Should You Switch Your Grains Out? Maybe It’s Time to Try Amaranth

Nutrition

By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

For today’s  #MeatlessMonday, let’s step outside the world of fruits and veggies and take a closer look at a non-gluten, high protein grain: amaranth. If you go meatless every Monday for a year (52 days total), you may reduce your risk for certain diseases including cancer, heart disease and more.

September is Whole Grains Month. And amaranth, cultivated by the Aztecs around 8,000 years ago, is commonly referred to as a grain but is really classified as a “pseudo-cereal.” There are around 60 different species of amaranth, and this crop is grown throughout the world: Africa, India, China, Russia, South America and North America.

Amaranth is a great substitute for white rice, which is processed and not as nutrient-rich as amaranth. One cup of amaranth has about 26 grams of protein, making this food a great plant-based source of protein for people who follow meat-free diets.

This ancient superfood may do a lot for your overall health.

Amaranth may help combat coronary heart disease and hypertension.

A study published by the National Institutes for Health (NIH), found that when chickens were given amaranth oil it decreased their blood cholesterol levels.  

Amaranth grain consists of 6 to 9% of oil which is higher than most other cereals. Amaranth oil contains approximately 77% unsaturated fatty acids and is high in linoleic acid, which is necessary for human nutrition,” reports the NIH.

The NIH also suggested "amaranth oil modulates the cell membrane fluidity and stabilized membranes" and that could be one reason why it is beneficial to those who consume it. In hypertension, the cell membrane is defective and hence, the movement of the Na and K ions across the cell membranes could be defective.  This may contribute to an increase in blood pressure. Based on these properties of amaranth oil, the NIH hypothesized that it "could be of significant benefit for patients with CVD.”

Other studies have shown the oils and phytochemicals in amaranth have anti-inflammatory properties. And eating foods that help fight inflammation, may help reduce your risk of developing a variety of diseases, including some types of cancer.

One cup of amaranth contains:

  • Calcium, 307 mg. An adult between 19-50 years of age (male or female) in general should aim to have about 1,000 mg. of calcium per day. This mineral is needed to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Calcium is also needed for clotting of the blood to stop bleeding and for proper functioning of the nerves, muscles and heart. The National Cancer Institute conducted a study that monitored calcium intake in 135,000 men and women. The subjects who had a calcium intake of more than 700 mg. per day had a 35-45% reduced risk of cancer of the distal (lower) part of the colon than those who had a calcium intake of 500 mg. or less per day.
  • Iron, 14.69 mg. One cup of amaranth has nearly 15 mg of iron, while one cup of cooked white rice only has 0.24 mg of iron. Iron is an essential component of many proteins and enzymes. It is vital in the formation of red blood cells and lean muscle. Iron deficiencies occur worldwide in children, women of childbearing age, pregnant women, and individuals with medical conditions such as gastroenteritis and parasites as well as in persons involved in regular intense physical exercise. Strict vegetarian diets may also contribute to iron deficiency, so amaranth is a great plant-based source of iron.
  • Magnesium, 479 mg. This must-have mineral helps with blood pressure regulation and also has antioxidant properties. Several studies have also shown an improvement in the severity of symptoms of depression when study participants were given 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime.
  • Phosphorus, 1075 mg. This mineral often does not get the credit it deserves, but it does so much for your body. Phosphorus is almost as abundant in your body as calcium and helps calcium build strong bones and teeth. Phosphorus is also important for how your body stores and uses energy, repairs cells and is needed to make proteins like the one responsible for the oxygen-carrying capabilities of our red blood cells. This mineral has also been linked to weight management. In a study of almost 40,000 women in Korea, phosphorus deficiency correlated with weight gain from oral contraceptives. Furthermore, a study from Lebanon showed that phosphorus supplements in a small group (63 people) for 12 weeks significantly decreased body weight, BMI, waist circumference and subjective appetite scores.
  • Potassium, 980 mg. There’s a surprising connection with the liver and potassium. Liver injury or infection causes patients to urinate their potassium out. When the liver heals, the potassium levels start to go back up. This has implications for people with chronic liver problems, in terms of both diet as well as use of medications, since very low potassium levels can be more dangerous than the liver problem alone. Potassium may also help keep blood pressure under control and may even help reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age.
  • Selenium, 36.1 µg. Selenium is an essential trace mineral. It is a part of the amino acid selenocysteine which occurs in 25 different seleno proteins. Seleno proteins play critical roles in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and protection from oxidative damage and infection. Not getting enough selenium can make it more likely that you may suffer from cardiovascular disease and, if you are a man, infertility.
  • Folate, 158 µg. Folate (also called vitamin B9) is a very important nutrient, especially for pregnant women. Folate may help prevent cancer and heart disease and improve mental health.
  • Choline, 134.7 mg. Choline is a nutrient that was recognized as an essential nutrient by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1998. “The importance of choline in the diet extends into adulthood and old age. In a study of healthy adult subjects deprived of dietary choline, 77% of the men and 80% of the postmenopausal women developed signs of subclinical organ dysfunction (fatty liver or muscle damage)," reports the NIH.
  • Lutein + Zeaxanthin, 54 µg. These are carotenoids (plant pigments that give many fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors). They are also antioxidants located in the eye. It makes sense that these materials may be great for your eye health. “Lutein and zeaxanthin filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light and help protect and maintain healthy cells in the eyes. Of the 600 carotenoids found in nature, only these two are deposited in high quantities in the retina (macula) of the eye,” reports the American Optometric Association.

There are several ways you can prepare and eat amaranth. It can be ground into flour for healthier baking or popped into “popcorn.” You can also make amaranth porridge for breakfast or make amaranth patties and have a meatless burger for dinner. For more fun recipes, click here.

Healthy food is medicine.

Please share with us tips and recipes for how you celebrate Meatless Monday.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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