Is Quinoa Paleo-Friendly: Everything You Need To Know

The paleo diet is designed to mimic the type of food that hunter-gatherers would eat during the Paleolithic era, some 2 million years ago. This diet is designed to detoxify the body, contribute to weight loss, and encourages people to eat an unprocessed diet to enjoy the health benefits of natural food. 

The requirements for the paleo diet are fairly strict, which is why extensive research has to be done before committing to the diet so you know what you’re in for.

The idea is to replicate the type of food that you could hunt or gather 2 million years ago, which means that meats, berries, fish, and vegetables are all part of the diet. However, it’s not as simple as that. 

Quinoa is a protein-based edible seed that a variety of people eat and enjoy, from vegans to those on a regular weight loss diet. The question is: is quinoa paleo-friendly?

Whether you’re looking to start your paleo journey or if you’re wanting some ideas of what to prepare for meals, here is everything you need to know about whether quinoa is paleo-friendly or not!

So, is quinoa paleo-friendly?

Unfortunately, quinoa is not paleo-friendly. This is because the paleo diet restricts the dieter from consuming grains such as bread, pasta, wheat, rye, and barley. Even oats aren’t considered paleo. 

The question is: why isn’t quinoa paleo-friendly?

You’ve got to think of it like this – if people in the Paleolithic era didn’t have access to hot water from a stove or microwave, then they couldn’t possibly have made edible quinoa. Therefore, you cannot eat quinoa as part of the paleo diet. 

Thing is, quinoa isn’t technically a grain. It’s a pseudograin, which means it’s more seed than grain, but it still has grain-like qualities. Even though quinoa is a seed, it cannot be eaten as part of the paleo diet. 

This is all down to the antinutrient called saponins. Saponins are one of nature’s best pest repellents, working as a surfactant that prevents bugs and pests from eating the quinoa plant.

While humans can handle saponins in small amounts, we’re not actually meant to consume large amounts. This is because saponins can cause inflammation, which is the biggest trigger for autoimmune diseases. Saponins are there to stop the predator from eating its food, after all. 

Like we said, saponins are antinutrients, which means that they undo all the good work that nutrients do to the body. The same goes for oats, surprisingly, which is why oats are not paleo-friendly, either. 

Don’t let this discourage you from eating quinoa outside a paleo diet, however, as there are several health benefits to saponins! However, these saponins contribute to quinoa’s status of being not-paleo-friendly. 

What makes food paleo-friendly?

To help you understand why quinoa isn’t paleo-friendly, let’s take a look at what makes food paleo-friendly. Here are the requirements for paleo foods:

  • High in protein
  • High in fiber
  • High in potassium
  • High in vitamins and minerals
  • Moderate to high fat content
  • Low in sodium
  • Low in carbs
  • Low in sugar (unless natural)

In some cases, foods like sweet potato that are high in carbohydrates are still considered paleo due to the countless benefits that outweigh the cons. With quinoa, however, the antinutrient saponin is such a large con that outweighs the pros. 

The pros of quinoa are worth talking about, even though they don’t constitute the food to be paleo-friendly. Quinoa is high in protein and dietary fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. This is why a lot of vegans rely on quinoa as part of their diet as a source of protein. 

People on regular weight loss diets will often eat quinoa instead of rice. This is because quinoa has a lower carbohydrate content than rice, making it a healthier option.

The fibrous content of quinoa also means that it fills the individual up for a longer time than rice, so they don’t have to succumb to snacking between meals. 

Quinoa is also high in iron, gluten-free, high in antioxidants, high in magnesium, and rich with amino acids. 

So, with all of these health benefits, why is quinoa not paleo-friendly?

Picture yourself in the Paleolithic era. There are no grocery stores or stoves that can boil water. If you can’t gather quinoa directly from the source and eat it enjoyably, then you’re not going to need it in your diet.

There are plenty of other foods available that provide the same nutritional benefits as quinoa, such as various fruits and vegetables, so quinoa is not needed. 

Can I have quinoa on a relaxed paleo diet?

We won’t tell anyone if you choose to eat quinoa on a relaxed paleo diet. Hey, not everyone has the energy or stubbornness to commit to a diet as strict as a paleo one, so you can always make room for the occasional cheat day.

It’s hardly like you’re using your cheat day for chocolate and candy, which would be considerably less healthy than quinoa. 

If you want to eat quinoa now and then, make sure to rinse the quinoa before cooking it. This is because the antinutrient saponins are a surfactant (meaning they reside on the surface), so they can be removed from the outer shell by rinsing the quinoa in water. 

Even though quinoa has fewer carbs than rice, quinoa still is a carbohydrate-based food. This means that if you were to eat quinoa on a relaxed paleo diet, make sure to only eat your daily allotted amount of carbs within the quinoa meal.

However, remember that most of your carbs should come from fruits and vegetables. 


So, there you have it – everything you need to know about why quinoa is not a paleo-friendly food! It doesn’t seem fair that quinoa isn’t considered a paleo food due to the nutritional benefits of quinoa, and the fact that it isn’t technically a grain.

It’s all down to those pesky saponins that strips quinoa from most of its nutrients. Still, if a Paleolithic person couldn’t eat quinoa, then you can’t either!