Is quinoa a superfood for your testosterone levels?

Is quinoa good for your testosterone?

Is it even the superfood it’s made out to be?

Quinoa is part of the amaranth family with edible seeds. It’s considered to be an ancient grain and even a superfood.

So let’s discuss the pros and cons of it and if it could be good for your testosterone levels.

Minerals

Quinoa is a decent source of vitamins and minerals, but nothing spectacular – definitely not worthy of superfood status.

Here is a table where I compare 100g of raw quinoa with raw oats and raw lentils and only 30g of cocoa powder. I also added fiber and protein at the bottom.

Vitamins and mineralsQuinoaOatsLentilsCocoa (30g)
Vitamin B130%38%72%1%
Vitamin B515%22%42%1%
Vitamin B637%7%41%2%
Folate46%8%119%2%
Copper22%15%29%43%
Iron57%53%81%51%
Magnesium49%34%11%37%
Manganese88%157%60%50%
Phosphorus65%58%40%31%
Zinc20%24%21%13%
Fiber7g10.1g10.7g11.1g
Protein14g13.2g24.6g5.9g

As you can see, it’s a decent source of some vitamins and minerals, but compared to the common oats, lentil and cocoa, it’s only mediocre. The only mineral that really stands out is magnesium, but quinoa is high in phytic acid, which reduces not only the bio-availability of the magnesium, but also of the zinc and iron.

The fiber in quinoa is low, which is a bonus as fiber lowers SHBG and can irritate the intestine. Interestingly, the fiber in quinoa is about 9:1 ratio insoluble to soluble compared to oat which as about a 6:4 ratio insoluble to soluble (R). This is a good thing, because soluble fiber can ferment and cause all kinds of gut issues. Insoluble fiber just passes through and helps to clean the gut.

The protein is ok, but I’d rather eat animal products for my protein.

Two other problems with quinoa are that it contains oxalates and lectins. Lectins can contribute to leaky gut and inflammation, but you can get rid of the lectins by soaking, sprouting and pressure cooking the quinoa. But how many people really go through all that trouble?

On the other hand, you can’t get rid of the oxalates. Oxalates, once absorbed, bind to calcium in the body and are excreted through the kidney. This can be a problem when calcium intake is low or when someone has kidney problems. When oxalates bind to calcium, your body can’t use that calcium, so the body thinks calcium intake is much lower than it is. Thus it increases parathyroid hormone (PTH) to increase calcium absorption in the gut. PTH is inflammatory and can lower thyroid function and reduce steroidogenesis. A simple trick is just to consume more calcium, which can bind to the oxalates in the gut, thus inhibiting their absorption.

Protein quality of quinoa

The protein content of quinoa is fairly normal and some people tout it to be a good source of protein, but then again it’s not even better than oats. Oats is even higher in the anabolic amino acid, leucine.

Essential amino acidsQuinoaOats
Histidine4.12.8
Isoleucine55
Leucine8.49.8
Methionine3.12.1
Phenylalanine5.96.7
Threonine4.23.8
Tryptophan1.71.8
Valine5.96.9
Lysine7.76.4
Total4645

Now if you really want to get nitty gritty about the protein intake, we can look at the Fernstrom ratio.

What is the Fernstrom ratio and why does it matter.

Fernstrom looked at all kinds of protein sources and looked at their amino acids composition and concluded that tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, competes with other amino acids for entry into the brain. The less competition it has, the more it can enter the brain and boost serotonin. Serotonin inhibits steroidogenesis, so keeping it under control is key for well-being and optimizing androgens.

Tryptophan competes with other large neutral amino acids, such as tyrosine and phenylalanine and the BCAAs – valine, isoleucine, and leucine.

The Fernstrom formula looks like this: Tryptophan/(Tyrosine + Phenylalanine + Valine + Isoleucine + Leucine)

The Fernstrom ratio of quinoa is 0.06, which is slightly higher than oats, which comes in at 0.055. Ground beef is probably the lowers at 0.019, whereas watermelon is at 0.088 and raw peaches are at 0.101.

Here is a nice graph that user Amazoniac created with foods showing the Fernstrom ratio.

Should you care?

Probably not that much, but if you do get high serotonin symptoms, then you might want to take a look at the ratio of the foods that you’re eating.

With that said, quinoa doesn’t have that high a Fernstrom ratio and should be fine.

