Crossfit Masters Athlete at Crossfit Seven in Fort Worth. Quinoa and Paleo

The Paleo Diet: Quinoa, protein, anti-oxidants and saponins.

What is Quinoa and is Quinoa Paleo (OK for the paleo diet?)

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Quinoa is (are?) seeds from a broad-leaf plant.  Grains are from grasses.  When cooked quinoa tastes mildly like toasted broccoli.  This is not as bad as it sounds.  Quinoa is grain-like and can be used in place of rice or pasta.  It is good for breakfast with nuts and cinnamon.   Quinoa does not contain Gluten.  So if you have celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity you should be fine with Quinoa.

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Is Quinoa Paleo?

If you are trying to follow the Paleo diet, quinoa should be fine too. Quinoa commonly contains many important minerals, including selenium.  Selenium is an important anti-oxidant and is protective against some cancers.  It is also important for synthesis of testosterone, among other things.
Quinoa has a number of other benefits. Quinoa provides more anti-oxidants and protein than wheat.  The anti-oxidants in quinoa appear to be more bio-available than anti-oxidants from wheat.  Bio-available simply means that the nutrients can be extracted by the digestive system and used.  Somethings are present in foods, but cannot be used.   Things that are not bio-available are dumped.   Other benefits of quinoa include an omega 6:Omega 3 ratio of about 6:1, and high vitamin E and protein content (~15%).  It also has a low glycemic index.

What about Saponins? Are Saponins Dangerous?

Some people in the CrossFit and the Paleo communities believe saponins are dangerous and will damage the intestines.   Quinoa does contain saponins. Followers of the paleo diet have placed quinoa on the forbidden list for this reason.  However, saponins are a class of chemical. There are many different saponins.  There are good ones and bad ones (Francis et al. 2002). Some saponins can damage cell membranes. However, others are beneficial.  Some saponins are protective and serve as anti-oxidants. The Saponin arjunolic acid is one of these.   This saponin has been proposed as a possible treatment for diabetes. P-coumaric acid, another saponin that is present in quinoa, may reduce risk of colon cancer. It is also an anti-oxidant. Like curcumin.  Saponins are also found in many other healthful foods such as vegetables and tea.

Some people think that increasing selenium intake will increase testosterone levels.  But, that is probably not true. You can read more about that here.

Francis G, Kerem Z, Makkar HPS, Becker K.  2002.  The biological action of saponins in animal systems: a review.  British Journal of Nutrition.  88(6): 587-605.

Laus MN, Gagliardi A, Soccio M, Flagella Z, Pastore D.  2012.  Antioxidant activity of free and bound compounds in Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.) seeds in comparison with durum wheat and emmer.  2012.  Journal of Food Science. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02923.x. [Epub ahead of print]

Alvarez-Jubete L, Arendt EK, & Gallagher E (2009). Nutritive value and chemical composition of pseudocereals as gluten-free ingredients. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 60 Suppl 4, 240-57 PMID: 19462323 Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Manna P, & Sil PC (2012). Arjunolic acid: beneficial role in type 1 diabetes and its associated organ pathophysiology. Free radical research, 46 (7), 815-30 PMID: 22486656

Ferguson LR, Zhu ST, & Harris PJ (2005). Antioxidant and antigenotoxic effects of plant cell wall hydroxycinnamic acids in cultured HT-29 cells. Molecular nutrition & food research, 49 (6), 585-93 PMID: 15841493

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  1. My grandmother loves quinoa. She has a celiac disease so it is a better alternative food for her.Neil Pennington

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