Quinoa Cooking Guide: Quinoa Health Benefits + Vegan Quinoa Recipes

Is quinoa gluten free? What about quinoa glycemic index effects? I’m answering your top questions on quinoa in this quinoa cooking and nutrition guide. Plus I’m sharing my top 5 ways to cook with quinoa, and some of my favorite vegan quinoa recipes.

Quinoa may seem like a newer food trend, but this healthful whole grain actually dates back 5,000 years, when it was an important staple crop and sacred food for the ancient Incans, who called quinoa the “mother grain.” I saw quinoa growing everywhere when I visited Peru a few years ago, and it’s clear that this special food—packed with nutrition and versatility—is at the cornerstone of healthy diets in this region. Quinoa can also be a superstar in your own diet, as it suits grain dishes, salads, baked goods, entrees, soups, and much more.

Quinoa growing in the Sacred Valley, Peru

Quinoa Nutrition Benefits

This tiny whole grain contains a cache of important nutrients: one serving (1/2 cup cooked) has 4 grams of high-quality protein (it is one of the few plant foods that provides a good balance of all of the essential amino acids your body needs in a dietary source), 5 grams of fiber, as well as several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and folate), iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper—all for 111 calories per one-half cup cooked quinoa. It shouldn’t be a surprise that that studies document quinoa’s potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits and its role in protecting against diabetes and increasing satiety.

Is quinoa gluten free? Yes, quinoa (which is technically a pseudo grain, though it is categorized as a whole grain) is a gluten-free grain, making it a suitable, nutrient-rich alternative for people who must avoid gluten because of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Is quinoa glycemic index low? The GI for quinoa is 53, which means it is moderate in impact and is not going to cause dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose levels. That’s because of quinoa’s mix of protein and fiber along with the carbs. How many carbs in quinoa? Though quinoa is rich in fiber and protein, it does provides 20 grams of carbohydrates in 1/2 cup cooked serving, making it a source of slow-digesting carbs, which act as energy for the body.

Quinoa growing in garden

How to Cook with Quinoa

Quinoa is so versatile, you can use it in everything from porridge and breads to soups and salads—and everything in between. Quinoa also comes in beautiful shades of ivory, red, and black, and cooks up in just 15 minutes. What about quinoa vs couscous? A lot of people may mistake the tiny grains of quinoa with couscous. However, these are totally different foods. Quinoa is the seed of a plant that can be cooked in its entirety, while couscous is a tiny pasta product made from wheat flour. However, you can try to use quinoa in place of couscous in a variety of recipes for an interesting swap.

Check out My Top 5 Ways to Cook with Quinoa below, and try this recipe for easy 4-Way Meal Prep: Roasted Spiced Vegetables, Chickpeas and Quinoa to get you started. Watch the video I created for this recipe with iHerb here.

Top 5 Ways to Use Quinoa + Vegan Quinoa Recipes

Red Quinoa Berry Breakfast Bowl

1. Breakfast with Quinoa

You don’t have to limit your selections of porridge to only steel cut oats. Use quinoa for a stunning hot cereal, topped with nuts, seeds, and fruit. Check out this recipe for Red Quinoa Berry Breakfast Bowl for inspiration.

Mediterranean Bowl with Edamame and Quinoa

2. Create a Grain Bowl

Use quinoa as the foundation for your next nutritionally balanced grain power bowl. Just add it to the bottom of your bowl, and then top it with a plant protein, like beans or tofu, leafy greens, your favorite veggies, and a flavorful topping.

Super Acai Berry Bowl

3. Arrange an Acai Bowl

I love to add quinoa to my acai or power bowls, for a healthy, whole grain addition. Just mix together pureed acai with cooked quinoa, and top with fruits, nuts, seeds, and coconut. While you’re at it, check out my recipe and video for Berry Quinoa Power Bowl here too.

Pomegranate Avocado Quinoa Salad

4. Toss together a Great Salad

I absolutely love featuring quinoa in hearty vegetable salads, such as these recipes for Southwestern Black Bean, Quinoa and Mango Salad, Pomegranate Avocado Quinoa Salad, and Quinoa Waldorf Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette. Just pile in quinoa with leafy greens, veggies, fruits, nuts, and/or seeds, and whisk in a flavorful dressing.

4-Way Meal Prep: Roasted Spiced Vegetables, Chickpeas and Quinoa

5. Do Meal Prep with Quinoa

Cooking up in only 15 minutes, quinoa is the perfect whole grain addition to your meal prep routine. Check out my 4-Way Meal Prep: Roasted Spiced Vegetables, Chickpeas and Quinoa for inspiration.

For other guides on cooking with plants, check out some of my favorites:

Check out more Vegan Quinoa Recipes here:

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