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Is quinoa high or low in calories?

31st July 19 - 8 minute read

Headshot of James Hudson

Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport

Our expert:
James Hudson, Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport. James played Premiership Rugby for Gloucester, as well as lining up for London Irish, Newcastle Falcons and England Saxons. He has a degree and masters in biochemistry from the University of Bath and has completed the International Olympic Committee’s Diploma in Sports Nutrition. He is currently working towards a PhD at Liverpool John Moores University.

What’s in this article:

  • What is quinoa?
  • Why is it healthy?
  • How many calories in quinoa?
  • Quinoa calories vs rice
  • Ways to use quinoa

Quinoa has become the go-to food for many nutritionists and fitness enthusiasts looking for a gluten-free source of protein to add to their meal plans.

This seed-based plant is classed as a ‘pseudo-cereal’ - a non-grass plant that can be ground into flour and used in the same way as grass-based plants, such as wheat.

A tasty alternative to rice and delicious eaten both hot and cold, quinoa has seen its popularity rocket over the past few decades. We’ll look at its nutritional content, the number of calories in quinoa and explain how you can add more of this delicious food to your diet.

At a glance:

  • Quinoa is gluten-free and suitable for vegans and vegetarians
  • It’s high in amino acids, helping to build more proteins in the body
  • Both cooked and uncooked, quinoa can be added to breakfasts, lunches and dinners
  • Quinoa contains essential nutrients

What is quinoa?

Quinoa is a seed-producing plant, unique in that it’s grown by farmers as a grain crop. Its seeds are gluten-free and are a popular alternative to regular grains and rice.

It has a very low Glycaemic Index (GI)¹ and a high level of carbs that can be digested slowly – releasing energy evenly over time, helping to control blood sugar levels.

Quinoa’s origins can be traced back nearly 5,000 years ago, where the Andean peoples of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru cultivated the crop and considered it a staple food in their diets. Other neighbouring countries like Chile soon followed suit, holding quinoa in high regard².

Eventually, quinoa achieved a rebirth in the USA, undergoing a resurgence several centuries later in the late 1970s. It has since been promoted as a so-called ‘superfood’ with a high nutritional content, leading to healthy eaters and dieticians to embrace it as a key ingredient to a healthy diet.

Need to know: Quinoa is an ancient grain from the Andean region of South America with low GI.

Is quinoa healthy?

Quinoa has become a health food store favourite as it has a low GI level, is gluten-free, and can be enjoyed by both vegetarians and vegans.

James says: “The big positive is that it’s a complete protein source in that it contains all the essential amino acids – the building blocks of the body.

“Essential amino acids are the most important for muscle recovery. While quinoa isn’t packed full of protein it does have a reasonable amount.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture³, quinoa also contains high levels of the following nutrients (per 100g cooked):



White Rice

RDA (Men/Women)














Even though it’s classified as a seed-based food and not a cereal grain, quinoa still counts as wholegrain. Therefore, you still get the benefits that you would when eating wholegrain foods - such as having 2.8g of fibre per 100g cooked, compared to just 0.4g in white rice.

Finally, because of its relatively high protein content (4.4g per 100g cooked), quinoa is ideal if you’re a vegetarian and looking to increase the amount of non-meat based protein in your diet – ensuring you still get your recommended intake of 0.75g of protein for every kilogram you weigh.,

James adds: “It’s really great for vegans as it’s a really good protein source for them. Even for those just wanting more plant-based protein in their diet, quinoa is a great source.”

Need to know: Quinoa is a complete protein source with higher levels of minerals than white rice.


How many calories are in quinoa?

Before adding quinoa to your diet, it’s important to understand its nutritional values - including how many calories there are in quinoa, both when it’s cooked and uncooked.

It’s worth noting that – by itself – quinoa is not going to fill your daily carb requirements. If an athlete was looking to take in 80-100g of carbs after a workout, they’d need to eat a lot of quinoa. The best use of quinoa is as an accompaniment to other meals throughout the day.

Refer to the guides below to find out the nutritional values of quinoa in various quantities.

