Are Saponins in Quinoa Toxic?

Some worry that saponins in quinoa can damage your intestines. But is there evidence to support these claims? 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
3-minute read
Episode #393

Diana writes: "I eat quinoa all the time but now I’m learning that the saponins in quinoa could cause intestinal damage and an inflammatory immune response? I would love your thoughts on this.”

If you look hard enough, you can find some sort of sinister side to every so-called superfood. I guess it was only a matter of time before quinoa got its comeuppance! And sure enough, a quick Google search will lead you to all kinds of scary warnings about the saponins in quinoa.

Some claim that saponins are toxic and that they irritate the intestinal lining, causing inflammation and all kinds of other trouble. But is there evidence to support these claims?

What Are Saponins?

Saponins are bitter compounds that are naturally present in quinoa—along with lots of other foods, including  a wide variety of legumes, vegetables, and herbs. They get their name because they lather up in water, like soap suds. In fact, the herb soapwort is one of the most concentrated sources of saponins and can be used to make a natural cleanser.

Like many other phyto-compounds, saponins are produced by plants as a method of natural pest control. The bitter taste of these compounds makes the plant less palatable to birds, insects, and humans.

Although ingesting  large amounts of these bitter phytocompounds might cause some stomach irritation or other unpleasant effects, they are generally harmless in small amounts. Even better, these chemicals often have health benefits. In fact, many of the phytocompounds thought to be beneficial to human health fall into this category of “natural pesticides.”


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.