Is quinoa fattening or good for weight loss?

I only found out about quinoa last year, when I started working out more and was looking for a vegetarian source of protein. Quinoa is a grain, similar to oats & rice, and originated in South America. I was surprised to learn that it is closely related to spinach, beets and chard.

It is a nutrient dense food, rich in manganese, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. It is also very versatile; it is easy to prepare in a number of different ways and can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. There are numerous recipes out there for cooking it.

But is it a good idea to eat it when trying to shed those excess pounds or will doing so thwart your weight loss efforts?

Nutritional information

A cup (185 g) of cooked quinoa contains:

Calories 222
Fat 4 g
Cholesterol 0
Sodium 13 mg
Carbohydrates 39 g
Fiber 5 g
Protein 8 g

When it comes to weight loss, calories are important. These are units of energy and all foods have them. The number of calories in different foods can vary greatly, depending on what the food is made of.

Foods that contain a lot of water, like fruits & vegetables, generally have very few calories. Foods that have a lot of fat on the other hand, like nuts & seeds, tend to have a lot of calories.

You can see how calorie values differ here. For example, 100 g of spinach only has 23 calories whereas 100 g of sunflower seeds has 584 calories. You will also notice that 100 g of quinoa has 368 calories, however this is the value when it is uncooked.

When quinoa is cooked, it absorbs water and swells in size, so the same weight of cooked quinoa has far fewer calories than uncooked quinoa.

The general equation for weight management is calories in – calories out. You ingest calories via food and use them up as an energy source during the day, like when you exercise. If you consume fewer calories than what you burn, you lose weight. This is because your body uses its stores of fat as a source of energy. On the other hand, if you eat more calories than you use up, the surplus calories are stored as fat and you end up gaining weight.

Everybody is different and the number of calories you need depends on your current weight, height, gender, age and how active you are. You can use the calculator below to determine how many calories you need, depending on your goals.

Gender Age Weight Switch to lbs Height Switch to feet and inches Activity Level

This calculator will never show a number below 1000 calories per day. Please speak to a qualified health professional before attempting to eat less than that.

For example, a 40 year old lady who weighs 80 kg, is 150 cm tall and exercises twice a week will need to consume around 1900 calories to maintain her current weight, 1500 calories to lose weight and 1150 calories to lose weight fast.

On a 1500 calorie diet, a cup of cooked quinoa would contribute 15% of total daily calories. Quinoa is not a low calorie food, but it can definitely be part of a weight loss diet, for 2 reasons:

Fiber content

Dietary fiber is important for your overall health because it keeps your digestive system running smoothly, lowers cholesterol levels and helps control blood sugar levels. Fiber can also help you effectively manage your weight because it helps fill you up.

Studies have shown that increasing fiber intake can help with weight loss. This study found that over a twelve year period, women with the highest increase in intake of dietary fiber gained 1.52 kg less than those with the lowest increase in intake.

Another study had 240 overweight adult participants split into two groups. One group followed the American Heart Association’s (AHA) recommended diet, which had them eating more fruits, vegetables, lean protein and fish, whilst cutting back on alcohol, fat, salt and sugar. The second group was asked to simply increase their daily fiber intake to 30 g or more per day. Both groups ended up losing weight.

Protein content

Protein is also important when it comes to weight management. The great thing about quinoa is that even though it is obtained from a plant, it is a complete protein. A complete protein is one that has all 9 essential amino acids that your body requires and cannot create on its own. Animal sources of protein are complete, however plant sources of protein tend to be incomplete.

Protein, like fiber, increases satiety and causes you to eat less, which means lower calorie intake. For example, this study found that increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% of total calories led to 441 fewer calories being consumed per day. That is a significant amount!

Another study involved 24 rats being split into 3 groups. The first group was fed casein (a milk protein) as its primary protein source, the second quinoa and the third amaranth (another type of grain). The study found that the rats in the quinoa and amaranth groups had lower food intake.

Protein is also important for building muscle mass. And the more muscular you are, the more calories you naturally burn, even whilst at rest.

Quinoa does have a high carbohydrate content, compared to many other protein rich foods. For example tuna, turkey, chicken and salmon are all high protein, low carb foods. So it is definitely not the best source of protein. However it does help increase your overall intake and should be eaten together with other foods high in protein. Also, quinoa has twice the amount of protein that rice does.

Can eating quinoa make you fat?

Any food, if eaten in abundance can be fattening, which is why portion control is important when you are trying to manage your weight. Excess calories that you eat and don’t burn off are stored as fat in your body.

A cup of cooked quinoa has 222 calories. So rather than eating more than one cup of quinoa on its own as a meal, eat it together with lots of vegetables. Two cups of cooked quinoa will give you 444 calories. On the other hand, if you have one cup of quinoa and two cups of vegetables, you will consume around 300 calories.


Quinoa is nutrient rich and a great food to add to a weight loss diet, as long as you control portions. A one cup serving per day would be ideal.

When starting out on a weight loss diet, it is a good idea to calculate the number of calories in different portions of food. This will help you train yourself to know exactly how much of various types of foods you should be eating. You can use an app like myfitnesspal to estimate the amount of calories in different foods.

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