Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), and whether or not it is truly a Paleo food item is a hot button topic on the Paleo scene lately. Why it is so controversial is due in part to what Quinoa actually is in biological terms. However, I do have some other issues with the Paleo-ness of quinoa which I’ll get into later. But first…
What Is Quinoa?
Quinoa is a seed harvested from a flowering plant species of goosefoot, Chenopdodium (a close relative of beets and spinach). While the leaves of the quinoa plant are edible, the seed is what has become so popular around the world, and that is what I am referring to in this post.
Quinoa is a pseudocereal. It behaves like a grain and is even harvested in a similar manner as wheat, but is not technically a grain. It has been domesticated and adapted to thrive primarily in the Andes region of South America. Quinoa is not well adapted to be grown in other global regions, which is a big part of my issue with the crop being considered Paleo.
Quinoa Harvesting and Processing
Quinoa seeds are hand picked. This is because the seeds on a common plant will ripen at different times (a lot like berries), making machine harvesting either impossible or extremely wasteful.
The seeds must then be winnowed like wheat, and before consumption a bitter tasting and toxic coating containing saponins must be thoroughly rinsed off.
Quinoa And Your Gut
The saponins in quinoa are linked to intestinal permeability (though this is arguable in some research). What this means is that these compounds may compromise the intestinal lining and allow intestinal contents to leak into the body. This gut leakage produces an autoimmune response and inflammation. You know. The very things you are eating Paleo to avoid in the first place.
Yes, most of the saponins may be rinsed off the quinoa seed, but it would be nearly impossible to process quinoa enough to eliminate them completely.
If the knowledge that you are eating a toxic substance isn’t enough to deter you from indulging in quinoa based meals, I encourage you to watch this very funny skit from the TV show Portlandia on the flatulent consequences of eating quinoa.
Is Quinoa Paleo?
Paleo is about more than just whether or not a food has been around for over 10,000 years (not that quinoa has been around that long… not that chickens have either but that is another story). To me, Paleo is about how a food is sourced, how it is grown or raised, and what effects it has on your body. In that sense, I personally do not promote or endorse quinoa as a Paleo food.
Quinoa has toxic properties that I just can’t get past. Global demand for quinoa is also contributing to increased poverty and exploitation of the people living in the regions where it is grown. Quinoa is a staple food for people of the Andes and thanks to demand, is now prohibitively expensive for those people to eat it.
By the time you have exploited South American workers and burned tons of fuel to transport it to your kitchen, you end up with an ingredient that isn’t a grain but is still harmful to your gut. If I had to eat something that produces a detrimental effect, I’d rather just eat locally grown corn or other grains and at least feel less ethically compromised about my decision.
Plenty of others (Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, etc.) have varied opinions on whether or not quinoa is Paleo. My clear opinion is that quinoa is NOT Paleo, for ethical if not bioligical reasons. Therefore I don’t use it (there are plenty of other options) and I don’t bother repinning quinoa recipes on Pinterest or this website. What is your opinion?
Image: Wikipedia, EasyPaleoMeals
Sources: As Hyperlinked