6 Health Benefits of Amaranth Grains and Leaves
Amaranth, a bushy plant native to South America, is today cultivated around the world for its edible grains and leaves. Both the grains and leaves of this ancient plant are highly nutritious, which is why amaranth should not be left off the superfood list. In this article, we take an in-depth look at the nutritional and health benefits of this rediscovered supergrain.
Source of High-Quality Protein
Not only are amaranth grains packed with protein, the protein they contain is also of exceptionally high quality. Research shows that amaranth grains contain significant amounts of all essential amino acids, including lysine which is typically found only in small amounts in grains. Amino acids, as you may already know, are the building blocks of proteins, and in order to fulfill your body's protein needs, you need to provide it with sufficient amounts of all essential amino acids.
But the grain is not the only part of the amaranth plant that contains protein – research shows that also amaranth leaves, which are commonly eaten as a leafy vegetable in the Mediterranean region, contain significant amounts of protein and lysine.
Protection Against Degenerative Diseases
The high amount and quality of protein may be the most famous health benefit of amaranth grains, but it is hardly the only reason amaranth grains are so good for you. In the late noughties, Mexican scientists discovered that the protein fraction of amaranth contains a lunasin-like peptide. Lunasin, which has been previously identified in soybeans, is believed to have anti-cancer properties as well as anti-inflammatory activity which may make it an effective weapon against a number of degenerative diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This intriguing study appeared in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Substitute for Gluten-Containing Grains
Along with rice and corn, wheat is one of the widely cultivated cereal grains in the world. For many people, whole-grain wheat is also an important dietary source of vital minerals such as magnesium, iron and phosphorus.
But wheat also contains gluten, a protein composite that causes gastrointestinal problems in many people. Amaranth grains, by contrast, are inherently gluten-free. They do, however, contain many of the same minerals as whole-grain wheat. Provided that you buy amaranth grains that have not been cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains during processing, transportation or storage, you can safely use amaranth as a gluten-free substitute for grains like wheat, barley, spelt and rye.
Amaranth Leaves Are Supercharged with Minerals
Amaranth grains are a good source of minerals, but if you're looking for a real mineral boost, make eating amaranth leaves a habit! Amaranth leaves are rich in the same minerals as amaranth grains (i.e. iron, magnesium and phosphorus), but they are also supercharged with two additional minerals: calcium and potassium. Especially the calcium content of amaranth leaves deserves special attention as there are only a few other vegetables ‐ including the superfoods mache lettuce and grape leaves – that contain more calcium than amaranth leaves. It is important to note, however, that amaranth leaves also contain oxalates, anti-nutrients that can hinder the absorption of the calcium in the intestines.
Amaranth Greens Are Also an Excellent Source of Vitamins
If you're not yet convinced about the health benefits of amaranth leaves, then consider this: amaranth leaves are also loaded with numerous vitamins! In fact, this unsung superfood is one of the world's best sources of vitamin K, a nutrient that plays an important role in keeping your cardiovascular system healthy. Amaranth greens are also supercharged with carotenoids and vitamin C, plus they provide plenty of folate and a fair amount of vitamin B6, too.
Benefits for People with Varicose Veins
Amaranth leaves have also been singled out as one of the best sources of rutin, a flavonoid that has been researched extensively as a potential dietary remedy for varicose veins due to its ability to strengthen capillary walls. A 2009 study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition found that some amaranth species contain up to 24.5 g/kg (dry weight) of rutin in their leaves. Amaranth grains, by contrast, contain only small amounts of rutin.
1. R. Repo-Carrasco-Valencia (2011). Andean indigenous food crops: nutritional value and Bioactive Compounds. Department of Biochemistry and Food Chemistry, University of Turku.
2. C. Silva-Sanchez et al (2008). Bioactive peptides in amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) seed. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(4), 1233-40.
3. USDA's Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
4. J. Kalinova and E. Dadakova (2009). Rutin and Total Quercetin Content in Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.). Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 64(1), 68-74.
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