Is Quinoa Paleo?

Is Quinoa Paleo? | The Paleo Diet

Hi Dr. Cordain,

This is Millie, I have a masters in Kin Ex science CSULB, I am a fitness coordinator at Boeing Long Beach, Ca, and teach yoga at CSULB & the LB fitness center. My husband has M.S…I started ‘us’ on the Paleo diet 5 months ago…  We have experienced amazing results!
I’ve read some of your books (and Robb Wolf’s & the Hartwigs), my question is what is the compound in quinoa and its potential harm to the body?  Are you aware of any studies showing that quinoa is harmful like other grains. Other sources say it doesn’t cause same effects, but they show no research. Is this topic addressed in your new book?

I appreciate your time!

In great gratitude,


Dr. Cordain’s Response:

Hi Millie,

Good to hear from you and congratulations on your successes with The Paleo Diet. In my new book I have devoted part of Chapter 6 to potential adverse health effects of such psuedo grains as quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat. All of these plant seeds contain a variety of anti-nutrient compounds which potentially have deleterious effects in humans, particularly if they are consumed in high amounts on a regular basis. Quinoa seeds may contain very high concentrations (up to 5,000 mg/kg) of compounds known as saponins, which like the name implies, have soap like properties they may cause a “leaky” gut by breaking down intestinal cell membranes. I believe that a leaky gut promotes chronic low level inflammation and likely represents a necessary step in the development of autoimmune diseases. Quinoa seeds may be “polished” during processing to lower their saponin content, because the highest concentration of these compounds are found in the outer layer of the seed. Fresh fruits and vegetables are superior nutritionally to all whole grains, including the psuedo grains, which I recommend should be consumed infrequently.

Hope this helps

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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“22” Comments

  1. Pingback: Why No Quinoa On Paleo Diet | My Good Health lost

  2. Donna Gates of Body Ecology says to soak/sprout these seeds before cooking. From the Paleo perspective, how does that affect the saponins and other anti nutrient compounds?
    Do you put millet in the same category?

    So far, I haven’t experienced any changes in my digestive issues since being strictly on paleo.

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  7. Quinoa seems to harbor nutritional treasure, so I won’t be throwing that baby out with the bath water just yet. It’s my understanding that thoroughly rinsing quinoa with cold water, followed by overnight soaking, followed by a final rinse addresses the issue of saponin & phytic acid (though there’s probably contradictory evidence somewhere!). Nuts, seeds, beans, & grains (including pseudo) need to be rinsed & soaked prior to cooking…I learned that the hard way. Every dietary ideology has its biases, and many make a sane, compelling argument…& because there are truths in much of it, I found myself having a meltdown in the health food store, surrounded by options but paralyzed by conflicting wisdoms. I decided to distill it all into one informed, intuitive, & doable approach FOR MYSELF…which involves keeping it simple, fresh, organic, and unadulterated…& prepared & eaten with love, joy, and gratitude.

    • The more I learn about foods the more I feel I understand less. I am doing a Paleo diet. Well trying. And I like to add Quinoa now. I eat no bread, pasta or rice. So it is kind of boring for me. Thanks for your comments and advise!

      • to add flavor to the quinoa heat up some olive oil saute onions celery brussell sprouts(chopped up) add garlic add the quinoa and chicken stock cook it down like rice season to your liking its amazing!

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    • Quinoa, amaranth and buck wheat……. it is such a big ask to give away all these things. Sure we can live on meat veg fruit and some oil seeds alone, but what a boring diet!!!!!

      I am really getting bored with all this and the paleo diet is no different…. and as one person said…we are eating domesticated animals and cultivated vegetables and fruit…. if we what to be so strict than so be it…just game meats and wild harvested heirloom fruits and vegetables.
      Now that would be almost impossible unless you are seriously rich or live in some remote forest wilderness.

      Great variety and moderation with organic, no GMO and stay off modern wheat. Too easy and a great life.

      • Great post. Quinoa is an incredible food with an incredible nutritional profile. It is a seed. Point blank. Its not a grain. It is gluten free. It is a complete protein. It offers omega fats, fiber, and is low on glycemic index. If you look hard enough at any food, they all contain something. that may or may not do something to some part of your body i.e. the leaky gut or whatever the author was suggesting. Give me the perfect food, and I’ll give you 1000 people on the internet trying to tell you why you shouldn’t eat it.

        • I for one, am happy the author “suggested” the bit about leaky gut. My 5 year old daughter suffers from it and in most cases, if not healed, results in an autoimmune disorder. We are just starting our paleo journey and found it very helpful. I am sure it is an incredible seed, though, one we will be avoiding.

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    If you have the equipment and someone to teach you proper form, the Olympic lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk) can be
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  13. But a true paleolithic diet is impossible to mimic because wild game is not readily available, most modern plant food is cultivated rather than wild, and meats are domesticated. At best, you can eat a modified version of the original diet that’s gluten-free and includes lean meat, organ meats, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and nuts. It’s a wide variety of foods.,..,”

    Good day to you <

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  15. Hello, I’d like to know if (Quinoa, Basmati Rice, red beans) all gluten free, despite the health point, can prevent the lost of weight ? or have nothing to do with.
    Thank you

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  17. Dr. Cordain,
    I recently finished reading the Eat Right for Your Bloodtype book, and based on my A+ bloodtype it is suggested my diet be mostly vegetarian allowing mostly whole grains, nuts, veggies, fruits, and sparse dairy with fish once a week. The book claims some of my most beneficial foods to be quinoa, oats, soy, wheat, yogurt and certain legumes like peanuts. I would love your opinion as I find your information and research compelling. However, based on my bloodtype my ancestors supposedly adapted and can tolerate these foods, whereas other bloodtypes cannot.

    Looking forward to your response,

  18. I am curious as to why legumes or beans in general are not in the Paleo, I can only guess that because maybe harder to digest and the gaseous nature can you enlighten me. I have just started the paleo diet and I have gotten rid of my vertigo, I am totally astounded by the amount of energy I have. I have Hepatitis C which does not bother me except with the grains ,I was fatigued all the time. Just 2 and 1/2 days on this diet and I am completely energized. Now I have to work on being regular with bowel movements, I hope this helps.

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