If you’re starting a healthy eating regime, you might have swapped some of your normal side dishes like rice or pasta for quinoa – but, if doing so has also led to an increase in feelings of bloating or gas you might be wondering if your new healthy addition is behind this – and if quinoa causes gas or does quinoa cause bloating. So let us explain.
Article reviewed by Jennifer May, Clinical Nutritionist. See more about her and our editorial accuracy process here
Why Can Quinoa Cause Gas?
Well, let’s start with the fact that it’s a seed (although usually referred to as a grain) – and seeds contain fibre and, pretty much any food that contains fibre can cause gas.
It’s a natural process that occurs when bacteria in the gut digest fibre in the food – but, it’s true that some fibre-containing foods can cause more gas than others, or contain other ingredients that increase gas levels – and one of these, saponins, is another reason why quinoa might make you gassy…
The Saponin Story
Saponins are bitter-tasting compounds found in the exterior coating of quinoa. It’s thought that they are there as a way to protect the seeds from insect damage as they taste horrible to anything biting into the plant.
For this reason, most of the saponins in quinoa sold in supermarkets are now removed as part of the manufacturing process – it can taste quite bitter otherwise – but, some do get left behind.
Most people have no issue ingesting these (in fact, there might be some health benefits to saponins) but if you’re one of the people with a sensitivity to them, you might find that these can cause gas, bloating and/or stomach pain.
There’s no clear test to tell if saponins are behind your post-quinoa gas, but, if you also get bloating from chickpeas or soybeans, that might be a sign as they contain higher levels of saponins than quinoa does.
Other foods in the quinoa family can also contain saponins and may lead to gas if you eat lots of them. These include spinach, Swiss Chard, Rainbow chard and rhubarb – that might sound strange as they are all veggies, but remember, quinoa isn’t a grain, it’s actually a seed and a member of the grass family.
Admittedly, when you see it growing, the link between it and chard and rhubarb is a bit clearer – look.
How to Stop Quinoa Causing Gas
Quinoa is generally a very healthy food – it’s one of the few grains that also contains high levels of protein, it has all nine amino acids and includes nutrients including iron, vitamin E and magnesium – therefore, if you can keep it in your diet, you should – especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan.
The good news is, you don’t need to avoid eating quinoa to stop quinoa-bloat – there’s a really simple way to reduce any saponins left on the seeds.
Rinse the quinoa before you cook it.
This helps remove leftover saponins that might be causing problems.
All you need to do is get a sieve with very small holes, pop your portion of (uncooked) quinoa into it and run it under the tap for up to 2 minutes. That should get rid of most of the excess saponins and eliminate the problem.
Be Aware of Quinoa Allergy
Some people can have an actual allergy to quinoa/saponins – that’s different from just being a bit sensitive to it/them and you should avoid quinoa going forward if that’s the case.
If you notice your symptoms occur very quickly after consuming quinoa or you experience symptoms like an itchy mouth or hives when eating quinoa, speak to your GP.
And, if you get issues like facial swelling or trouble breathing after eating quinoa, seek urgent medical attention.
What if Rinsing Doesn’t Work?
If it doesn’t, it’s possible that saponins are not your issue. It might simply be that you’ve increased fibre levels in your diet too quickly.
When you do this, it’s the gut bug equivalent of letting a kid loose in a candy shop, they eat everything, get overexcited and you can get bloated. Build things up slowly.
When Cooled Quinoa is the Issue
One of the types of fibre in quinoa is called resistant starch.
This is one of the gut bacteria’s favourite foods and it keeps them super healthy – but, it’s also true that as they digest it, more gas is produced than with some other types of fibre, which means resistant starch can be a bit of a double-edged sword for those with problems like IBS.
However, as we explained in our piece on why frozen bread might cause gas, resistant starch levels increase when a starchy food like rice, pasta, bread – or quinoa – is cooked and then cooled down.
So, if you only get bloated after eating quinoa salad, or you batch cook your quinoa and have leftovers the next day, the high levels of resistant starch might be the issue.
Freshly cooked quinoa may not have the same effect.
Or, you might be blaming quinoa, but the culprit could be something else in your diet. Especially if you’ve started googling and seen posts about saponins, you might be blaming the quinoa not realising that you always have eggplant with quinoa (and they’re another food that can trigger gas).
The only way to tell what’s really causing problems is to keep a food/symptom diary and make sure you’re not blaming the wrong food.
For some expert tips on how to keep, and read, a useful journal check out our post on how to write a food and symptom diary.
You can also download some printable templates to help you here
Is Quinoa a High Fodmap Food?
One of the reasons why many of the foods we talk about in our posts on bloating lead to excessive gas is that they contain higher levels of sugars called FODMAPs which can cause more gas than other ingredients as they’re broken down.
However, in a normal-sized serving of around 100g, quinoa is classed as a low FODMAP food which means it’s unlikely that a reaction to FODMAPs is the cause of any gas produced.
On their FODMAP tracking app, the team at Monash, who are the gurus of all things FODMAP say that FODMAPs in quinoa may cause problems at about 575g of cooked quinoa – but that’s a very large serving, around four times more than most people will be consuming in one go.
Does Quinoa Contain Gluten?
No – quinoa is gluten free, so a reaction to gluten is not on the list of reasons why quinoa may cause gas.
How Long Does Gas from Quinoa Last?
The good news is that any kind of bloating or discomfort caused by gas will pass within a few hours as the gas naturally works its way out of your system.
If you’re very uncomfortable, then you might be able to help things move faster by drinking peppermint tea. Peppermint helps relax the gut which releases gas.
Or, get into a position where your buttocks are raised – ie child pose from yoga, or simply kneeling down and poking your bum in the air – which again, can encourage the movement of gas.
You’ll also find some other suggestions on ways to release gas in this piece.
Remember though most of the time bloating and gas are totally normal and pass quickly, but we do have to just mention that if you’re getting a lot of discomfort with your bloating, if you have any other symptoms like loss of appetite or weight loss and if your bloating doesn’t come and go, it’s best to just go and see your GP to check there’s not a problem like IBS or something else going on.
So there you have it. The main reasons why quinoa might make you gassy and, a few solutions that will hopefully stop it happening to you.
Let me know if it helps in the comments.
Who is The Wellness Nerd?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.