Is Quinoa Keto-Friendly?

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Written by Brenda Peralta, Registered Dietitian and medically reviewed by Abby Courtenay

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On a ketogenic diet, one immediately thinks of grains as an off-limits food item. They are high in carbs, which is the opposite of what you’re looking for. 

But quinoa is far from your typical grain, leading many people to wonder: is it keto?

This superfood, commonly used as a replacement for rice, has multiple health benefits. It is considered a good carb due to its high fiber content and a rich source of plant-based protein.

Unlike many grains, quinoa is gluten-free, making it ideal for people with celiacs disease. You can find it in several colors and forms, such as flour, flakes, and crisps.

This article will answer the most common questions regarding this delicious food. Is it keto-friendly? What is its composition regarding macronutrients and micronutrients? How many grams of carbs does it have? How much can you eat on a low-carb diet? What are some better keto alternatives? And finally, which is better: rice, couscous, or quinoa?

Let’s get to the bottom of these questions.


What is quinoa?

Commonly labeled as a superfood, it was first grown thousands of years ago by the Incas in South America. They called it the “mother of grain” for providing several health benefits. 

Although it is often considered a grain, it is actually a seed from the Chenopdium quinoa plant. Nonetheless, its nutritional properties resemble those of grains, so it is often called a “pseudo-grain.” Quinoa is considered both a carbohydrate (or starch) and a protein, making it a balanced food choice. 

The worldwide popularity of this product skyrocketed in 2013, which the UN named “The International Year of Quinoa”. There are over 120 different varieties of this food. Some of the most common colors found are white, red, purple, and black — each with various characteristics, and textures. You can also find it in different versions. Now you can bake with its flour or use its flakes as an alternative that is faster to cook.


Quinoa nutrition facts

This nutrient-dense superfood is high in carbs but also high in fiber and protein content. It will provide good carbs and several vitamins and minerals, such as choline and magnesium.

Serving size: 1 cup cooked quinoa (185 g)

  • Calories: 222 Kcal
  • Fat: 3.6 g
  • Net carbs (total carbs - fiber): 34.2 g
  • Total carbs: 39.4 g
  • Fiber: 5.2 g
  • Protein: 8.1 g

Check out the quinoa carb count: per cup, you’re looking at 34.2 grams of net carbs.

As any experienced ketoer can tell you, that means this food is relatively high in carbs.

However, it is also a good protein source — ideal for people looking to switch to a plant-based diet and maintain a healthy protein intake. It has several essential amino acids needed for optimal health (it can be considered as good as an animal protein!).

So is it keto approved?




Is quinoa allowed to eat on a ketogenic diet?

Yes, quinoa can be keto-friendly, but only in small quantities.

Keto and this pseudo-grain usually don’t go hand in hand since it is a high-carb food. But if you are careful with the serving size, you don’t have to avoid it altogether. 

One cup of this superfood could easily send you sailing over your daily carb limit, but a couple of tablespoons can be part of a keto diet. 

Always make sure to measure the amount you are serving to keep a record of the carbs per mealtime. Keeping track will ensure you won’t eat too much and get kicked out of ketosis.


How much quinoa can you have on a keto diet?

How much quinoa you are allowed to eat will depend on your carb limit for the day. ⅓ cup of cooked quinoa will give you 11.4 g net carbs. If you are limiting yourself to 50 g carbs per day this will be almost 23% of your carb allowance. The lower your carb allowance, the stricter you will need to be with regards to how big your serving size is.

For people not following a low-carb diet, it is a good carb source to add. It will be high in fiber and protein. A good serving size is half a cup per mealtime for women, and for men, one cup is a good amount. Try replacing rice with this pseudo-cereal for a higher-quality meal.

If you are trying to switch to a plant-based diet, it is a fantastic food to add. One cup will contain the same amount of protein as one whole egg, increasing your daily amount of plant-based protein.


What kind of quinoa can you have on keto?

You can find several colors, such as white, red, purple and black. All of them will have the same nutritional value. However, each has its own distinctive texture and flavor. Here are some of the distinctions between each color.

