Exploring Quinoa’s Impact on Weight Loss Diets: A Comparison with Rice

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan Petitpas | Updated on 27 June 2024

A bowl of quinoa and rice labeled with the question, "Is quinoa good?".

Many health-conscious eaters are inquiring whether quinoa is beneficial for weight loss, and rightly so. It’s incredibly important and often challenging to maintain a healthy weight. We all want to be fit for one reason or another. However, there are more important reasons than ego to stay at a healthy weight.

Obesity can lead to a slew of health issues, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and many chronic illnesses. So naturally, most people want to avoid those things, but the older you get, the more difficult it is to lose weight and keep it off.

Up until now, rice has been the number one side dish and additive to meals. But, in the last few years, quinoa has skyrocketed in popularity. And that’s because it seems that quinoa is a rival for rice in health benefits. People are noticing that quinoa has a lot to offer their health that rice can’t compete with. Therefore, we’ll go over the benefits of adding quinoa to your diet and give a side by side comparison for quinoa vs white and brown rice.

Quinoa: Good for Weight Loss & Packed With Health Benefits

It’s almost shocking when we learn about some of the subtle changes we can make in our diet to encourage weight loss. For example, specific nutrients, such as fiber, can tremendously affect our metabolic health. Quinoa is one such food that can subtly change the way our body processes nutrients and kick our weight loss hormones into action.

Increasing the amount of quinoa that you eat can be an effective way to achieve your goals, but probably not for the reasons you may think. Ultimately, it will help increase functions in your body that encourage weight loss by creating a healthier system. When your body is operating the way it should naturally, it’s less challenging to lose unwanted pounds.

1. Quinoa is a Healthy Whole Grain (Sort of)

Quinoa is often considered a super grain, yet it is actually a seed from South America that has been used for years as a gluten-free substitute for grains. Even though it isn’t technically a grain, nutrition experts consider it a whole grain because we eat it similarly to how we eat other whole grains.1

Whole grains are any grain that has not been refined. Examples of whole grains are brown rice, cracked wheat (bulgar), oats, even popcorn is a whole grain! They retain every part of the grain when used, keeping the healthiest parts of the grain in the food. When grain is refined, it’s stripped of the most nutritious parts and ground down into flour. Most white breads and crackers are refined grains that hold no nutritional value, and they’re just empty calories.

2. Provides Magnesium, Iron, Among Other Vitamins & Minerals

Magnesium is one of many valuable minerals that quinoa offers. Quinoa provides up to 33% of the recommended daily intake for women. Many women don’t realize how vital magnesium is to their diet; it can significantly reduce pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, such as mood, bloating, and cramps.2

Iron is one of the vitamins found in large quantities in quinoa, which is critical for a woman’s diet. Unfortunately, women are frequently low in iron and often end up needing supplements. However, one serving of quinoa each day could provide a natural source of fifteen percent of her necessary amount of iron!

For women looking to get pregnant, quinoa is an excellent addition to their meal plans. Pregnant women require high levels of folic acid, a B vitamin necessary to prevent congenital disabilities. In fact, women may want to consume folates before pregnancy so that it’s already in their bodies once the baby starts forming, and this established folate will take root in preventing congenital disabilities (birth defects).

Quinoa is high in folate, offering as much as almost 20% of the recommended daily amount. However, pregnant women require such immensely high folic acid intake that it’s practically impossible to get that needed amount through food alone. Therefore, it’s included in prenatal supplements that women take. Yet, it’s still a good idea for a pregnant woman to add as much folate as possible to her diet, even if she is taking supplements. Eating even more folate will help to ensure that she doesn’t ever have a deficiency.

Quinoa is also high in other valuable nutritional elements, such as potassium, zinc, and antioxidants. Antioxidants are incredibly unique because they do a lot to help in anti-aging and fighting diseases. You can find loads of other antioxidants in delicious foods such as tea and chocolate, so you know quinoa is in good company.