Quinoa calories cooked, 1 cup (185g)

  • Calories – 222 kcal
  • Energy – 929 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 157 kcal
  • From fat – 32.0 kcal
  • From protein – 32.6 kcal

Quinoa calories uncooked, 1 cup (170g)

  • Calories – 626 kcal
  • Energy – 2621 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 437 kcal
  • From fat – 92.9 kcal
  • From protein – 96.0 kcal¹⁰

Quinoa calories 100g serving, cooked

  • Calories – 120 kcal
  • Energy – 502 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 85.1 kcal
  • From fat – 17.3 kcal
  • From protein – 17.6 kcal¹¹

50g serving, cooked

  • Calories – 60 kcal
  • Energy – 251 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 42.55 kcal
  • From fat – 8.65 kcal
  • From protein – 8.8 kcal¹²

Quinoa calories vs rice

Quinoa and rice share many characteristics - in nutrition, taste and texture. That’s why comparing the two is helpful when you’re considering quinoa as an alternative for rice-based dishes.

Brown long-grain rice calories cooked, 1 cup (195g)

  • Calories – 216 kcal
  • Energy – 904 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 185 kcal
  • From fat – 14.7 kcal
  • From protein – 17.2 kcal¹³

Brown long-grain rice calories uncooked, 1 cup (185g)

  • Calories – 685 kcal
  • Energy – 2868 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 589 kcal
  • From fat – 45.2 kcal
  • From protein – 50.1 kcal¹⁴

Brown long-grain rice calories 100g serving, cooked

  • Calories – 111 kcal
  • Energy – 465 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 94.7 kcal
  • From fat – 7.5 kcal
  • From protein – 8.8 kcal¹⁵

Brown long-grain rice calories 50g serving, cooked

  • Calories – 55.5 kcal
  • Energy – 232.5 kJ
  • From carbohydrate – 47.35 kcal
  • From fat – 3.75 kcal
  • From protein – 4.4 kcal¹⁶

Need to know: A cooked cup of quinoa has around 8g of protein and 40g of carbs. But compared to other high-carb sources like rice and pasta, it’s not as dense.

Ways to use quinoa

Quinoa is such a versatile foodstuff that it can be added to meals as a supplement ingredient or as the central part of a dish. It’s delicious both hot and cold - and enjoyable any time of day.

How to cook quinoa

Quinoa takes minimal effort to cook and can be prepared in five simple steps:

  1. Rinse your chosen amount of quinoa under cold running water using a strainer
  2. Pour the quinoa into a pan and add some lightly-salted water suitable to the amount of quinoa you’re cooking
  3. Heat up to a medium level, gradually bringing to the boil
  4. Reduce the heat, once your quinoa is boiling to a simmer and for around 10 to 15 minutes – or until the liquid has been absorbed
  5. Fluff your quinoa up using a fork¹⁷

Quinoa for breakfast

Power-up your morning porridge by adding quinoa to your oats. Throw in some delicious blueberries and strawberries to add juicy taste to kickstart your day.

How about pepping up your morning toast? Did you know you can add quinoa to bread mix before baking? For protein-filled toast, add quinoa flour to your seeded bread mix before baking in the oven.

Quinoa for lunch

Enjoying quinoa cold is easy when you add it to your lunchtime salad. Try grabbing some spinach leaves, watermelon slices, avocado and feta to create a refreshing and healthy salad.

You could also perk up your everyday soup by adding quinoa to a spicy vegetable one-pot. Simply fry some onion, add curry paste and milk, and heat all in a pan before adding quinoa and your chosen vegetables. Then simmer until cooked.

Quinoa for dinner

Quinoa makes the perfect addition to a lean dinner. Substitute rice for quinoa when making a black bean chilli. Simply prepare your dish as you would then zest up your quinoa with a squeeze of lime, coriander and pumpkins seeds when your stir it in before serving.

You can also add it when making a traditional healthy curry. Again, simply swap rice out for quinoa and enjoy a burst of nutrition – and flavour – when you stir it in to your curry mix.

Need to know: Add some cooked quinoa when you’re making protein-filled treats like muffins, crumbles or protein brownies¹⁸.

In summary

Full of healthy minerals, high in protein and low in fat quinoa is great as an alternative to rice, a healthy side dish or as the base of soups and salads. Its calorie levels are fairly low, and are similar to rice.



















Headshot of James Hudson

Performance Nutritionist at Nutrition in Sport

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