Quinoa is a popular, heart-healthy grain rich in antioxidants and proteins. However, it may not always be gluten-free.
Infamous or beloved, gluten is everywhere. Some people choose to avoid it for dietary reasons (such as celiac disease), while others enjoy it as a staple in their diet in the form of bread, pasta, and other whole grains. While not everyone will want or need to steer clear of gluten, it’s helpful to know if what you’re consuming has gluten or is fully gluten-free.
Which brings us to quinoa. Classified as a whole grain although technically a seed, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a healthy and delicious food that can be prepared in a number of ways. It’s simple, packed with fiber and protein, and is considered a great gluten-free alternative to grains like wheat, rye, and barley. You can cook quinoa in its grain form and also find it in alternative plant-based pastas, grain breads, and flours.
But is quinoa gluten-free? While the answer is usually yes, there are some instances in which it may not be and you’ll want to be careful! In this article, we look at what makes quinoa gluten-free, the differences between gluten-free and wheat-free, and some of the health benefits of quinoa.
Does Quinoa Have Gluten in It?
Generally speaking, quinoa is gluten-free. In its natural state, it doesn’t contain any gluten. However, since it’s often grown, harvested, and sometimes processed alongside gluten-containing grains such as wheat or rye, cross-contamination can occur.
If you’re out to eat at a restaurant and order a bowl of quinoa, how it’s prepared may disqualify it from being completely gluten-free. For example, if it’s cooked in a broth containing flour or with a mix of other grains, such as barley (which has gluten).
People looking to avoid gluten for dietary reasons, or to limit their intake of gluten-containing foods, won’t need to worry about cross-contamination. Quinoa that has come in contact with gluten-containing grains will still have the same, hearty taste many know and love.
That said, if you have a gluten intolerance, severe sensitivity, or celiac disease then you’ll want to be sure the quinoa you buy and consume is certified gluten-free and safe for people with celiac. If you’re buying products containing quinoa, such as a quinoa pasta, you’ll want to do the same.
So can celiacs eat quinoa? Yes! Just be careful that it’s certified gluten-free. Food allergies and conditions of hypersensitivity like celiac are no joke, so be sure to double-check food labels when buying quinoa! It’s also a good idea to avoid getting quinoa, or other gluten-free grains, from the bulk bins at grocery stores as cross-contamination can also occur without you realizing it.
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in certain cereal grains, primarily wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. It’s responsible for giving dough its elasticity and cohesiveness — the word “gluten” actually comes from the Latin “glutin” or “gluten” which means “glue” — and also for causing digestive irritability in those who’ve developed a gluten sensitivity or have celiac disease.
Despite the somewhat negative reputation foods (often carbohydrates) with gluten often receive, glutenous foods can still provide essential nutrients and significant sources of energy. People looking to eat a lower-carb diet may look to limit their intake of gluten and grains, though gluten-free alternatives won’t always be healthier automatically.
Nutritional Considerations of Gluten-Free Foods
Gluten-free breads, cereals, pastries, and other items you’ve undoubtedly encountered in grocery stores may contain more sugars, vegetable oils, sodium, chemicals, and other processed ingredients. (This is why healthy gluten-free options often cost more money — they’re hard to make and require more expensive ingredients!)
Many commercial breads and related products are often made with highly processed, bleached, and treated flours that can cause their own digestive issues. For people with minor gluten sensitivities, simply getting higher-quality, less processed gluten-containing foods in moderation could help alleviate symptoms. In general, prioritizing unbleached, natural, and organic foods can go a long way for your health and liveliness.
But since we’re talking about quinoa, we’ll keep the rest of this brief! (For more on the pros and cons of gluten, check out our guide here.) And speaking of quinoa, part of its popularity stems from the fact that it’s so healthy, besides tasting good and being a naturally gluten-free alternative grain.
Gluten-Free vs. Wheat-Free
If your quinoa, (or any other product, for that matter), is marked as “wheat-free” it may not necessarily be gluten-free. Gluten is a substance, as mentioned, found not only in wheat but in other grains as well. For a product to be gluten-free according to the FDA, it must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.
Health Benefits of Quinoa
In addition to being a great option for people looking to avoid gluten in their diets, quinoa tastes delicious. Whether you prepare it as a side dish for dinner or serve it cold in a Mediterranean salad, quinoa offers a nutritionally dense whole grain that’s rich in antioxidants and protein.
In fact, quinoa is one of the few plant foods classified as a complete protein, meaning it has all nine of the amino acids contained in food that are considered essential for the human body. Quinoa is also packed with vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin E, and several B vitamins.
For people looking for alternative gluten-free options in the kitchen, quinoa flour offers a great choice. It won’t always work as 1:1 with wheat flour, so be sure to follow the specific recipe for how to accommodate alternative flours into whatever it is you’re baking!
Looking for some kitchen inspiration? Head over to the Public Goods blog for recipe ideas, sustainability tips, and guides. Healthy eating and living go hand-in-hand, whether that’s through shopping locally for farmer’s market produce or buying household staples with minimal packaging designed to reduce humanity’s environmental impact.
At Public Goods, sustainability, simplicity, and accessibility are at the heart of what we do. Explore our collection of eco-friendly household goods and food items, such as seven-grain lentils made with quinoa and our reusable cotton produce bags (which, by the way, work perfectly for storing quinoa).
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