3. Low in Calories

When people are trying to lose weight, cutting calories is usually a large part of their diet plan. And it makes sense – losing weight is possible when we burn more energy than we consume. The challenge then lies in making the calories that we do consume work hard for us. We need to make the most of the little we have.

Quinoa is an excellent choice for a low-calorie diet and can contribute positively to weight loss efforts. White rice and quinoa actually have a similar calorie count, but because of the way your body breaks down the quinoa, you get more benefit from those calories; they carry you longer.

Please keep in mind that part of losing weight, especially if you are cutting calories, necessitates replacing the nutrients you’re losing through those cut calories. Therefore, you’ll need to focus on foods high in many other vitamins and minerals. Even though quinoa has a lot of valuable nutrition, it alone can’t provide a well-rounded diet. Research some diet plan meal nutrition strategies to help you effectively lose weight and gain muscle. This comprehensive approach ensures you receive balanced nutrition while working towards your fitness goals.

One downside to quinoa is that it’s very high in carbohydrates. Of course, carbohydrates get a bad rap, and but they aren’t all terrible. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbohydrates deserve their bad reputation; they add calories but have zero nutritional value and are primarily derived from refined sugar. They are broken down quickly and give you a quick burst of energy, but then you crash.

Complex carbohydrates are much different. They are found in starches and natural sugars and are much more effective at sustaining energy because they take longer to digest. Carbs are essential for your body to get its energy.

So, on the one hand, this is good that quinoa is high in carbohydrates; it’s excellent fuel for your body. However, if you are on a low-carb diet or are avoiding carbohydrates altogether, quinoa may be off your menu, unfortunately. Be sure to look into low-fat vs. low-carb diets to ensure you’re on the best path for your needs.

4. Helps Control Blood Sugar (Low Glycemic Index)

People with diabetes will also benefit from choosing quinoa over rice because of its glycemic index. The glycemic index assesses how much a particular food raises blood sugar levels. So for people who need to monitor their blood sugar and keep it low, quinoa is a safer choice than many other grains, including rice.

Quinoa has a low glycemic index because of its high protein and fiber content. Remember, these both help your body absorb the food much more slowly. This slower absorption of the nutrients will prevent your blood sugar from spiking, which can be incredibly dangerous when that happens.

In addition, foods with a lower glycemic index, like quinoa, may help you burn calories more quickly.3 When you lower your glycemic intake, your body produces less insulin. This reduction means that your body will rely on your calories for energy instead of insulin. Therefore, you’re burning even more calories when there’s less sugar getting in the way.

5. Fibrous & Curbs Hunger

Quinoa has an extremely high fiber content. Fiber is excellent because it is very slow to break down in your body. So this is another way to help you keep that full feeling for a while longer. In fact, a study from the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine concluded that adding 30 grams of fiber to your daily intake will be effective in helping you lose weight.

It’s helpful to be aware that there are two different kinds of fiber. There’s soluble and insoluble fiber; each type can play a role in weight loss, although in different ways. So let’s take a quick look at the difference between the two.

Soluble fiber can absorb water around it, creating a bit of a gel-like substance. This is what sits in your stomach for some time, extending the feeling that you’ve just eaten. Soluble fiber stays in your stomach longer than many other nutrients. It is also beneficial because it slows down the sugar from entering your bloodstream, keeping your blood sugar level even. This is excellent because it helps to regulate your energy level.4 A dip in your blood sugar level is typically caused by a need to eat.

Insoluble fiber does not break down in water. As a result, our body can’t digest it, so it just passes right out, complete with the calories it contains. This type of fiber is also very effective at prolonging your feeling of satiety, helping you go longer in between meals.

Healthy Side Dish – If weight loss is your goal, you can incorporate quinoa into your daily diet in a smart and healthy way to achieve your goals. You can find tons of quinoa weight loss recipes in many cookbooks and all over the internet. In addition, you can incorporate it into almost every meal in some very surprising ways!

