If you’ve been following the keto diet for quite some time, you already know that rice and grain products, in general, are off-limits. This is because they contain too many carbs to fit a keto diet. But what about quinoa, which is a pseudo grain? Is quinoa keto?
Due to its abundance of vitamins and minerals, it’s not unusual to want to include quinoa in your diet. However, keep in mind that just because something is nutrient-dense, doesn’t make it beneficial for keto dieters.
Here’s more about eating quinoa on keto so you can decide for yourself.
Pronounced as keen-wah, quinoa is not a true grain, but rather a pseudo grain because it has a similar nutrient profile to other cereal grains. Moreover, people eat quinoa as a breakfast cereal, enjoy it as a side dish, add it to salads, and even use it as a substitute for refined white rice.
Although quinoa tastes like grain — slightly creamy and earthy, with a somewhat fluffy texture — it’s technically a seed. The chenopodium quinoa plant is a cool-climate crop that originates from the Andes Mountains.
For those who are looking for healthy carb sources, quinoa is a natural choice. Carbohydrate-rich foods are common sources of gluten — which is associated with wheat allergy and celiac disease — and thankfully, quinoa does not contain gluten (*).
A 100-gram serving provides 21.3 grams of total carbs in quinoa and 2.8 grams of fiber, which brings the net carbs down to 18.5 grams (*). (Note that to get the net carbs of food, you need to subtract dietary fiber from the total carbs.)
18.5 grams of net carbs in a serving of cooked quinoa is quite high on the keto diet, considering that keto allows only up to 50 grams of net carbs or total carbs each day.
The same serving of cooked quinoa also contains 1.92 grams of fat and 4.4 grams of protein (*). If you compare quinoa with white rice, quinoa has more protein and fiber, which makes it an appealing choice (*).
Other nutrients found in quinoa include the following: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, and manganese.
If you’re on a strict keto diet, meaning that you adhere to foods that are technically keto-friendly, you should avoid quinoa. Quinoa is certainly not a low-carb choice.
It’s even more difficult to incorporate quinoa into your diet if your daily carb allowance is 20 grams or close to zero for those wanting to deplete their glycogen stores and enter ketosis quickly.
However, if you’re following a more relaxed approach, such as lazy keto, it may be alright to eat quinoa as long as you do not exceed the recommended carb intake — 5 to 10% of your total calories (*). So, on a 1,500-calorie keto diet plan for weight loss, you will need only 19 to 38 grams of carbs daily.
What if you choose to eat quinoa on keto? Under these circumstances, it would be helpful to follow these tips to avoid getting kicked out of ketosis:
The first and most important tip is practicing portion control. For example, instead of eating 100 grams of quinoa all at once, try adding just a few tablespoons (1-3 tablespoons) to your keto salads and soups.
Alternatively, you could increase quinoa to two servings, equivalent to 200 grams, and split that into smaller portions throughout the day for a total of 37 grams of net carbs. But make sure you’re no longer consuming other carb sources — which would leave you with zero-carb options like whole eggs, meat, and fish.
The second tip is to avoid conventional sauces and dressings, which are often high in carbs and added sugar. Stick to plain quinoa.
Giving up high-carb foods but missing grains in your diet? Fortunately, there are many quinoa alternatives to choose from. These substitutes have very few carbs in one serving. Like quinoa, they’re gluten-free and packed with nutrients!
- Riced cauliflower: This is cauliflower chopped into tiny bits about the size of rice. Cauliflower is rich in vitamins C and K for strengthening the immune system and helping with blood clotting. A 100-gram serving provides 23 calories, 1.81g net carbs, 0g fat, and 1.84g protein (*).
- Riced broccoli: Broccoli is a wonderful replacement for cauliflower in case you want a vegetable with a similar texture. A 100-gram serving provides 35 calories, 3.88g net carbs, 0g fat, and 2.38g protein (*).
- Chopped egg whites: Although uncommon, boiled and chopped egg whites can be used as a high-protein replacement for quinoa. They’re incredibly filling and great for supporting weight loss. A 100-gram serving provides 52 calories, 0.73g carbs, 0g fat, and 10.9g protein (*).
- Cabbage rice: Riced cabbage could be your next favorite side dish. Simply put cabbage in a food processor and cook it with bits of meat, low-carb veggies, and spices of your choice. A 100-gram serving provides 25 calories, 3.3g net carbs, 0g fat, and 1.28g protein (*).
- Shirataki rice: Also called miracle rice, shirataki comes from the konjac plant. It’s essentially flavorless, high in fiber, and has a chewy texture. A 100-gram serving provides 9 calories, 0g net carbs, 0g fat, and 0g protein (*).
- Diced mushrooms: Shiitake, white button, and portobello mushrooms have a slightly sweet and umami flavor that goes well with many keto foods. A 100-gram serving provides 28 calories, 3.09g net carbs, 0g fat, and 2.17g protein (*).
Quinoa is considered a nutritional powerhouse, but unfortunately, it contains too many carbs to suit a keto lifestyle. However, you may be able to incorporate quinoa into your diet by controlling portion sizes. Eat only one serving (100 grams) or just a few tablespoons.
For those struggling with portion control, a much better option — which will keep you in ketosis and help you reach your goals faster — is to replace quinoa with very low-carb filling options.
We recommend trying out both approaches and seeing which one is more sustainable for your keto diet.