  • White. It has the lightest texture and flavor. It won’t overpower any other ingredient. It is also said to have the fluffiest texture.
  • Red. It is said to have a heavier texture and a “nutty” flavor. Since it can hold its shape during cooking, it is often used in salads.
  • Black. It has a similar texture as the red type, but an “earthier” and sweeter flavor. 
  • Purple. It has similar characteristics as the red kind.

Not only are there different colors of this amazing superfood, but you can also find it used to make different types of quinoa-based products, such as:

  • Chips. They can provide a crunchy texture to your diet. However, they are still high in carbs. Check the nutritional label to see how many chips won’t affect your process.
  • Sprouted. Although the nutrients may be more available for your body to use, it has the same number of carbs.
  • Pasta. It would be difficult to eat a small enough amount of pasta, so try to avoid it entirely if you are following a low-carb lifestyle.
  • Flour. Quinoa flour is as high in carbs as regular flour. Even though it is more nutritious, if you are on a keto lifestyle, avoid it. On the other hand, if you are not following a low-carb diet, it is a suitable replacement for whole-wheat flour.
  • Bread. As with pasta, it’s easy to quickly go over your daily number of carbs by eating bread made with this pseudo-grain. It’s best to avoid it altogether.

If you decide to add it in any color or form, remember that quinoa is a high-carb option. Always measure the portion size and select how many carbs you want to consume in the meal.




What can you eat with quinoa?

Since the superfood provides a high amount of carbs to your mealtime, you’ll want to pair it with foods that are very low in carbs in order to manage your total daily amount. 

Since the portion size should be very small, try adding it to a salad. Here’s a fantastic Mediterranean salad that you are sure to love.


  1. 1 cup of lettuce
  2. ½ cup of arugula
  3. 3 teaspoons of cooked quinoa
  4. ¼ cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
  5. 2 teaspoons of shredded fresh basil
  6. 2 teaspoons of olive oil
  7. 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
  8. 1 oz of mozzarella in cubes
  9. 2 oz of cooked chicken
  10. Salt and pepper to taste

Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix it well. Serve and enjoy!


Keto-friendly quinoa alternatives

You might be looking for a quinoa keto substitute that won’t increase your carb intake so much. If you are looking to replace its texture with another food that will have a different nutrient composition, try these options for a low-carb version:

  • Cauliflower rice
  • Broccoli rice
  • Water chestnut rice

One grain that could have the same texture but will provide less carb per cup is bulgur. In one cup of bulgur, there are 26 g of net carbs. That means that it has 8.5 g less carbs per cup than quinoa. This could help you have a higher portion size without affecting your total carb intake.

Remember that each food provides different nutrients and benefits. One of the keys to a healthy diet is having a variety of foods every day.


FAQ about quinoa on a keto diet

Do you still have some questions regarding this superfood and its relationship with a keto diet? Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding this food.

Yes, it does have fewer carbs than rice.

One cup of cooked quinoa has 34.2 g of net carbs, while one cup of cooked rice has 43.9 g of net carbs. The superfood also provides five times the amount of fiber and twice as much protein.

No, they are different food groups.

Meat provides mainly protein, and depending on the cut type, a little bit of fat. It does not usually have any carbs. 

Quinoa, on the other hand, is primarily composed of carbs, although it is also a source of protein. For keto, quinoa must be eaten only in small quantities due to its high carb count.

Yes, it would be better for a low-carb diet than rice. Not only does rice contain more total carbs per serving, but it also has less fiber (meaning its net carbs are higher), and only half the amount of protein. However, both of these foods are high in carbs, so neither is ideal for a ketogenic diet.

No, there is no ketogenic version, but you could find substitutes that will offer fewer carbs with the same texture. Try adding cauliflower or broccoli rice instead.

No, keto cheat days should be avoided.

If you go over your daily carb limit, you are at risk of getting out of ketosis. It could take a couple of days or even a week to get back into ketosis, disrupting your weight loss. If you are craving quinoa, eat it in small amounts (always counting the number of carbs it will add) or try keto alternatives.

Cooked quinoa and couscous contain the same amount of net carbs per cup (32.4 g). Quinoa is a better option as it is what is known as a whole food (i.e. it is minimally processed) and thus provides you with more nutrients than a processed food like couscous.


Non-keto grains and starches