Amaranth is a multipurpose crop used for nutritional consumption. There are approximately 60 species of Amaranth, only a few of those species are used as leafy green vegetables, protein rich seeds and botanical decoration. Most other species are annual weeds. I believe in some instances the term pig-weed is used to devalue the plant and its nutritional content. With research, both seeds and leaves from most amaranth weeds can also be processed into various food sources such as flour and distributed to communities in need. The once forgotten crop could potentially be a solution to world hunger and malnutrition, it is our mission as a whole to contribute to Global Food Security.
In this article, I will discuss the health benefits of the Amaranth seed. The grain Amaranth has 3 species which are Amaranthus Hypochondracus, Amaranthus Cruentus and Amaranthus Caudatus (Kiwicha). These are the three plant types that produce high protein amaranth seeds which can be consumed as pseudocereals. Amaranthus Cruentus was cultivated by the Pre-Columbian Aztecs in Mexico about 8,000 years ago, this plant species is easy to grow and nourishing. The Aztec Warrior descendants believed the seeds from the flower heads provided them with an extended life span beyond scientific understanding. Amarantos is the biblical Greek term used to describe an everlasting flower.
Amaranth Contains a Perfect Balance of the 9 Essential Amino Acids
The essential amino acids support your body in building the protein it needs for growth and functioning. The amino acids are identified as essential because our bodies don't produce them naturally. They must be consumed as a food source or a natural supplement preferably one that is NSF certified or highly rated with The Consumer Lab. Amaranth provides each essential amino acid combined with the right minerals that assist the body with mineral absorption. Amaranth seed protein quality may vary a little, depending on the plant species and the environmental conditions of the harvested seed. Amaranthus Hypochondracus, Amaranthus Cruentus and Amaranthus Caudatus all produce seeds with an Essential Amino Acid Index (EAAI) of around 90.4 percent which is close to the protein content of an egg. If you consider taking the vegan route, amaranth is an excellent choice to use as a substitution for meat.
Amino acid composition amounts in amaranth are as follows:
Argenine | 2 grams per cup of amaranth
Argenine is an amino acid used for cell regeneration, strengthening the control of airway smooth muscle tone and helping the kidneys remove waste from the body. This amino acid is essential for the children's growth and brain development.
Fact: Most protein enriched infant formulas have a higher dosage of argenine compared to standard formulas. Argenine was proven to be essential for children undergoing treatment for viral bronchiolitis according to trial NL474 completed in 2005 by Pediatrics in Netherlands. During this study, infants in critical health conditions were given 100ml/feeding of Protein Energy Enriched Formulas containing 0.83 grams of Arginine. There was a significant energy and nitrogen balance increase in the infants without any negative side effects. The plasma argenine concentration levels were lower in children with illnesses due to malnutrition.
Leucine | 1.7 grams per cup of amaranth
Leucine is a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) highly involved in helping the muscular system out with developing new skeletal muscle. Eating amaranth combined with a container of greek yogurt close to your exercise time will provide your body with enough leucine to trigger muscle growth.
Lysine | 1.4 grams per cup of amaranth
Lysine is an amino acid usually absent in cereal and corn. Consuming more amaranth can supplement the low lysine content in common wheat. Powdered Raw Amaranth (made by grinding 1 cup of seeds into a fine powder) contains 1.4 grams of the amino acid lysine. In cooked amaranth, the protein quality slightly decreases with an increase in temperature added to the grain. The high measurement of amaranth's protein quality in amino acid lysine and amino acid trytophan are comparable to animal protein sources.
Lysine can help the body to maintain healthy bones and cartilage while also strengthening the skin tendons. Lysine combined with the mineral Calcium assist your kidneys with holding on to the mineral. For every cup of grinded amaranth your body receives 0.31g of Calcium. Amaranth's Lysine content repairs damaged skin cells by increasing collagen production.
Valine | 1.3 grams per cup of amaranth
Valine is a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) and acts as a stimulant to muscle metabolism. It can also increase mental strength and coordination. A frequent valine deficiency could decrease the brain's performance.
Isoleucine | 1.1 grams per cup of amaranth
Isoleucine is a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) that helps your body with wound healing and detoxification. Isoleucine and leucine have the same chemical formula and share a task to synthesize neurotransmitters in the brain.
Threonine | 1.1 grams per cup of amaranth
Threonine is an essential amino acid used to treat nervous system disorders.
Phenylalanine | 1 gram per cup of amaranth
Phenylalanine could be beneficial to your body by improving your mood and memory.
Histidine | 0.8 grams per cup of amaranth
Histidine is the only essential amino acid that functions on its own without any assistance from the others. It supports the immune system by providing anti-fungal properties.
Trytophan | 0.3 grams per cup - adult
There is a higher amount of trytophan found in the amaranth grain compared to the amount found in wheat, rice and maize.
Amaranth is Gluten Free
Glutenin and Gliadin are the proteins that connect and change shape to form the substance gluten. Gluten is responsible for creating the elastic texture of most bread products such as bagels, muffins and pizza dough. Some individuals can't tolerate gluten in their diets due to a permanent intolerance to gluten proteins. Amaranth contains a scarce amount of prolamins making the grain choice available to people with the celiac disease.
Amaranth Gluten Free Labels
Since Amaranth is naturally gluten free, ensure that the products you purchase from grocery stores don't contain gluten. If you notice ingredients such as barley, wheat or malt on the back of the product the chances these products contain gluten are high. Some companies were able to add gluten free labels to products as long as they contained a very small portion of gluten meaning these products are not 100% gluten free. Read and understand all labels when shopping for gluten free items.
This chart shows the nutritional content of the boiled Amaranth seeds.
Preparing Amaranth for Consumption using Amaranth Seeds
Cooking amaranth the conventional way would be to pop it on a hot plate at a temperature of 190 degrees celsius. This would increase the biological value of the grain meaning your body would receive a higher mineral and protein dosage. After popping the amaranth you could use it for a granola bar recipe, cereal or popcorn substitute.
Amaranth Porridge | nutrition facts are in the chart above
Recipe for Amaranth Porridge
-Bring 2 cups of water to a boil
-Add 1 cup of Amaranth seeds
-Stir amaranth until seeds soften for about 30 minutes
-Sautee apples, walnuts and brazilian nuts in a separate pan
-Add cinnamon and stevia to taste
- Mix sauteed apples and nuts to the softened amaranth
-Add agave syrup and stir all together
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Vetter J. (1994) Minerals and Amino Acids in the Seeds ,of the New Cultivated Cereal like Species Amaranthus Hypochondracus. Z. Lebensm.Unters Forsch 198:284-286