Amaranth is the common name for more than 60 different species of amaranthus. This gluten-free grain was a major food crop of the Aztecs, and some have estimated that it was domesticated between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago. Because of the high proteins, minerals and vitamins present in amaranth, these ancient cultures depended on the grain as a major staple in their diets.
Amaranth is still the native crop in Peru, and it’s grown in Africa, India, China, Russia, South America and North America. The grain is gaining popularity today because of its startling health benefits.
Amaranth is a very tall plant with broad green leaves and vividly bright purple, red or gold flowers. Amaranth grows in harsh and lackluster nutrient conditions, such as in light soils, much like the grain sorghum, so it’s a very efficient grain crop. “Pigweed” is the wild amaranth species that grows in the United States and is used as a food crop.
Did you know that amaranth can be consumed as a leaf, cereal grain or grain flour? In fact, the amaranth leaf is used to make medicine, while the grain is used in food.
Amaranth Nutrition Facts
Amaranth is a great source of protein, fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. It will keep your digestive system regulated, build your strength, and reduce the risk of fracture or broken bones.
One cup of cooked amaranth grain has about: (1)
- 251 calories
- 4 grams fat
- zero cholesterol
- 15 milligrams sodium
- 46 grams carbohydrate
- 5 grams dietary fiber
- 9 grams protein
- 0.3 milligram vitamin B6 (14 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram vitamin B2/riboflavin (3 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligram niacin (3 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligram vitamin E (2 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram thiamine (2 percent DV)
- 2 milligrams manganese (105 percent DV)
- 160 milligrams magnesium (40 percent DV)
- 364 milligrams phosphorus (36 percent DV)
- 5 milligrams iron (29 percent DV)
- 13 micrograms selenium (19 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram copper (18 percent DV)
- 116 milligrams calcium (16 percent DV)
- 54 micrograms folate (14 percent DV)
- 2 milligrams zinc (14 percent DV)
- 332 milligrams potassium (9 percent DV)
9 Amaranth Benefits
1. High Source of Protein
The protein contained in amaranth is of an unusually high quality, providing nine grams for one cup of cooked grain. Protein is used in every single cell in our bodies and is critical for building muscle mass, supporting neurological function, aiding in digestion, helping to balance hormones naturally and keeping an upbeat mood. Protein foods are also beneficial for preventing weight gain since they make us feel full and require more work for the body to digest than fast-acting refined carbohydrates.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found that consuming protein before and after exercise has beneficial effects by decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis. (2) This study suggests that protein is useful for muscle recovery and immune regulation for sports events.
2. Reduces Inflammation
Amaranth has the power to reduce inflammation, which is associated with just about every health condition. When dietary and environmental toxins build up in the body, the immune system becomes overactive, and it stimulates defense cells and hormones that damage tissues. When the immune system overreaches and begins attacking healthy body tissues, we’re met with an autoimmune disorder like leaky gut syndrome and inflammation in otherwise healthy areas of the body.
This is also the case for arthritis and fibromyalgia symptoms, as well as celiac and irritable bowel disease (IBD). Because grains and protein-rich foods help fight inflammation, amaranth is a great tool for your body.
A major health benefit of anti-inflammatory foods is the way it relieves pain induced by arthritis and gout. Arthritis is a joint disease that causes swelling and pain in the joints. One type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which occurs when the cartilage between joints wears down and causes inflammation and pain. This type of arthritis generally occurs in the joints we most frequently use, such as knees, hips, spine and hands.
A 2014 study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research showed that amaranth inhibited inflammation in humans and mice; this suggests that amaranth serves as a natural treatment for arthritis and has the power to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions. (3)
3. Bone Health
The calcium present in amaranth grain allows the body to use this mineral for bone repair and strengthening. Including high-calcium foods in your daily diet is so important because it helps heal broken or weak bones. Bone fractures are generally caused by injury, such as a fall, car accident or sports injury; a calcium deficiency increases your risk of a fracture and developing osteoporosis, which is when small holes or weakened areas are formed in the bone that can lead to fractures, pain and a Dowager’s hump.
