Summary: While Quinoa contains saponins, not all saponins are harmful. Some are anti-oxidants and are probably health protective. Quinoa, as most readers will know, is relatively high in protein. New research shows quinoa is also high in phytoecdysteroids. Phytoecysteroids have been shown to stimulate protein synthesis, at least in rats.
Introductory paragraph: (feel free to skip). I’m not sure where Quinoa falls on the dietary good-evil spectrum these days. Many value it for its high protein and mineral content. It can be a staple food for the health-minded vegetarian. On the other side of the spectrum, Quinoa has been vilified by followers of the Paleo diet because advocates consider it to be a grain. Paleo dieters have also been concerned that Quinoa contains saponins. Some have proposed that saponins may damage the intestines. However saponins are beneficial anti-oxidants and some are health-protective. For a more general discussion of Quinoa and why it should be an excellent addition to the paleo diet click here.
Quinoa is high in protein, flavonoids and phytoecdysteroids
Analysis of quinoa extract shows that quinoa contains:
- 20% protein
- 11% oil
- 2.6% flavonoid glycosides
- 1% phytoecdysteroids (this is very high compared to other plants)
Flavonoid glycosides are health protective anti-oxidants. Quinoa contains high amounts of phytoecdysteroids relative to other plants. These are thought to be part of a plants defense system against predatory insecct. However, they may be good for people. There are many different phytoecdysteroids. Different phytoecdysteriods may have different functions and behave differently in mammals. The dominant phytoecdysteroid in quinoa is 20HE.
Beneficial effects of phytoecdysteroids
There have been a number of studies showing different positive effects of both phytoecdysteroids or of qunoia extract.
- Phytoecdysteroids increased protein synthesis in animals with and without exercise
- 20HE (the predominant phytoecdysteroid in quinoa) has anabolic-like properties that promote protein synthesis
- 20HE Increased muscle fiber size
- Phytoecdysteroids Inhibited tumor growth
- Phytoecdysteroids increased grip strength in rats
- Quinoa extract increased metabolic rate and may be an anti-obesogen
- Quinoa extract lowered blood glucose in obese, hyperglycemic mice
How phytoecdysteroids work is not completely understood. They do not seem to act in the same way as anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids interact with androgen receptors. Phytoecdysteroids don’t seem to do that. So far, phytoecdysteroids show very low toxicity in mammals but limited (if any) testing has been done in humans. Some people are marketing ecdysteroids as body-building supplements. So far there is no evidence that these provide any benefit.
Dinan L (2009). The Karlson Lecture. Phytoecdysteroids: what use are they? Archives of insect biochemistry and physiology, 72 (3), 126-41 PMID: 19771554
Báthori M, Tóth N, Hunyadi A, Márki A, & Zádor E (2008). Phytoecdysteroids and anabolic-androgenic steroids–structure and effects on humans. Current medicinal chemistry, 15 (1), 75-91 PMID: 18220764
Foucault AS, Even P, Lafont R, Dioh W, Veillet S, Tomé D, Huneau JF, Hermier D, & Quignard-Boulangé A (2014). Quinoa extract enriched in 20-hydroxyecdysone affects energy homeostasis and intestinal fat absorption in mice fed a high-fat diet. Physiology & behavior, 128, 226-31 PMID: 24534167
Gorelick-Feldman J, Maclean D, Ilic N, Poulev A, Lila MA, Cheng D, & Raskin I (2008). Phytoecdysteroids increase protein synthesis in skeletal muscle cells. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 56 (10), 3532-7 PMID: 18444661