Dress it up – Quinoa is a heavenly side to any meal, but you don’t have to serve it plain. Instead, sprinkle a little balsamic vinegar on top, or try some soy sauce for a different flavor. Some more adventurous palates may even enjoy a bit of hot sauce. It’s an effortless way to make your basic quinoa seem just a little fancy.

Quinoa salad – This is a very simple recipe to make your salad more exciting. First, roughly chop up a handful of fresh baby spinach. Then, toss it into a bowl with warm quinoa and shelled edamame. Top with your favorite vinaigrette dressing.

Quinoa Taco Bowl – Everybody loves tacos, so here’s a great way to make them a little more weight loss-friendly. Add quinoa to a bowl as your base. Then add in all of your favorite taco toppings, including a couple of crispy tortillas to keep that satisfying taco crunch. The beauty of this recipe is that you can change your toppings every time for a different “taco”!

6. High in Complete Protein

Adding quinoa to your daily diet makes shedding those extra pounds a lot easier because it’s loaded with protein. Protein is immensely effective in helping you feel full for longer, meaning you won’t go prowling the kitchen pantry soon after for an unhealthy snack. It’s impossible to lose weight if you’re constantly feeling like you are starving; that’s a huge reason why most diets fail. A diet needs to be successful in helping the individual feel satiated; otherwise, they are likely to give up in frustration.

Studies have shown that eating snacks high in protein can help curb your appetite for more extended periods of time.5 And to make that even better, protein-rich foods have a high TEF, Thermic Effect of Food. In short, it takes a lot of energy to break down the protein for your body to absorb. This is huge in terms of losing weight.

The most exciting aspect of the protein in quinoa is that it is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids, which is a significant benefit. First, let’s back up a moment.

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of protein concerning weight loss; however, it’s crucial for so many body functions. It’s food for your whole body, and your muscles and organs rely on protein. For our proteins to be complete, they need twenty-two amino acids. Our bodies make thirteen of them, so we need to get the other nine from the food we eat. When we find a food that contains all nine amino acids, that’s like the Holy Grail of protein!

Complete proteins can fill you up to eat less and may also trigger a hormone that makes you less hungry. And some studies have found that when you are dieting, high levels of complete protein may target fat loss while preserving your muscle mass.

Frequently Asked Questions

Modifying your diet is undeniably an important part of your journey toward shedding pounds, just like incorporating exercise. Exercise will help you burn additional calories, eliminating more calories than taking in, but it will also help strengthen and tone your muscles. These are all critical aspects of weight loss; exercise can help you reach your goals more quickly. If you are a novice to exercising, there's a beginner guide to strength training that would be an ideal place to start.

Which Is Better for Weight Loss: Quinoa or Rice?

There’s no arguing that rice can be an ideal part of your meal. It goes perfectly with so many dishes that it’s hard to imagine them any other way. Moreover, rice is one of the world’s largest crops, and nearly half the planet’s population depends upon it.

Unlike quinoa, rice truly is a grain, and as a result, rice has some decent nutritional properties. There are many different types of rice, but we’re just going to focus on the two most significant categories: white and brown rice.

White rice is the most common rice. It is rice that has been processed, stripping away the germ and the bran. This also strips the rice of most of its valuable nutrients. Brown rice, on the other hand, has been left intact during processing, and it still retains much of its nutritional value because it still has the germ and the bran. So when you’ve heard that brown rice is better for you, that was accurate.

Some of the benefits of brown rice include its content of multiple minerals that are essential for a healthy diet, such as:

  • Vitamin B
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Fiber
  • Folate

While white rice is known for its good taste, it does have some positives. It is a good source of energy because it is easy to digest quickly. Additionally, if you’re eating long-grain white rice, you’ll receive a few benefits, such as:

  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Thiamin
  • Folate
  • Vitamin E

Side by side, it’s easy to see that brown rice is the healthier choice of the two options. That does not mean, though, that you shouldn’t ever eat white rice. It’s OK to have some in moderation! In fact, there are times that white rice is the better choice for you. It’s excellent for getting some calories in you when you have an upset stomach, and it’s easy to digest. Just be sure to balance it out with other, healthier whole grains.

