WRITTEN BY R.D.N ANTONIO GOMEZ
Amaranth is a small to medium-sized plant making it a bush, It is rare plant whose grains are eaten as a cereal, it offers agricultural advantages as to be resistant to drought, high temperatures, and saline soils, hence its name in Greek “Amaranthus”, which translation means “unfading flower”.
In the past decades, the study of amaranth properties has deepened because of its nutritional benefit claims, it was once considered a pseudo-cereal due to its taxonomy but nutritional research has now categorized as a cereal and bromatology studies have shown that the protein content of the amaranth grain is excellent, ranging between 13 and 19 % making a far superior source of amino acids than other cereals like wheat, rice, and maize.
Taunted as a future crop due to its tremendous yield potential and nutritional qualities, amaranth main properties come from “betalains” a flavonoid that gives its natural yellow pigment, in addition, it elicits antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a promising natural nutritional aid to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and other diseases related to aging.
Amaranth grains were a staple food during the Aztec civilization in Mexico, it was called “huahtli”.
The Aztecs believed that it had magical properties which gave it strength, due to this belief, Amaranth grains were used as a grain in religious practices and were roughly equal to corn.
Ayurveda medicine describes the whole plant as useful in cough, sore throat, and gastric problems.
Unani medicine considers the juice of the plant as a remedy for gastric problems.
In African tribes boiled amaranth roots are used with honey as a laxative.
In the present time, Amaranth grains are used in the production of “Alegria” a type of candy in Mexico, an end product after mixing the cereal with honey.
Scientific Health Evidence
- Some Amaranthus species can have negative as well as allergic effects. (Suma et al)
- Antibacterial activity against gram-positive bacteria Staphylococcus aurens, Staph Albus and Streptococcus viridians (Sharma et al)
- Amaranth grain is 12% water, 65% carbohydrates, 7% dietary fiber, 14% protein, and 7% fat (USDA Nutrient Database)
- Supplementing amaranth in chicken for 6 weeks reveal low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol values decreased compared to control with the high-density lipoprotein(HDL) concentrations remained unchanged. (Qureshi et al)
- Feeding rodents with either the whole grain or amaranth’s oil resulted in a decrease in the AST (aspartate aminotransferase) and ALT (alanine aminotransferase) enzymes, which are liver function markers. (Kim et al)
- Further evaluation of the effect of amaranth grains against oxidative stress showed protective properties to the heart, kidney, and pancreas mitochondria of rodents.
Although the great majority of the research about the nutritional health benefits of amaranth has been conducted in experimental animal models, there is a combination of unique compounds in the grain with potentially beneficial medicinal properties, ranging from flavonoids like betalains to unsaturated fatty acids.
It seems that the bioactive substances that elicit a health benefit are likely due to the presence of all of them through multiple metabolic paths, unsaturated fatty acid profile may in cholesterol metabolism explaining the lowering of LDL Cholesterol (Bad Cholesterol) which in turn is linked to liver metabolism involving pro-inflammatory proteins-enzymes like AST and ALT.
Betalains are similar in nature like the anthocyanins found in Purple Corn, making amaranth grains a cereal with antioxidant properties, not necessarily equal in response to purple corn antioxidant activity but enough to show protective mechanisms to mitochondria in different organs like the heart, kidneys, and pancreas.
It´s important to remember that mitochondria are the main organelle inside the cell susceptible to free radicals leading to oxidative stress.
Future research should be directed to nutrient mechanisms of action, especially in the human body and Allergology studies as it seems some type of Amaranth plants are highly allergic and sensitivity may vary depending on the individual and/or distribution as there is the presence of “anti-nutrients” in amaranth like saponins and tannins, which can interfere with nutrient absorption of amaranth itself and cause other issues without adequate preparation. nevertheless, these anti-nutritional compounds can easily be removed by boiling the grains or leaves for 5 minutes if they are intended for edible purposes.
Table 1 Amaranth Nutritional Facts.
A Serving Size of 45 grams
Table 2 Amaranth vs Quinoa comparison table.
Ulbricht C, Abrams T, Conquer J, Costa D, GrimsSerrano JM, Taylor S, et al. An evidence-based systematic review of amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) by the natural standard research collaboration. J Diet Suppl. 2009.
Tucker JB. Amaranth: the once and future crop. Bioscience. 1986.
Kadoshnikov SI, Kadoshnikova IG, Kulikov YA, Martirosyan DM. Researches of fractional composition of protein of amaranth. Curr Nutr Food Scien. 2005.
Suma, S., Ambika, S. R., Kazinczi, G., and Narwal, S. S. (2002). Allelopathic plants. 6. Amaranth spp. Allelopathy J. 10.
Sharma, R. K., and Mukut, B. (1991). Screening of the compounds isolated from Amaranthus tricolor for antibacterial activity.
Qureshi AA, Lehmann JW, Peterson DM. Amaranth and its oil inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis in 6-week-old female chickens. J Nutr. 1996.
Kim HK, Mi-Jeong K, Dong-Hoon S. Improvement of lipid profile by amaranth (Amaranthus esculantus) supplementation in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006.
Pasko P, Bartn H, Zagrodizki P, Chlopicka J, Izewska A, Gawlik M et al. Effect of amaranth seeds in the diet on oxidative status in plasma and selected tissues of high fructose-fed rats. Food Chem. 2011.