Amaranth Grain- What's the Big Deal?
Last time we began the 10 Healthiest Vegetables series, with Amaranth because both the greens and the seeds are edible, giving tremendous nutritional value when we consume both. When including both leaves and seeds, amaranth ranks the top of the list as the one of the healthiest vegetables to grow in your garden. In this series, you will notice that wild vegetables and greens outrank all other cultivated vegetables considerably. I will be discussing more on these wild vegetables and their benefits in the coming articles.
Amaranth is a wild vegetable and is one of the top three healthiest wild vegetables we know, with stinging nettle ranked as number 1, and lamb's quarter coming in a close second, according to Jerry Minnich in his book Gardening for Maximum Nutrition. According to many studies, and my own personal research in gardening and nutrition, wild vegetables contain more nutrients and health benefits than cultivated vegetables and should be considered when planting a garden. I am only covering the top four healthiest wild vegetables in this series but there are many, many more. In fact, most plants growing in the wild, woods, or fields are edible and have many medicinal, as well as nutritional health benefits.
The seeds of the ornamental amaranth are edible also, producing a grain that can be used multiple ways. After allowing the seed heads to dry rub them between your fingers to separate chaff from seed and you are left with hundreds of tiny, black, red or white seeds depending on the variety. Personally, I don't mind the chaff, and put seeds, chaff, stems and leaves all in my morning smoothie! You can sprinkle seeds on salads, smoothies, or in any soup, stir fry or dish. These seeds are not the same as the amaranth grain you purchase in stores. They are smaller and more difficult to separate from chaff. The grain purchased from grocery stores is cultivated especially for large production and is not necessarily suitable for the home garden. One word of caution: make sure that it is a true amaranth plant you are harvesting for food. There are many books and sites available for you to use as a resource for identification.
The Wonders of Amaranth Grain
Amaranth grain is the tiny seed harvested from the amaranth plant. It is gluten-free and a complete protein. There are more than 60 different species of Amaranthus, many of which we grow in our flower gardens. History has shown that Amaranth was a major food crop of the Aztecs and has been grown for 6000 to 8000 years. It has been highly prized for its protein and rich vitamin and mineral content, and these ancient cultures depended on the grain as a major staple in their diets. In fact, Amaranth is still the native crop in Peru, and grown in Africa, Russian, China, India, South and North America. Amaranth has been growing in popularity because of its many health benefits. Amaranth is high in protein (9 grams per cup), and contains all nine of the essential amino acids not produced by the body. This makes amaranth grain a complete protein. Amaranth grain also is a good source for Vitamin A, C, and Vitamin B complex, as well as the minerals calcium iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium and copper. Amaranth contains three times more niacin and three times more calcium than spinach leaves.
Health Benefits of Amaranth:
1. High in protein - Amaranth is a complete protein, making it an excellent vegetarian protein source, containing 9 grams per cup. Protein foods build muscle, promote weight loss, and balances hormones naturally. Its high lysine content is what makes amaranth a complete protein, and helps to optimize metabolism.
2. Reduces inflammation - Amaranth contains phytochemicals known to reduce inflammation and is associated with weight gain, autoimmune disorders, leaky gut, arthritis, and cancer, as well as other health problems.
3. Weight Loss - Amaranth contains the protein lysine, which is known to increase the supplement Carnitine, a nutrient that converts fatty acids into energy. Amaranth can also lower insulin levels in the body that help to release a hormone that tells our body when we are full.
4. Bone health - Amaranth is high in calcium, which builds strong bones and teeth. It has three times as much calcium as spinach. The calcium in amaranth is more easily absorbed than calcium from dairy products. Amaranth also contains high levels of magnesium, which is needed to help balance out the calcium for absorption.
5. Lowers cholesterol and reduces heart disease - Eating high-fiber foods naturally rids the body of excess cholesterol and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol), while raising HDL (good cholesterol).
6. Aids in digestion - The high fiber content relieves constipation and digestive issues.
7. Diabetes - The high content of manganese (an essential mineral needed by the human body to fight free radicals which cause early aging and disease) helps the body lower insulin levels and control blood sugar by lessening the appetite.
8. Help for celiac disease - Amaranth is an excellent source of grain for those who have celiac disease or those with gluten sensitivity, and it is delicious.
Amaranth is an easy grain to add to your diet. Cook it as you would any other grain, and use it in place of other grains in recipes. Use 3 cups of water for every cup amaranth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer about 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed, and grain is soft.
Ways to include Amaranth in the diet:
1. As a breakfast cereal/porridge – mix with fruit and nuts instead of oats
2. Serve instead of rice, pasta, orzo, couscous or risotto
3. Add to soups or stews to create thicker texture
4. Combine with other grains to enhance protein absorption
5. Add to smoothies as a protein source and for a nutty taste
6. Make rice cakes with honey or rice pudding
As an FDN-P, she helps men and women age gracefully and beautifully by getting to the root cause of belly fat, energy loss, hormone and mineral imbalance. She strongly believes that mineral imbalance is the root cause of most chronic symptoms and disease today. Using functional lab testing, food and lifestyle changes, one can overcome most diseases naturally without medication. And she teaches others how to grow their own food to help balance minerals in one's daily food and lifestyle.