Touted in the health and fitness world as one of today’s superfoods, quinoa is appearing in all sorts of foods from salads to breakfast cereals. But what is quinoa and can you eat it as part of a paleo or grain-free diet?Quinoa seeds
Yes! Quinoa is NOT a grain—it is in fact a seed. Quinoa is from the same family as beetroots and spinach and the part of the quinoa plant we eat is the seed. It’s naturally gluten-free and packed full of protein, making it a fantastic source of energy for everyone—especially those on a gluten-free, grain-free or paleo diet.
I first discovered the amazing health benefits of quinoa in the early 2000s when I began researching alternative grain substitutes to create commercial bakery products. As Australia’s only immunobiologist working in private practice, I kept seeing time and time again a link between cereal grains and the efficiency of a person’s immune system. I set about examining how the dozens of defence chemicals found in cereal grains, such as wheat and rice, affect the human immune system. I believe I was the first person in the world to do so. I published my findings in my book No More Chronic Fatigue in the late 1990s after conducting 4,000 case studies. Part of my research included investigating alternative plant seeds and roots that could be made into commercial bakery products as a substitute for cereal grains like wheat, rice and corn.
Quinoa was one of the grain substitutes that I tested on hundreds of people with compromised immune systems. I found it to be an amazing alternative and it went on to become the basis of the world’s first grain-free bakery Deeks Health Foods right here in Canberra, Australia.
Being from the same family as spinach, quinoa is genetically a long way removed from grasses. In botany, grains and cereals are only seeds from grass families. But the paleo movement uses agronomy rather than botany to define what constitutes a grain. Agronomists define grains as small hard, dry seeds with or without hulls or fruit layers, or any seeds or fruits that resemble grass seeds in appearance, and that are harvested for human and animal consumption. Thus quinoa is included in the paleo definition as a grain because it resembles grass seeds in both size and appearance. But in actual fact, quinoa is as far from being a grain as the green leafy vegetable spinach is. Quinoa is also sometimes referred to in health and food articles as a pseudo cereal (or even a super-grain) because the Incas harvested it to make flat breads for more than 1,000 years, (much like Australian Aborigines harvested spinifex, woolybuck, nardoo and legume seeds to make flat breads in the central Australian deserts). The great thing about quinoa is that you can easily remove the poisonous seed husk by rubbing the seeds in water. The seed husk has saponin chemicals that protect the seeds from birds and some insects, and the Incas obviously found that rubbing the seeds in their hands in water easily removed the poisonous coating. The seed husks with the saponins can be used as a detergent for cleaning, and this may also be a reason why Incas used this seed—to clean clothes in streams. Nobody should eat quinoa with the husk still on—it produces a very bitter taste and is poisonous.

The quinoa seed pulp does contain some defence storage chemicals, however these do not cause a problem for most people, and highland quinoa does not create problems for those with compromised immune systems. Lowland quinoa however gives more immune responses than highland quinoa above 3,000 metres, according to my research. So where quinoa comes from can make a big difference to your quinoa-eating experience. You can buy quinoa seeds with the husk still on from farms in Australia. But you need to thoroughly wash the husk off the seeds before you prepare them for cooking. Cheap quinoa found in some supermarkets also often still has remnants of the husks attached because they have been poorly washed to save on costs. Poorly washed quinoa makes people sick. So if you’re planning to eat quinoa for the first time, you are best to try and source some highland quinoa or at least some that is well prepared.
The great news is, all of the quinoa used in Deeks bakery products is premium quality, highland quinoa from Bolivia. So if you’re on a grain-free, gluten-free or paleo diet and you’re keen to give quinoa a go, check out Deeks. They bake substantial alternatives to the wheat or rice-based breads you may have grown up eating and now miss.
So not only is quinoa grain-free and good for your health, it also tastes delicious!


  • Marita Melissari Posted June 24, 2015 1:37 pm

    Is using quinoa flakes Ok and still within the AIP even though they have been “proceesed” to become flakes?

  • Bill Giles Posted June 24, 2015 4:00 pm

    Hello Marita,
    Good question. I know of some Mums who make their own quinoa flakes using a hand operated grain flaker. In industry they use large mechanised flakers. This is what I would do to turn quinoa seeds into flakes:
    • Rinse the quinoa seeds under cold running water for a few minutes, rubbing briskly to remove any of the bitter coating that sometimes occurs in cheap quinoa seeds. Most AAA quinoa sold in Australia is already well rinsed, but it is a sensible precaution (Deeks bakery regularly checks for this with its suppliers)
    • Spread the quinoa in a single layer on a baking sheet of paper. Allow the seeds to dry (over several hours), regularly moving the seeds around to ensure that the moisture has totally evaporated. It’s not worth milling the quinoa if it has any dampness, as it will clog the flaker.
    • Attach your grain flaker to your work table or to a mixer stand, as directed by the manufacturer. Fill the hopper with the dried quinoa, to slightly under the recommended limit. If your flaker does not have a compartment to catch the milled flakes, set a bowl under the output chute.
    • Crank the flaker by hand (or start the motor), and watch the flattened quinoa pore into the bowl. Just make sure you do not overload the machine hopper because seeds can go everywhere when you start up the motorised flakers and you will be finding them throughout your kitchen for days after. As the level goes down, keep filling the hopper to an acceptable level, and process all the quinoa seeds.
    This processing does not require any chemicals, nor preservatives if the flakes are quickly vacuumed sealed. It is likely that some manufacturers add preservatives. I suspect that this could occur when the quinoa is flaked in South America—to get a longer shelf life due to oxidation. I believe that the Deeks flakes are preservative free.
    Making your own flakes is a totally safe process. The life of flakes is less than the life of whole seeds (more than 12 months after de-husking), however I would use up the freshly ground flakes reasonably quickly.
    (A final note: There is much more recognition of the negative effects of natural plant toxins such as agglutinins (of which gluten is only one) these days. It is unfortunate that the first people to create the concept of a paleo focused lifestyle chose to use the definitions of a grain via agronomy, rather than botany definitions. Many people become confused because they are led to believe that quinoa is a ‘grain’ such as wheat is. Since I am one of few practitioners in the world who has tested quinoa on thousands of people with immune-related diseases, I have a strong belief that quinoa is an immune-friendly seed—as long as the husk has been totally removed.)
    Please tell me about your paleo-friendly breakfast cereals using quinoa flakes.

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