Blood sugar regulation ability of quinoa

Quinoa has a low glycemic index at around 53, since a GI of 55 or below is considered low. This means that quinoa won’t cause as dramatic spike in blood sugar, compared to refined flour, white rice, etc. But compared to a more yummy sweet potato, with a GI in the mid 40s, quinoa isn’t special.

Again, should you care? Not that much.

The reason why people tend to care about the GI of foods is because they think insulin resistance is driven by insulin. High GI foods cause a greater secretion of insulin, which promotes muscle protein synthesis, testosterone production, glucose oxidation, CO2 production, ATP production, etc.

High GI foods are not bad unless 1) you have insulin resistance already and/or 2) your liver is compromised and not clearing the insulin rapidly enough and/or 3) you experience hypoglycemia afterward (which is related to a neurotransmitter imbalance) and/or 4) your pancreas is not secreting enough insulin to begin with.

There are a few causes to insulin resistance, but ultimately it boils down to inflammation.

I quote from this study (R):

Insulin resistance is a condition in which cells are no longer responding appropriately to circulating insulin. Although there are many potential molecular causes of insulin resistance, ultimately they are all either directly or indirectly caused by increased inflammation.

However, if you do have insulin resistance, quinoa might help improve insulin sensitivity, because it contains antioxidants (similar to wheat actually (R)) as well as a special class of molecules, the phytoecdysteroids, especially 20-hydroxyecdysone (R).

This compound (20-hydroxyecdysone) is structurally similar to Vitamin D, which has been shown to affect lipid accumulation in adipose tissue [22]. It was postulated that Vitamin D receptors formed suitable binding sites for 20-hydroxyecdysone, enabling it to influence the expression of genes responsible for lipid storage, however this mechanism requires further elucidation.

From this paper

There isn’t much evidence in humans at this point on phytoecdysteroids, but some animal studies show that it promotes insulin sensitivity and fat loss, whereas others show that it doesn’t (R). Apparently a certain amount of quinoa is needed in the diet to make a true impact, but at least if you’re eating quinoa you’re probably not eating junk food as well and that is good.

Something to be cautious of (R):

Studies in an Ussing chamber showed that the presence of saponins derived from quinoa resulted in an increased conductance of pig jejunum [19]. This finding suggests that there was an increase in the permeability of the intestinal lining, resulting in a decreased capacity to actively absorb nutrients for animal growth and development.

Luckily, the saponin content is mostly removed before it hits the shelves, so hopeful that side effect is taken care of.

Fats in quinoa

Like most plant foods, the fat content is mostly polyunsaturated with a 10:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. However the fat content is low and people don’t eat a lot of quinoa daily (more than a cup on average), so that little bit of fat shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s devoid of cholesterol, so it doesn’t provide a precursor for testosterone production.

It high in phytosterols, which are similar to cholesterol, but inhibit the absorption of cholesterol itself. And as we know, testosterone is made from cholesterol, however, it seems that phytosterol ingestion doesn’t lower testosterone levels even after 1 year of supplementation (R). On the other hand, certain phytosterols, such as beta-sitosterol, are a potent inhibitor of 5-alpha reductase and can lower DHT levels.

Ryan and others (2007) found that quinoa seeds contain βsitosterol (63.7 mg/100 g), compared to avocado (76mg/100mg) or canola oil (96 mg per tablespoon) (R). So it’s not that high and shouldn’t be that much of an issue.

Conclusion

Is quinoa a superfood: Nope

Should you chose quinoa over other foods such as oats: It not for me to decide for you, but I’d say no, unless you really don’t do good on oats.

Is it good for your testosterone?: Perhaps a little better than other natural foods, such as lentils and oats, but not better than potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.

Where do I rate this food? (Since it’s a plant food I’ll rate it to other plant foods and not to animal products): 9 out of 10.

Positives of this food:

  • It’s low in fiber, mainly insoluble fiber, so it has less of a chance to cause digestive issues.
  • It contains 20-hydroxyecdysone
  • It’s low in fat and low in PUFAs
  • It has a good amount of vitamins and minerals
  • Contains a fair amount of protein for a plant source

Negatives of this food:

  • It contains a few anti-nutrients, but some of them can be circumvented.
  • It could contain some saponins which can cause leaky gut.
  • It has a low calcium to phosphorus ratio

As always, thanks so much for reading my article. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. And if you found this article to be insightful and helpful please like and share so this information can help others as well.

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