Is Quinoa A Complete Protein? | Quinoa Amino Acid Profile

To begin with, let me ask you a question: How do you consider what a complete protein is? The answer is quite simple. We determine whether a protein is complete by checking through the balance and amount of nutrients it offers. 

Quinoa, although a seed, is considered as a whole grain and a good source of plant protein (and fiber). It is also naturally gluten-free and hence can be eaten safely if one has gluten intolerance. Quinoa has a very balanced essential amino acid profile. Therefore, it is a popular staple among vegans, providing almost 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber per cup (cooked), and making it one of the most reliable sources of plant-based nutrition for vegans.

So, does quinoa contain all the 9 essential amino acids? Let’s find out!

Understanding Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids

During the process of digestion, foods that contain high amounts of protein are broken down into amino acids since our bodies require a great amount of amino acids to maintain good health and proper bodily functioning. Interestingly, amino acids are grouped into two types- Essential and Non-essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that our body uses to break down proteins, among which only 9 are considered as essential amino acids. Additionally, only three among these 9 amino acids are known as branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). 

Therefore, Essential amino acids are those that our body cannot produce by itself and hence are supplemented from outside sources. These are crucial for our bodies for a variety of important bodily functions that cannot be neglected. Non-essential amino acids, on the other hand, are produced by the body itself through the essential amino acids or through the general breakdown of protein in our body. Yet another type of amino acids, known as the Conditional amino acids, is specifically required in times of illness and stress.

What is a “Complete Source of Protein”?

Vegan Complete Source of Protein

A food or a meal can be considered a complete source of protein when it contains all the nine essential amino acids that we learned about previously and that our body requires to function properly.

While non-vegetarians usually get their source of regular protein from animal-based products, for example fish, egg, milk, poultry, cheese, and many more, vegan sources of complete protein are completely different. For example, soy and Quinoa are the best plant-based sources. Therefore, foods that do not contain all the necessary nine amino acids are labelled as “incomplete protein sources”.

Is Quinoa A Complete Source of Protein? 

As we know that most plant-based foods do not contain adequate amount of proteins along with all the important amino acids, Quinoa begs to differ due to its balanced quantities of all the necessary nutrition, which makes it particularly beneficial for those who have adopted vegan lifestyle and food habits.

Quinoa is rich in nine essential amino acids and also has a relatively high amount of protein for a grain at 13.8 percent. To fully absorb how much nutrition it offers being a complete protein food source, let’s quickly glance through the comparison table down below for a clear insight. 

Essential Amino AcidsMG/G of Protein% of Total ProteinNon-Vegetarian Source (%)Quinoa (%)
Tryptophan70.7%1.33%1%
Threonine272.7%4.42%3.2%
Isoleucine252.5%5.34%4.2%
Leucine555.5%8.65%7.3%
Lysine515.1%7.27%6.1%
Methionine (+Cystine)252.5%5.18%4%
Phenylalanine (+Tryosine)474.7%9.39%8%
Valine323.2%6.83%5%
Histidine181.8%2.45%3.1%

Therefore, it is pretty evident from the table that Quinoa possesses a lot of good nutrients and all of the essential amino acids to provide a compact and balanced food. However, it still scores low when it comes to Lysine and Valine, in comparison to the required amount and the amount present in animal sources. 

What Can Be Inferred About Quinoa’s Amino Acid Profile?

To sum it up, Quinoa has a well balanced amount of all the necessary amino acids, however, the overall level of Quinoa is still relatively low. Therefore, it would take a number of servings for Quinoa to hit your RDA of all essential amino acids. 

Inferring the overall amino acids profile, Quinoa can be one of the best plant-based protein sources for people following the vegan lifestyle. Its balance of nutrition resembles that of brown rice to some extent. Additionally, Quinoa also provides copper, calcium, fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, sodium, etc. 

What Foods to Pair with Quinoa?

You must rinse the Quinoa before preparing it so that the bitter coating, known as saponin is removed. Quinoa is a very versatile grain and can be used in a number of recipes like in savory dishes with rice, breakfast porridge, etc. In order to cook the whole grain, you have to use one part of Quinoa and two parts of water, and then bring it to a boil. Cook the Quinoa covered in a pot with a lid on, until the water is absorbed. Therefore, once it’s done, you’re good to go. 

Here are some of the ways to incorporate Quinoa in your regular diet:

  • Adding Quinoa to your salads.
  • Quinoa breakfast porridge.
  • Quinoa burger patties.
  • Quinoa taco filling.
  • Adding Quinoa to Buddha bowl.
  • Adding Quinoa to soups.
  • Quinoa stuffed capsicum recipes.
  • Adding Quinoa to bake cakes, chocolates, muffins, crumbles and any other desserts. 

As a gesture to compensate with its low levels of Lysine and Valine, you can easily opt for soups, salads, grain foods, soy beans, nuts, etc mixed with Quinoa, for a complete and compact source of all the amino acids in adequate required amounts. 

Closing Thoughts

To conclude, Quinoa is indeed a great source of protein and essential amino acids for vegans. It has the highest overall mineral content as well. Not just in protein, Quinoa is also rich in fiber, Vitamin Bs, Calcium, Vitamin E and Magnesium. 

There are almost 120 plus known varieties of Quinoa, among which white and yellow Quinoa have the mildest flavour, and red and black are slightly stronger. That means, not just in recipes but you can literally choose among which variety of Quinoa you want to go with.

Therefore, it is worth all the hype and deserves a good place in your pantry.

My life literally revolves around optimum health and sustainable living by being a devotional vegan. My mission is to create a community of like minded vegans to go forth in creating a better and brighter world for humans, animals and the planet. Just like Gandhi once said: “The greatness of a nation and it’s moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi

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