Amaranth is well and truly the “grain of the Gods,” a super food that has been cultivated for at least 8000 years. Huitzilopochtli, one of the most important festivals of the pre-conquest Aztec world, saw people decorating their homes and trees with strings of brightly coloured paper flags. They paraded in ceremonial attire, singing and dancing their way through the streets of Tenochtitlan and Cholula, praying to the gods and consolidating a shared worldview.
Imagine the spectacle. The brilliant red plaster of colossal stepped temples, stretching defiantly into the sky; a symbol of Aztec power. Rows of flag covered houses flapping in seeming unison. Chanting prayers, rhythmic dancing, thumping drums. All eyes turning towards exhaustively flamboyant costumes. The centre point of all this, a staggering ruffle of Quetzal feathers adorning the head of the emperor.
For the people of Mesoamerica, gods and nature where not distinctly separate as they are in Judaeo-Christian faiths. Character traits of nature were projected into the personalities of different gods and conversely, parts of these gods were seen in natural objects found throughout the region. One significant crossover lay in the amaranth plant. So important was this tall plant, with its broad green leaves, that during the festivities of Huitzilopochtli a divine statue was built from its seeds.
The notion of this tradition pervades to this day in contemporary Mexican culture. Simply look for the skulls of seeds during Dia de los Muertos and you’re bound to see amaranth taking part in the celebrations. So why hasn’t it transitioned into the superfood trend dominated by the likes of chia, acai and cacao?
In all honesty, I cannot say. But what I can say is that there are extraordinary health benefits that come with consuming this plant. Below are the six reasons you should include amaranth in your diet.
"Not only is amaranth extremely high in fibre, it’s also the leading natural plant-based source for squalene."
What is Amaranth?
1. Amaranth is naturally gluten-free.
Whether you have celiac disease or just sensitivity towards gluten, amaranth’s got you covered. Naturally gluten-free, this versatile seed can be treated in much the same way as quinoa. It blends perfectly into either hot, cold, sweet or savoury meals and has a moreish earthy taste – somewhere between wheat, berries and brown rice.
When cooked, amaranth grain has a similar texture to steel cut oats, just slightly crunchier. It works well as a thickener for sauces, soups or stews and can be incorporated into breads, pancakes and even cookies. Adding a portion of amaranth to you cooking is a great way of making it gluten-free and easily upgrading the overall nutritional value of your dish.
If you aren’t the baking or cooking type, or simply can’t be bothered today, we also recommend light, crunchy puffed amaranth (or amaranth pops) that can be topped over yogurt, salad or soup.
2. What makes amaranth grain a high quality protein?
The second reason I’d recommend you up your amaranth intake is due to its excellent protein. Amaranth is rich in protein, but in this instance, we are not drawn to the amount of protein as much as its composition. A 100g of cooked amaranth grain has about 3.8g of protein, which is 8% DV.(1) For a quick reminder, protein is made up of 20 amino acids; 11 of these we can produce and the other nine we must obtain from our diet. When a food contains all nine of these amino acids, it is called a ‘complete protein’. Amaranth grain contains 18 amino acids and is considered an almost complete protein source.
3. How to get more fibre into your diet? Amaranth is a great option.
We probably sound like a broken record, but there’s good reason for stressing a high-fibre diet. Fibre is essential for sustaining human life, you can’t really argue with this logic:
- Properly functioning organs are essential to maintain life
- When cells in our organs die, they must be regularly replaced
- Dead cells are not ‘recycled’ but rather evacuated
- We use food to import the components that make up new cells
- The main parts are amino acids, fatty acids, water, vitamins, trace minerals and metals, etc.
Fibre is essential for the digestive system to perform properly and without it we cannot expel waste. With 2.1g of fibre, a 100g of cooked amaranth grain satisfies 8% of our daily fibre needs.(1) Research indicates that 78% of the fibre in amaranth is insoluble and 22% is soluble.(2) Insoluble fibre is what promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk while soluble fibre forms a gel-like structure and traps fats, sugars, bacteria and toxins. All key to wellbeing.
Not only does fibre in amaranth aid our digestion, it also helps to naturally lower cholesterol levels. The fibre acts on bile, pulling it out of the body with more frequent bowel movements. Bile is comprised of water, fats and cholesterol. Because of this process, the liver is required to make more bile, which uses up the body’s cholesterol stores, lowering cholesterol overall. A study run by the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, forwards amaranth grain as showing a decrease in bad cholesterol (very low-density LDL cholesterol) by 21% to 50%.(3)
Put simply, you just need more fibre, and amaranth will give it to you. Argument over.
