Amaranth is a genus of herbs that contain over 60 species with a variety of colors and uses. Many of these species are considered weeds; however, people around the world consume amaranth as grains, vegetables and cereals for their many health benefits. Amaranth has a long history and has been in use for many centuries by many different cultures.
Amaranth around the World
Most species of amaranth are believed to have originated in South America and Mexico. Pre-Columbian Aztecs regarded amaranth as having supernatural powers and used it in their religious ceremonies. The various species are now sold throughout many countries including India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Caribbean. While still new to Europe and America, amaranth seeds, such as buckwheat and quinoa, are becoming more popular in restaurant dishes and food stores. In Mexico, the popped seeds are made into a sugary treat called alegria. In Nepal, amaranth is made into a gruel named sattoo. Peruvians ferment these amaranth seeds to produce a type of beer. A common food source in Africa, grain amaranth is valued for its ability to improve nutrition while supporting rural development and sustainable farming. In Africa, this vegetable is even recommended by doctors for people who have low red blood cell counts. Other health benefits of amaranth include:
Amaranth is highly vitamin-rich and is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin K, vitamin C, folate and riboflavin.
Amaranth includes numerous minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, copper, magnesium, phosphorus and especially manganese.
Amaranth contains large amounts of protein, up to 30% more than wheat flour, rice and oats. The protein contained in amaranth is also unusually complete when compared to other plant sources, containing a complete set of amino acids. Therefore, different sources to obtain the daily recommended dose of protein is not needed. Also, amaranth lacks gluten, which is a problematic protein contained in many true grains.
4. Dietary Fiber and Amino Acids
Dietary fiber and essential amino acids, including lysine which has clinically shown potential for cancer treatment, are prominent in amaranth. It also contains relatively low cholesterol levels.
Grain amaranth is very palatable and is easy to cook and include in snacks and dishes. Amaranth is grown and consumed as a leafy vegetable in many countries around the world. It is commonly boiled, steamed, or included in soups and stir-frys. Cooked amaranth is 90% digestible.
6. Disease Prevention
The oils in amaranth have been shown to help prevent and treat those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Regular consumption of amaranth can reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.
7. Immune Support
Amaranth has been noted to help boost the body’s immune system.
8. Grey Hair Prevention
Some research has even shown that grain amaranth shows promise in prevention of premature greying of the hair.
Amaranth’s moderately high content of oxalic acid inhibits much of the absorption of calcium and zinc. It should be avoided or eaten in moderation by those with gout, kidney disorders or rheumatoid arthritis. Reheating cooked amaranth is not recommended, particularly for consumption by young children, because the nitrates in the leaves can be converted to nitrites, as in spinach.