But now, let’s take a reminder of the benefits of quinoa:

  • Complete protein
  • Magnesium
  • Healthy carbs
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Fiber
  • Vitamin B
  • Potassium
  • Vitamin E
  • Phosphorus
  • Folate
  • Zinc
  • Full of antioxidants

However, when we compare rice and quinoa side by side, they are very similar, but quinoa beats out rice for health benefits. This is largely because quinoa has much higher amounts of fiber and protein, giving it the edge over rice. It’s also lower in carbohydrates and calories than rice, which is another helpful tool in losing weight. So it becomes clear that after evaluating the benefits of rice and questioning whether quinoa is effective for weight loss, quinoa still maintains a slight advantage.

With its abundance of vitamins and nutrients, it is okay to eat quinoa daily.

Not only is it safe to eat quinoa every day, but it’s encouraged. This is because quinoa has many vitamins and minerals that are required for good health for both men and women.

Can I Eat Quinoa While Dieting and Still Lose Weight?

In most cases, yes, as long as you stick to a reasonable amount without going overboard on the carbohydrates.

In order to shed some pounds, you should incorporate one or two cups of quinoa into your daily diet. With so many ways to include quinoa each day, from soups and salads to bread and grain bowls, consuming that amount of quinoa shouldn’t be difficult. Having that much variety with what you can do with your quinoa makes it easier to include, as well, since you won’t feel as though you are stuck eating the same thing every day. That’s a significant reason diets fail.

You can eat quinoa in any number of ways, too, making it one incredibly versatile dish.

  • It prepares very similar to rice. Boil twice the amount of water of how much quinoa you plan to add. Simmer covered for approximately 20 minutes.
  • Packages suggest that you rinse the quinoa first to remove some bitterness you may taste.
  • Substitute quinoa for rice in any of your favorite rice dishes.
  • Add it to soups, salads, yogurt, and baked goods.

Before you make any major changes to your diet, be sure to consult your physician to make sure it’s the right choice for you. Each person’s needs are different, and only your doctor will know best if this is the healthiest choice for you.

Will Quinoa Make You Gain Weight?

Quinoa is on the high side for calories and carbohydrates, both of which can cause weight gain. If you find that your new quinoa plan for dieting has the opposite effect you were looking for, definitely cut back. You just may be overdoing too much of a good thing. Finding the right balance is key, so it may take a little experimenting.

On the other hand, quinoa isn’t going to make you gain weight beyond what you would get from eating rice, whether it’s brown or white. They have similar nutrients and makeup, but only quinoa has actual benefits for your weight; rice can’t say the same. When considering whether quinoa is beneficial for weight loss, carefully balance the advantages and disadvantages to make the most suitable choice for your specific needs.

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1Robinson, Katie. 8 July 2019. Is Quinoa Good For You? Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Superfood. Everyday Health. Web. 8 November 2021. <https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/diet/quinoa-nutrition-facts-types-how-cook-it-more/>

2Spritzler, Franziska. 3 September 2018. 10 Proven Magnesium Benefits. Healthline. Web. 9 November 2021. <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-proven-magnesium-benefits#TOC_TITLE_HDR_10>

3Roberts, Susan B. 27 April 2009. Abstract. Wiley Online Library. Web. 9 November 2021. <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2000.tb01855.x>

4Frey, Malia. 27 January 2021. Choosing the Best Fiber Foods for Weight Loss. Verywell Fit. Web. 8 November 2021. <https://www.verywellfit.com/insoluble-vs-soluble-fiber-for-weight-loss-3495369>

5Douglas, Steven M., et al. 29 September 2014. Effects of high-protein vs. high-fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women. Biomed Central. Web. 8 November 2021. <https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-13-97>

About the Author

Nathan Petitpas

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.