4. Cold-pressed amaranth seed oil is one of the highest plant sources of squalene.
Not only is amaranth an excellent source of fibre and protein, it’s also the leading natural plant-based source for squalene. Although most commonly associated with olive oil, cold-pressed amaranth seed oil contains 10 times as much squalene.(4)(5)
Squalene is found in the outer layer of our skin and plays a role in protecting against UV radiation. Without enough squalene, UV rays can induce inflammation in the skin. In a study conducted to test whether squalene increases procollagen and decreases ultraviolet-induced DNA damage, 40 women over the age of 50 were given squalene supplementation in low and high doses. Squalene proved to be effective at reducing cell death caused by UV radiation. Those who received lower dosage experienced reduced redness and improved collagen activity and those with higher dosage saw a reduction in wrinkles.(6)
5. Magnesium is abundant in amaranth grain.
A 100g of cooked amaranth grain contains 65mg of magnesium, which satisfies roughly 16% recommended daily amount.(1) Although magnesium is found in many plant-based foods, and is especially abundant in leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, western diets often do not meet the necessary magnesium requirements. Magnesium deficiency symptoms are not as evident as those of iron. Our kidneys are so good at doing their job that they suppress the acute symptoms by limiting the amount of magnesium lost through urination. However, if levels remain low over time, you may start experiencing loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness.(7)
6. Iron deficiency is common, amaranth can help.
Finally, because iron deficiencies are so wide spread, we should all be looking to boost intake at every opportunity we get. Incorporating iron-rich foods is especially important to those who do not eat animal products.
With each 100g serving of cooked amaranth grain boasting around 2.1mg of iron, it acts well in conjunction with other high iron sources to help satisfy the body’s daily requirement. Iron is an essential element in blood circulation, with most iron being found in our red blood cells. These cells, the ‘haemoglobin’, transfer the oxygen from our lungs into other tissues in our body. Males and females store significantly different amounts of iron in their body. The average adult male stores 1,000mg of iron which can last up to three years. Women only store about 300mg of iron, which is enough for roughly six months. Iron deficiency is very common with blood loss being one of the most common causes.(8)
So to wrap up, amaranth is an amazing source of good quality protein and exists in a naturally gluten-free state. Whether you want to take control of your iron and magnesium levels, get healthier skin, or just eat lots of fibre to give your digestive system, cardiovascular health and immunity a bit of a hand, amaranth is here to help.
But who knows, maybe you’re like us and just love imagining yourself as an ancient Aztec festival goer, dancing around the temples of Tenochtitlan, eating these magic Mesoamerican seeds as you go. We can’t give you a temple, and we can’t make you an Aztec. But what we can do is provide the amaranth. All dancing is up to you.
Check out these amazing amaranth foods.
Amaranth seed oil is fantastic for drizzling over salads or adding to smoothies. It brings a nutty flavour and comes with precious nutrients, most importantly squalene, vitamin E and omega-6 fatty acids. It also works perfectly on porridge, yogurts and soups.
Amaranth grain can substitute quinoa, millet or rice and should be an instant staple in your kitchen if it isn’t already. It’s a no-frills ingredient with a fibre and protein content to be proud of. Perfect in sweet and savoury dishes.
Amaranth flour helps channel your inner Mary Berry but in an easy gluten-free way. Transform your favourite baking recipes into high protein and fibre rich pieces to fill the whole family. Erbology Amaranth Flour is made with 100% organic raw flour from amaranth seeds, meaning you won’t get better quality anywhere.
And why not give your porridge or yogurt a light crunch by sprinkling puffed amaranth over it? They offer a unique makeover to your meals while seriously boosting nutritional value.
Make delicious recipes with amaranth.
Sometimes incorporating a new ingredient into your cooking habits can be a bit of a challenge, so we’ve compiled 4 delicious recipes with amaranth to ease you in. Whether you’re looking to pass the time on a rainy Sunday afternoon or just crave a tray of delicious hot treats, this Gluten-free amaranth cookie recipe has everything you love about cookies and none of what you don’t. I like to have a couple of these along with an Aronia and pumpkin chocolate smoothie.
For something a little more savoury you might want to try the Amaranth and green lentil patty recipe. Their meaty flavour and protein-packed punch is sure to satisfy any cravings you may be feeling. It certainly does for me. And finally, for something a little lighter and easier to muster, you could whip up and batch of Puffed amaranth protein bars to stick in your bag to save you from pangs of hunger during a hectic day, or maybe opt for this easy to make Fennel and lentil salad recipe.
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(1) “Amaranth Grain, Cooked Nutrition Facts & Calories.” Nutrition Data Know What You Eat., nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/10640/2.
(2) Lamothe, L M, et al. “Quinoa (Chenopodium Quinoa W.) and Amaranth (Amaranthus Caudatus L.) Provide Dietary Fibres High in Pectic Substances and Xyloglucans.” Food Chemistry., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Jan. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25149016.
(3) Berger, A, et al. “Cholesterol-Lowering Properties of Amaranth Grain and Oil in Hamsters.”International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Internationale Zeitschrift Fur Vitamin- Und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal International De Vitaminologie Et De Nutrition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2003, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12690910.
(4) Popa, Ovidiu, et al. “Methods for Obtaining and Determination of Squalene from Natural Sources.” BioMed Research International, Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4324104/.
(5) “Squalene – Scientific Review on Usage, Dosage, Side Effects.” Examine.com, Examine.com, 29 Apr. 2017, examine.com/supplements/squalene/#ref26.
(6) Cho, S, et al. “High-Dose Squalene Ingestion Increases Type I Procollagen and Decreases Ultraviolet-Induced DNA Damage in Human Skin in Vivo but Is Associated with Transient Adverse Effects.” Clinical and Experimental Dermatology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19522983/.
(7) “Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium.” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-Consumer/.
(8) “Hemoglobin and Functions of Iron.” UCSF Medical Center, www.ucsfhealth.org/education/hemoglobin_and_functions_of_iron/.