Many people looking to lose weight or manage chronic health conditions decide to restrict their carb intake.
Although grains are normally off-limits on low carb and ketogenic diets due to their high carb count, quinoa is often considered a health food. Thus, you may wonder whether it adheres to either of these diets.
Technically a pseudocereal, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is nutritionally considered a whole grain. A diet rich in whole grains is linked to a reduced risk of disease and death.
This grain is touted for its many health benefits and broad range of nutrients. It’s naturally gluten-free, comes in several colors, and often eaten on its own or in salads, stews, and porridges.
This article tells you whether quinoa is low carb or keto-friendly.
How many carbs are in quinoa?
Quinoa is considered a fairly high carb food, as it contains 21.2 grams in a cooked 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving. This gives it roughly the same number of carbs as millet.
Depending on the type of low carb diet you follow, a single serving of quinoa may exceed your daily carb allowance.
Since your body doesn’t fully digest the carbs from dietary fiber, subtracting the total fiber from the total carbs in a food tells you how many carbs your body breaks down.
This figure is referred to as net carbs.
As 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cooked quinoa holds 2.6 grams of fiber, this portion contains approximately 18.6 grams of net carbs.
Although this number is lower than the total carbs, keep in mind that it’s still significantly more than the 13 grams of net carbs in a single slice of whole grain bread — a food that’s generally off-limits on low carb diets.
Can you eat quinoa on low carb or keto diets?
Many people want to eat quinoa on low carb or keto diets due to its rich nutrient profile.
However, serving size is key. If you’re planning on including this grain in your keto or low carb diet, you should only do so sparsely — not in full-sized portions.
For instance, on a strict keto diet that limits your carb intake to 20 grams per day, one full 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of quinoa exceeds your carb allowance because it boasts over 21 grams of carbs.
Even on a more relaxed keto diet that permits up to 50 grams daily, you would still have to carefully restrict all other carbs and stick to foods denser in protein and fat the rest of the day.
Although some low carb diets are less stringent and allow for more carbs, you should only eat very small portions of quinoa on low carb or keto diets — if at all.
For instance, you could sprinkle a spoonful on a salad or stew. This way, you could still enjoy quinoa’s signature crunch and nutty flavor without exceeding your carb allotment.
How you prepare quinoa affects its overall nutrient content, making this grain especially important to limit — or avoid altogether — on low carb diets, including keto.
For example, quinoa prepared with sauces or dressings packs more carbs than plain quinoa. Other dishes, such as starchy vegetables and high carb fruit, also raise your meal’s carb contents.
If you plan to eat small amounts of quinoa on your low carb diet, be sure to prepare it plain and count the other carbs in your meal.
Carb counts for low carb and keto diets
In general, low carb diets contain fewer carbs and more protein and fat than the typical Western diet.
These eating patterns promote lean meats, nuts, fish, and low carb veggies while limiting high carb foods like baked goods, desserts, certain fruits, and grains. Thus, if you follow a strict low carb diet, quinoa would automatically be considered off the table.
A typical low carb diet restricts carbs to 50–130 grams per day, which is higher than the amount allowed on the keto diet.
The keto diet is more restrictive
The ketogenic diet is a type of low carb eating pattern that’s moderate in protein and very high in fat.
It’s designed to help you achieve ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body burns fat instead of carbs as its primary energy source.
To maintain ketosis on this diet, you should typically consume 20–50 grams of carbs per day.
Many guidelines for the keto diet ban grains outright.
The bottom line
Although it’s considered a health food, quinoa is high in carbs and should be extremely limited on a low carb or keto diet.
If you decide to consume it, never eat full portions. Rather, treat it like a garnish for salads, stews, sandwiches, or porridge.
If you prefer to play it safe with your carb count, it’s best to avoid quinoa altogether.