A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found that amaranth consumption is an interesting and effective way to increase the nutritional value of calcium, as well as iron and zinc. (4)
Calcium is so important because without enough of it in the body, bones are susceptible to becoming weak and pliable, making them more prone to fractures and breaks. Calcium aids in bone strength as the bones build up calcium stores over time.
4. Lowers Cholesterol
A 2003 study published in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research tested the effects of amaranth grain on cholesterol levels in animals models. Amaranth grain decreased very low-density LDL cholesterol by 21 percent to 50 percent. (5) LDL is known as the bad cholesterol because it’s low in proteins and high in cholesterol.
It also aided digestion by increasing fecal excretion or frequency of bowel movements. This is due to the fiber content present in amaranth. The fiber binds cholesterol in the digestive system and causes it to be excreted by the body. Eating high-fiber foods helps the body lower cholesterol naturally; the fiber acts on the bile that’s made from cholesterol, pulling it out of the body with stool. Because of this process, the liver is required to make more bile, which uses up the body’s cholesterol stores, lowering cholesterol overall.
5. Aids Digestive System
Because of amaranth’s high fiber content, it stimulates the digestive system and helps regulate the excretion of bodily waste. Due to its structure and our inability to absorb it, fiber passes through our digestive system unabsorbed by digestive enzymes within the stomach, taking with it toxins, waste, fat and cholesterol particles out of the gut.
According to research conducted at Purdue University, 78 percent of the fiber in amaranth is insoluble fiber and 22 percent is soluble fiber, which is a higher proportion than what is found in wheat and maize. (6) Soluble fiber is vital for proper digestion because it dissolves into a gluey mass and traps fats, sugars, bacteria and toxins. While aiding the digestive system, amaranth is also able to prevent other health conditions like leaky gut syndrome.
In order to understand leaky gut syndrome, think of the lining of your digestive tract like a net with extremely small holes in it that only allow specific substances to pass through. Your gut lining works as a barrier — keeping out bigger particles that can damage your system. This leads to inflammation throughout the digestive system, and it causes fatigue, bloating, weight gain, headaches, skin issues and thyroid problems.
It can also lead to multiple food sensitivities; this is because partially digested protein and fat can seep through your intestinal linking, making their way into the bloodstream and causing an allergic reaction.
By sprouting a grain like amaranth, you get a great source of fiber that can help support the growth of beneficial bacteria, thereby working to heal leaky gut syndrome.
6. Fights Diabetes
With just a cup of amaranth providing over 100 percent the daily recommended dose of manganese, it serves as a diabetes preventer, and it helps reduce high blood sugar levels. Manganese is needed to help with proper production of digestive enzymes responsible for a process called gluconeogenesis. Gluconeogenesis involves the conversion of protein’s amino acids into sugar and the balance of sugar within the bloodstream.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, studies show that people with diabetes have low levels of manganese in their blood. (7) More studies are needed to know if having diabetes causes levels to drop or whether low levels of manganese contribute to developing diabetes.
7. It’s Gluten-Free
Amaranth is gluten-free, so people with sensitivities or intolerances to gluten are free to eat this beneficial grain. Gluten sensitivity is a cluster of symptoms related to a reaction to the protein found in the wheat plant called gluten. The severe form of gluten sensitivity is celiac’s disease, but gluten can also cause other less severe symptoms, such as joint pain, headaches, fatigue and poor memory.
A severe gluten allergy is called celiac disease, and it is a serious digestive disorder. Symptoms of gluten intolerance of this kind include fatigue, bone and joint pain, arthritis, infertility, miscarriage, depression, and skin rashes, just to name a few. A gluten-sensitivity diet includes grains like amaranth, quinoa and nutritious buckwheat.
8. Helps Pregnant Women
The folate in amaranth helps the body make new cells, specifically by playing a role in copying and synthesizing DNA. For pregnant women, a folate deficiency can lead to neural tube defects such as spina bifida. A deficiency can also cause defects such as heart and limb malformations.
Adequate intake of folate foods is needed for DNA replication, so without folate, the fetus’ cells are unable to grow properly. This is why folate is known as possibly the most critical vitamin for a healthy pregnancy. Fortification of foods with folate by the FDA has decreased the risk for neural tube defects by 26 percent. (8) It’s critical to have adequate levels of blood folate before getting pregnant because the fastest cell replication happens in the early stages.
