In recent years we’ve been delighted to see the number of whole grains appearing on the shelves increasing. Not just in our local health food shops, but also mainstream supermarkets. It’s so wonderful to see all these under-appreciated ancient grains make a such a welcome return.March 11, 2021 3:38 pm March 16, 2021 9:02 am
But with variety comes dilemma, particularly when we’re attempting to navigate the best grains to nurture our bodies from the inside out. With so much choice, it can be difficult to know which is most suitable for you, and which is the healthiest choice overall. We’ve set out to do some of the hard work for you by taking two of the most popular grains to see who wins in the battle of amaranth vs quinoa.
What are amaranth and quinoa?
As mentioned, amaranth and quinoa are classed as pseudocereals. A pseudocereal is a food or cereal that isn’t of the grass family, meaning they aren’t technically a grain but they’re referred to as such.
Amaranth and quinoa both originate from plants that produce fruits or seeds that are consumed as grains. Both are seeds, but their consistency and texture means they successfully replicate grains in cooking and baking, and they also both have tremendous nutritional value.
The history of amaranth
The history of amaranth is strongly linked to the Aztecs, thought to have been first cultivated around 8,000 years ago.
The word itself stems from the Greek, amarantos, meaning ‘the one that does not wither’, and the amaranth flower was considered a symbol of immortality in Ancient Greece.
With this in mind, the nutritional benefits of including amaranth in our diet certainly begin to make sense.
The history of quinoa
Quinoa dates back to a similar period in history as amaranth, believed to have first been cultivated around 5,000 years ago at Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia and Peru.
The Incas declared the crop sacred, referring to it as the ‘mother of all grains’ and traditionally, the Inca emperor would be the one to sow the first seeds of the season using ‘golden implements’.
A hardy plant, quinoa has become a trustee staple of the health food world, being a firm favourite for those in need of a gluten-free alternative to flour, as well as being high in protein and rich in antioxidants.
Weighing it up – amaranth vs quinoa
In terms of nutrition, amaranth and quinoa provide similar benefits, but there are some notable differences.
Per 100 grams of cooked amaranth grain:(1)
- 102 calories
- 1.6g fat
- 16.6 net carbohydrate
- 2.1g fibre, total dietary
- 3.8g protein
- 2.1mg iron
- 65mg magnesium
- 135mg potassium
Per 100 grams of cooked quinoa grain(2):
- 120 calories
- 1.9g fat
- 18.5 net carbohydrate
- 2.8g fibre
- 4.4g protein
- 1.49mg iron
- 64mg magnesium
- 172mg potassium
What’s clear here is that amaranth grain is lower per 100 grams in calories and carbohydrates, (good news if you’re in a calorie deficit). The iron content is also impressive. Iron is vital for the production of red blood cells which help carry oxygen around your body.
Quinoa, meanwhile, is providing you with slightly more protein per 100 grams, but is higher in calories. Its fibre content can help you to feel full for longer if you’re keen to stave off those evening snack cravings after dinner.
"Both are a complete protein, meaning they contain all the amino acids our body needs. They are also both gluten-free, so they are safe for celiacs and those with gluten intolerances."
Which is healthier scientifically?
Studying these two ‘grains’ down to the nitty gritty detail to figure out which is healthier can feel daunting when they are so similar, particularly when delving into the science behind the stats.
The extensive health benefits of both pseudograins cannot be denied. Both are a complete protein, meaning they contain all the amino acids our body needs. They are also both gluten-free, so they are safe for celiacs and those with gluten intolerances.
So which should you choose when it comes down to it? We have combed through the details to bring you the most important aspects of both to help clarify the science.
The science behind amaranth
Amaranth is particularly nutrient dense, containing almost double the amount of protein found in rice or corn.
In fact, researchers from The Institute of Central America and Panama in Guatemala conducted a comparative study between the protein in amaranth and cheese protein.
They concluded that the protein in amaranth is one of the most nutritious vegetable-based protein sources and was considered to be comparable to animal-based protein(3).
Amaranth is packed with the amino acid lysine, which supports muscle strength, assimilates calcium and is a source of energy, helping you to go for longer.
It is high in dietary fibre, which promotes healthy digestive function. It also contains a broad range of important vitamins and minerals working to support an overall nurtured body and optimal quality of life.
These dietary minerals include iron, needed to carry oxygen through the bloodstream, magnesium, which helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, phosphorus to support healthy bones and teeth, copper, vital in the production of red blood cells, and manganese, which metabolises carbohydrates and cholesterol, meaning it can be beneficial for anyone who suffers with high cholesterol.
The science behind quinoa
Quinoa is also nutrient dense and protein rich. It contains high levels of manganese which work to metabolise amino acids. Amino acids help to build up protein and transport vital nutrients around your body.
It also contains phosphorous, which protect your bones and teeth, magnesium for blood clotting, folate which promotes cell creation, particularly vital in pregnancy, and vitamin B1, which converts food into energy.
