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

About The Paleo Diet Team

The Paleo Diet TeamThe Paleo Diet, the world’s healthiest diet, is based upon the fundamental concept that the optimal diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted. The therapeutic effect of The Paleo Diet is supported by both randomized controlled human trials and real-life success stories.

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“24” Comments

  1. I just read this:
    “What the Science Says

    Emerging research appears to contradict the idea that saponins from quinoa cause inflammation. Researchers examined the inflammatory effect of saponins from quinoa. Contrary to Cordain’s theory, they found saponins possess anti-inflammatory properties and reduce inflammation by suppressing proteins involved in the inflammatory process, called cytokines. Researchers concluded that quinoa saponins may be useful as functional food components to prevent and treat inflammation. The results were published in the April 2014 edition of the “Journal of Food Science.”

    Quinoa as a Grain Alternative

    Some people following the Paleo diet eat quinoa and other pseudo-grains as grain alternatives. In his book, Cordain stresses that he is not necessarily saying you need to avoid grains and pseudo-grains for the rest of your life, and the choice to eat grains is an individual one. Quinoa may be higher on the glycemic scale than say, non-starchy vegetables, but with a GI of 53 it still falls in the low-glycemic category. Foods with a GI of 55 or less are low-glycemic.”

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    • My friend, leaky gut syndrome is not a fallacy. The result of prolonged inflammation known as leaky gut syndrome causes ulcers and many other precursors autoimmune deficiencies.

    • Oh my goodness, Justin, your heart is in the right place with regard to the stupidity of pseudoscience, but your brain has lagged behind. Leaky gut syndrome is a fully recognized medical condition and is treated as such by real medical doctors with board certifications, etc. Here’s an example of one such individual who is doing cutting edge work in gastroenterology by incorporating Paleo principles into his 100% mainstream job:

      And here’s an abstract from a recent study:
      To quote from it: “Both animal models and recent clinical evidence support this new paradigm [leaky gut syndrome] and provide the rationale for innovative approaches to prevent and treat autoimmune diseases.”

      That’s for starters.

      Best regards,

  3. 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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  8. 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.

          • Regarding leaky gut:
            have you looked into a candida overgrowth? I suffered from the symptoms of leaky gut, then I learned about the havoc a candida overgrowth can do to your intestines (carrying over to many other health related issues) and found out that candida, in its fungal state, will actually bore holes into your intestinal wall!! I did a cleanse, researched food choices and quinoa is actually on the ‘friendly’ list for candida overgrowth sufferers. I changed my diet, cleansed the candida, created good intestinal flora and no longer suffer from the effects of leaky gut, like skin, digestive and neurological issues.
            As far as paleo or not….. this one is really personal preference. No reason for anyone to get in a huff about it, your either going to eat it or not and you will know if your body wants you to do continue with that choice.

            • MARSHA-CANDIDA ISSUE: Can you please share your candida cleansing diet and routine? Please kindly include how you’d successfully increased good intestinal flora. There’s much out here on the web but I would really like to hear it from someone who has already completed a successful cleaning. If anyone reading this has successfully done a Candida cleansing like Marcia please also share precise, clear information. Much appreciated. Thank you much in advance.

              This blog and discussion is much appreciated to Dr Cordain and those who have have shared sane and positive information and wisdom. I have learned much, and especially appreciate the info that will help us decide to keep quinoa in our family diet for now.

  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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