I recently found myself stuck in a Google hole researching foods found across the African diaspora. One of the whole grains that caught my attention was the seed of the amaranth plant. Until recently, I had never cooked it and I was not sure about its nutrition. So after some more digging, cooking and diagramming, here’s what I’ve learned about this gluten free, nutty-flavored whole grain and how it compares to other whole grains.
The amaranth plant has been cultivated for thousands of years as far back as the Aztecs in the modern day Mexico. Today, this “pseudocereal” is a staple food in many parts of the world including countries in Africa and India. The leaves of the plant are also edible; some media outlets like Muscle & Fitness, Huffington Post, Daily Mail and Mens Journal have even called the amaranth leaves a “superfood” that can give kale a run for its money.
Fun food facts: I grew up eating amaranth leaves in Trinidad & Tobago; however, we call it “bhagi”. In Jamaica it is called “callaloo”.
Nutrition: Amaranth, Brown Rice, Quinoa & Oats
Nutritionally, amaranth is similar to quinoa, oats and brown rice. 100 grams of amaranth, quinoa and brown rice give you between 102 to 123 Calories and 2.7g to 4.4g of protein. (Read Do you know your caloric needs? to learn about macronutrients). Similar to quinoa, amaranth contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phytochemicals that have the potential to reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
It is also high in manganese, a mineral that plays a role in bone health (check out the Studies on the Role of Manganese in Bone Formation).
Sprouting Amaranth (and other grains)
Amaranth, like most whole grains, can be sprouted. The benefits of sprouting whole grains include:
- Reduction of the lectins: Lectins are proteins in plants that can have a negative impact on our gastrointestinal tract; lectins can cause from irritable bowel to a full autoimmune response. Soaking, sprouting, fermenting whole grains can reduce these potentially harmful proteins. Superhuman Coach warns, however, that soaking whole grains may not be sufficient for those who are highly-sensitive to grains and their lectins.
- Deactivation of other antinutrients: In addition to lectins, whole grains contain other antinutrients like phytate, polyphenols, oxalate. Read this Precision Nutrition post to learn more about these antinutrients.
- Increased nutritional value: In this review of the literature on the nutritional improvement of sprouting cereals they found that sprouting leads to an “improvement in the contents of certain essential amino acids, total sugars, and B-group vitamins, and a decrease in dry matter, starch, and antinutrients”. In another study, scientists found that sprouted amaranth had 20 times more antioxidants than the unsprouted amaranth grains.
So now that you’ve learned a little more about amaranth are you ready to try it? The cooking instructions for amaranth grains are similar to the method for cooking brown rice and quinoa:
For every cup of amaranth bring about 2 to 3 cups of water to boil. Add amaranth, reduce to a simmer and cook covered for 20 minutes.
What’s my final verdict? Amaranth is a great whole grain to consider adding to your repertoire if your diet permits. Nutritionally, it’s comparable to quinoa with a bit more protein and fiber than brown rice. And although, like most grains, its nutritional profile improves when sprouted, amaranth should be avoided by those who are are sensitive to grains and lectin.