9. Aids Weight Loss
There are a number of reasons why consuming amaranth helps maintain a healthy and desired weight. It’s full of fiber, which keeps your digestive system regulated and reduces inflammation. Amaranth strengthens bones, allowing you to be physically active and reducing the risk of broken bones or fractures. It’s also a great source of protein, which keeps you full longer and increases endurance levels.
Amaranth grain is particularly high in lysine, an amino acid found in low quantities in other grains. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, lysine is important for proper growth and it plays an essential role in the production of carnitine, a nutrient responsible for converting fatty acids into energy and helping lower cholesterol. (9) Athletes sometimes use lysine as a protein supplement because it increases energy and stimulates muscle growth.
If you are looking to lose weight but you feel too sluggish to exercise as much as you’d like, try adding amaranth to your diet!
How to Use Amaranth
Amaranth is available to purchase in any local health food store. As it gains popularity, it’s sometimes available at major supermarkets as well. When cooking amaranth grain, use the ratio of 1 1/2 cups water to 1/2 cup amaranth. Heat the mixture in a small saucepan until it begins to boil. Then reduce the heat and let it simmer, uncovered, until the water is absorbed. This typically takes about 20 minutes.
Amaranth has a nutty and toasted flavor, so it works well in many dishes — from breakfast to dessert. Here are a few ideas about how to include amaranth into your everyday diet:
- Mix amaranth with fruit and nuts instead of simply using gluten-free oats.
- Serve amaranth instead of rice, pasta, orzo, couscous or risotto.
- Add amaranth to soup or chili to create a thicker texture.
- Make “rice cakes” with amaranth and honey.
- Make “rice pudding” with amaranth.
- Use amaranth flour to make gluten-free baked goods.
- Add amaranth to a smoothie for a nutty flavor.
Sprouting grains, nuts, beans or seeds is super beneficial, and I recommend you try doing it with amaranth. Sprouting is essentially the practice of germinating seeds so they’re easier to digest and your body can access their full nutritional profile. When you sprout a grain like amaranth, it increases nutrient absorption, makes food easier to digest, decreases phytic acid, breaks down gluten, and may increase enzymes and antioxidants.
Soaking is when the whole seed/kernel is soaked in liquid for a period of time, sometimes in some sort of acidic liquid. When people speak about soaking seeds/kernels of some sort in acid liquid, they’re usually referring to fermenting and using these two phrases interchangeably. To soak amaranth grains, let them sit for eight hours.
Sprouting takes place when the whole seed/kernel is sprouted, or germinated. After it’s sprouted, it can be dehydrated and ground into flour (which is the case with Ezekiel bread). To sprout amaranth grains, let them sit for one to three days.
Most experts agree that soaking is good, but consensus is that foods that are soaked and then sprouted for a period of time become more nutrient-dense the longer they’re able to sit, sprout and grow (assuming they have no mold). For more information and detailed instructions for sprouting, check out my sprout guide.
A great way to add amaranth into your diet is to eat it for breakfast. Many people start their day with oats — try amaranth grain instead. It adds a nuttiness to your oatmeal, and it mixes perfectly with fruit and raw yogurt. Try my Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Recipe; it has lots of flavor and nutrients. My Baked Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Recipe is another great option. Swap out the oats and add amaranth to thicken the dish — it will keep you full for hours.
A simple way to add amaranth to your diet is by using it instead of brown rice. My Brown Rice, Basil and Tomatoes Recipe is easy to put together, and it’s full of anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Another option is my Gluten-Free Coffee Cake Recipe. This popular recipe calls for almond flour, but it would be great with amaranth flour too. The amaranth adds a nutty flavor that brings out the coffee in this cake. It’s healthy for you because it has no refined sugar, and it’s gluten-free!
Possible Amaranth Side Effects
It’s safe to consume amaranth in food amounts, and there are no known side effects. If you notice that amaranth is difficult to digest, try soaking or sporting it. If you’re pregnant, and have not used amaranth before, then don’t start using it at this time, as some people may be allergic to it.