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A month after the nationwide lockdown was announced as a preventive measure against the rapidly-spreading covid-19 pandemic, one of my supermarket visits to store essentials turned out to be the turning point of my weight-loss diet.
Upon failing to find dalia (porridge) in the food aisle, I had almost turned my back disappointedly when a box literally fell from the upper shelf of the food stand and landed right into my trolley. The God-sent angel was none other than quinoa. I don’t care if you think this is a dramatic description of how I procured my first pack of quinoa, but it’s a true story.
Having read about its health benefits given its rich nutritional value as well as of its weight-loss aiding advantages, I took it as a sign from the Universe and brought it home. I opened the quinoa packet, soaked it in water for an hour and threw it into the pressure cooker along with a few vegetables and some spices for flavour.
Despite quinoa being a seed and not a grain like porridge, I expected a porridge-look-alike on my dinner plate after 4 pressure cooker whistles. Luckily, that’s exactly what I got!
What was the problem then?
The taste was also somewhat similar, just a tad bit bitter. But it seemed like an acceptable flaw because quinoa promised a high protein and fibre dose to my body along with keeping me satiated for a long time, thus curbing my appetite.
After the third bite, I had almost ‘acquired’ the taste for quinoa and by the fifth, I was convinced about making it a regular to my diet because of the extra crunchiness of it. However, an hour later, my confidence shattered and so did my bowel movement.
“Quinoa is gluten-free. So, probably my loose stomach and that acidic feeling is just a result of the super-strong coffee I had earlier today,” I thought to myself.
The morning consisted of battling bloating and the night was about several washroom visits. Hence, I decided to go light on food and stuck to khichdi along with curd for the next two days.
After feeling like I had recovered, I got back to eating quinoa—this time for lunch. All the ‘relief’ I had gotten after several servings of khichdi and one entire night in the loo went down the drain—just like the many other things that came out of my stomach post that fateful lunch.
7 to 8 chances and an extremely terrible digestive health later, I realized quinoa wasn’t the Godsent angel I had thought it was but a demon causing havoc in my gastrointestinal tract.
Why did it happen?
It was a setback to realise that my body’s inability to digest quinoa meant I had to give up on a gluten-free, high-protein, and high-fibre weight-loss-friendly food. So, I decided to get to the bottom of it and got in touch with Dr. Neha Pathania, nutritionist, Paras Hospital, Gurgaon, to find out what I had done to deserve quinoa’s wrath.
“Quinoa, often called a superfood, can cause many side effects to your digestive system. A lot of people in the past have visited our hospital because of severe stomach ache. Further investigation showed that the patient had quinoa as the last meal before the pain started. Hence, consuming quinoa can lead to diarrhea, bloating, food allergy, and discomfort in the stomach for many people,” she pointed out.
Surely, it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone in this. But why was it happening with people like me? This was something I wanted an answer to.
Dr. Pathania explained:
Quinoa contains high content of fibre. Hence, if you suddenly start consuming too much of fibre, your digestive system might not be able to digest it.
She added that quinoa has a natural coating of saponin, a chemical that helps repel microbes while the seed of quinoa is in its growing stage.
“Saponins can cause acidity, bloating and gas, especially if quinoa is not washed properly before its consumption. Saponins can also make the taste of quinoa bitter and soapy,” she mentioned.
So, should you really add quinoa to your diet?
Just because it made my life hell, doesn’t mean it would work the same way for you. So, you can definitely give it a try. However, keep these pointers suggested by Dr. Pathania in mind before you include quinoa in your diet:
1. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly before cooking so as to get rid of the saponin that might have remained stuck to its surface. Doing so can spare you the horror of loose motions later.
2. Due to its high fibre-content, quinoa should be eaten during the day time, i.e., during breakfast or lunch. Our metabolism process tends to slow down as the day progresses. So, the body is unable to digest the high fibre food towards the end of the day. Eating quinoa when your metabolism is functioning better is a good way of ensuring proper digestion.
3. Don’t overeat quinoa. One bowl a day is fine.
4. If you’re eating quinoa for the first time, you should start with a small quantity and then gradually increase the quantity if it suits you.
5. You can count on alternative sources of fibre such as milk, oats and whole grains such as dalia and ragi as they have soluble and insoluble fibres which are good for your health.
So, everything that’s touted to be Godsent might not have the same effect for everyone. Hence, be careful about your food choices!