s helpful to understand exactly what it is. Though it’s widely classified as a grain, quinoa is actually a seed. It comes from the Chenopodium quinoa plant, which is where it gets its name. 

Vegetarians and vegans are big eaters of this superfood because it has a high protein content for a plant-based food. Half a cup of cooked quinoa contains about 4 grams of protein. 

Quinoa is what’s called a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are building blocks our body uses to create muscle and regulate our immune system. There are nine amino acids that are considered essential, and these can’t be made by our bodies. We have to get them from food or supplements, and quinoa naturally contains all nine. It’s one of the few plant-based foods that holds this distinction. 

Quinoa is gluten free, which may have contributed to its rise in popularity as awareness spread about gluten sensitivity. It’s a good substitute for grains that contain gluten, like couscous.

The most popular types of quinoa that you’re likely to see on supermarket shelves are white, red and black quinoa, but there are actually more than 120 different varieties. There are subtle differences between them, like texture and taste, but for home cooking purposes the different colors of quinoa are mostly interchangeable. 

Is Quinoa Keto & How Many Carbs Are There?

Quinoa may be widely loved and full of nutrition, but is it keto? The answer short answer is no.

A half cup serving of cooked quinoa contains the following macronutrients:

  • 111 calories
  • 4 grams of protein
  • 2.6 grams of fiber
  • 1.8 grams of fat
  • 20 grams of carbs

On a non-keto diet, quinoa is considered a relatively low-carb food. Standard dietary recommendations call for consuming between 225 and 325 grams of carbs per day, so quinoa easily fits into this guideline. 

The ketogenic diet, of course, is much different. A standard ketogenic diet calls for consuming between 20 and 50 grams of carbs per day, so just a half-cup serving of quinoa might put you over the limit. 

That doesn’t mean it’s completely off the table on keto, however. It has so many nutritional qualities that you can benefit from eating even a small amount. It all depends on your personal keto diet plan and how you work quinoa into it. 

How To Eat Quinoa and Stay In Ketosis

Though you want to stay away from meals where quinoa is a main ingredient, like quinoa bowls or quinoa side dishes, you can still incorporate small amounts of it into a healthy keto diet. 

Mix It With No-Carb and Low-Carb Foods

Quinoa is a great topping to add bulk and protein to a kale salad. For a mediterranean inspired lunch, try tossing a few spoonfuls of quinoa with a mix of spinach, arugula, kalamata olives and feta cheese and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. 

The Targeted Keto Diet (TKD)

Keto dieters who follow the targeted method eat all their daily carb allowance (the 20-50 gram range) around their workouts. Including quinoa (that complete protein superfood) in their meal plans around workouts can help give you energy and keep your glycogen stores level. But again, this allowance only really works to keep you in ketosis if you’re burning through your glycogen stores during your workouts.

The Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD)

CKD is a more relaxed Keto diet where dieters cycle between the standard keto diet (like we’ve outlined above) and a typical high-carb diet for “reloading.” The cycle usually follows a SKD for 5-6 days and CKD for 1-2 days where you’re coming out of ketosis for those two “off” days. Quinoa is a perfect food to incorporate back into your diet during your reloading days, as it’s so jam packed with nutrients, is easy to cook,  (and tastes good too!).

Closely Monitor Daily Carb Intake

When it comes to how many carbs you can eat before getting kicked out of ketosis, every person is different. If you know you can safely consume 50 grams of carbs per day and maintain ketosis, then you can enjoy a small serving of quinoa as long as you closely monitor your carb intake the rest of the day to make sure you don’t exceed your limit. Be especially mindful of hidden carbs that pop up in unexpected places, like seasonings and condiments. 

Low carb substitutes for Quinoa While Following a Keto or Low Carb Diet

If you don’t want to risk losing your ketosis by eating quinoa, your best bet is to rely on veggie-based grain substitutes instead. Try these five keto-friendly alternatives to quinoa. 

Cauliflower Rice

Light, mild and versatile, cauliflower rice is made by “ricing,” or finely dicing, cauliflower. You can do this by hand with a box grater, but the easiest way to make it is by dicing chopped cauliflower in a blender or food processor. You can also buy it packaged in the frozen food section of some grocery stores. Prepare it by sauteeing it in olive oil for a few minutes until tender. 

Cauliflower is naturally high in fiber and B vitamins, which are essential to maintaining healthy bodily functions. Because it’s so mild, cauliflower rice pairs well with almost anything you’d serve with rice or quinoa. Season it with garlic and herbs for a side dish or use it as a base and top with chicken or fish. 

Broccoli Rice

Broccoli rice is the same idea as cauliflower rice, but made with broccoli. Broccoli is loaded with nutrients like vitamin K, folate, and potassium. A one-cup serving contains as much vitamin C as an orange. 

Broccoli rice makes a great casserole addition, but one of our favorite ways to eat it is tossed with parmesan or cheddar cheese. Combine while the broccoli rice is still hot for a gooey, delicious side dish. 

Chopped Cabbage

Cabbage doesn’t get a whole lot of love in the foodie world, but it’s actually a keto all-star. One cup of chopped cabbage contains less than 2 grams of net carbs and packs a hearty nutritional punch. That same serving size will set you back just 22 calories. 

One cup of cabbage contains 85% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K, which plays an important role in blood clotting, bone metabolism, and the regulation of blood calcium levels. It’s also loaded with vitamin C and is a good source of folate. 

To substitute cabbage for quinoa and other grains, simply chop it with a kitchen knife and saute it in olive oil until tender. It makes a great side dish for shrimp and shellfish. 

Rutabaga Rice

Most of us have heard of cauliflower rice, but there’s another riceable veggie that’s equally versatile and healthy to boot: rutabaga. Rutabaga is a root vegetable that looks like a cross between a turnip and a head of cabbage. It’s a good source of magnesium, potassium and vitamin C. 

A half cup of chopped rutabaga contains about 4 grams of net carbs. To turn it into a quinoa substitute, first use a spiralizer to make vegetable noodles from a whole, peeled rutabaga. That will make it easier to rice with a blender or food processor. Rutabaga rice can be prepared by boiling it in water or broth until the liquid is absorbed, similar to rice. The result is a highly mild vegetable rice that will absorb the flavor of whatever it’s paired with. 

Flax seeds

Like quinoa, flax is considered a superfood due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, iron, and vitamin E. Unlike quinoa flax seeds are considered a high-fat food.

Flax seeds contains only 3 grams of net carbs for every 100 grams, making it a keto-friendly, nutritious alternative to quinoa for the ketogenic diet. Most nutritionists recommend eating flax seeds as a ground meal rather than as whole seeds for the health benefits of easier digestion and absorption of nutrients.

You can make wraps, pancakes, muffins, and more with flax meal. 

Benefits of Eating Quinoa

Cooked quinoa is a good source of fiber, which helps us maintain a healthy weight and contributes to a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. 

As far as carbs go, quinoa has a low glycemic index. It may have positive implications for blood sugar levels, which is of particular interest to people with diabetes. In  study of human subjects, quinoa was found to have a lesser effect on blood sugar levels than other gluten free foods like gluten free pasta and gluten free bread.

It’s rich in antioxidants and minerals, including manganese, which helps with growth and development, iron, which contributes to healthy red blood cells, and zinc, which helps the immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. 

While Quinoa shouldn't be a staple of your diet you can include from time to time and

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