Quinoa has a low-glycemic index which aids in regulating blood sugar levels and is rich in antioxidants, which are vital in protecting your body against free radicals.
Similar to amaranth, quinoa also contains iron, fibre, phosphorus and magnesium.
Amaranth or quinoa in your kitchen?
Knowing how you want to use these foods can be a key factor in deciding which one is more suitable for your needs.
Amaranth is particularly versatile in that it doubles for oats very easily thanks to its absorbent nature. It can also be used as a rice substitute, though its texture is much softer.
Thanks to its sweet and nutty flavour, amaranth flour is a wonderful option in baking, enhancing the flavours in your cakes and biscuits. It also makes a rich and flavourful bread.
And, being gluten-free, is a big plus for anyone who is a celiac or suffers with gluten intolerance.
Amaranth seeds can also be popped or puffed into a crunchy popcorn substitute to be enjoyed as a light snack.
Quinoa has been used as a popular rice substitute for years. It’s a larger, denser seed than amaranth, meaning it can provide a more robust texture to your recipes.
The grain is often favoured as part of a main dish in place or rice or pasta. It is also a popular choice in salads, as its small but mighty fibre status means it helps you feel fuller for longer.
Quinoa flakes make it a popular choice for breakfast cereal, while quinoa flour is popular both for baking or used in soups or puddings as a thickening agent.
Aesthetically, quinoa is appealing because it is available in a variety of rustic colours, making your plate burst with vibrant autumnal tones.
On the whole, it’s quick and easy to cook and will suit as a number of food substitutions.
The pros and cons
When trying to make important decisions in life, it’s always helpful to write out a pros and cons list. And your health and wellbeing is probably one of the most important decisions.
Essentially, the health benefits are on par with each other in both grains.
Amaranth’s benefits far outweigh its cons. Aside from a potential sensitivity to oxalic acid, it is safe to eat as well as being incredibly nutritious. For those who are particularly sensitive to saponins, this is where amaranth may be the preferred option.
What about other ancient grains?
Of course, all grains are ancient in the sense that they’ve been around for thousands of years. But in this instance, ‘ancient’ refers to grains that have remained predominantly unchanged over the years.
An ancient grain is one that is genetically similar in nutrition and flavour to the grains yielded by our ancestors.
Because of this, they haven’t fallen victim to constant breeding and changing like modern wheat has.They also haven’t suffered from pesticides or fertilisers.
These unchanged grains include barley, spelt, einkorn, sorghum, teff and millet. Each grain has its own nutritional benefits. Outside of considering any digestive intolerances or allergies, selecting what’s best for you often comes down to personal preference and intended use.
For instance, millet is a popular choice in place of porridge oats, spelt a delicious addition to soups and stews, while einkorn flour makes wonderful rustic pizza bases and breads.
Amaranth or quinoa, how do I choose the right one for me?
Essentially, choice will be down to personal preference. There’s no right or wrong. Your specific dietary requirements, individual needs, palette and budget will all influence which one you decide to go with.
The good news is, that as part of a healthy, happy, and balanced lifestyle, there is room in your life for both of these grains in your pantry! You may even find that, depending on what meal you’re cooking, one will suit over the other.
For instance, you may prefer amaranth flour for baking breads and cakes, while quinoa is the favoured grain for complementing your curries and salads.
Either way, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re nourishing your body with a complete protein source that is nutrient dense and packed full of vitamins and minerals.
Buy organic to ensure the healthiest result
Once you’ve decided which grains are most suitable for your lifestyle and your own body, it’s important to ensure that you are reaping the benefits of their nutritional value.
When you set out to nourish your body in this way and promote wellness from within, you want to be confident that the food you consume has come from a credible and sustainable source who have your best interests in mind.
This is why an organic supplier is so important for your overall wellbeing and health. The benefits of organic farming are substantial for a number of reasons.
The health benefits of organic farming
Firstly, it’s better for the planet. As we are all too aware, our earth is suffering a climate crisis and we are keen to protect it in whatever ways we can.
Organic farming is designed to nurture and enhance soil health, leading the way in sustainability. Animal welfare is also a huge bonus in organic farming, with truly free-range animals who are fed organic produce and have plenty of space and fresh air.
This farming method means that grains grown in organic soils have greater nutritional properties than their conventionally grown counterparts. For starters, organic farming does not use synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
This means that the crops are drawing more nutrients from the organic soil, and in turn have a higher nutritional content. Organic crops need to rely on their own natural defences, which can help to increase their antioxidant content(4).
It’s understandable that when you prioritise your wellness with positive food choices, you want to know your body is absorbing the best you can give it. This is why sourcing organic suppliers for your grains ensures you’re flooding your body with quality nutrition.
Whether you opt for amaranth or quinoa, or a mixture of grains, organically sourcing your ingredients will contribute towards your wellbeing in more ways than you can count on two hands.
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