Amaranth is often reported to have amazing health properties that border on magic. Is it really so?
Although amaranth had been among staple foods of the Aztecs, it was almost totally forgotten after the Spanish conquest. In the 1970s this plant to some extent regained its former popularity. A total lack of potentially-harmful gluten, high protein content and rapid plant growth were expected to make amaranth ‘the crop of the future’. However, even after almost 50 years of promotion and advertising, amaranth is still a niche product with a limited market.
It seems that marketing hype that surrounds amaranth will never really die down. The Internet is full of vivid descriptions of extraordinary qualities of amaranth. Among other things, it is alleged that this plant can help you to:
- deal with stress;
- beat cancer;
- get better eyesight;
- improve your heart health;
- prevent allergies.
Unfortunately, such claims are not supported by any scientific data. For instance, although amaranth might actually lower ‘bad’ and raise ‘good’ cholesterol in animals, this property is still to be proven in people.
Although hardly a ‘superfood’ as it is often marketed, amaranth is still good to health:
- a cup of amaranth contains almost a fifth of recommended daily intake of protein;
- amaranth is low in fats and rich in such beneficial carbohydrates as starch and dietary fiber;
- this plant contains substantial quantities of manganese, selenium, iron, magnesium and phosphorus; it is also a good source of folate and vitamin B6;
- amaranth has a low glycemic index of 21: it does not lead to surges in blood glucose and insulin levels. Thus, people with diabetes will benefit from eating these seeds;
- amaranth is quite filling; thus, you can use to control your weight;
- as amaranth absorbs a lot of water when you boil it, it helps you to stay hydrated.
People with an intolerance of gluten might use amaranth as a substitute for wheat, barley and oats. Amaranth is not as expensive as substantially overpriced quinoa (another famous gluten-free food). What makes amaranth even more preferable to quinoa is that it does not contain a lot of bitter saponins.
People often complain that cooked quinoa still tastes slightly bitter; on the other hand, cooked amaranth has a pleasant nutty flavor. Then again, quinoa is very easy to cook (you still should not forget to rinse is with copious amount of water before boiling), while preparing amaranth might be slightly difficult for beginners.
If you are looking for other gluten-free seeds, amaranth and quinoa are in no way unique. To reduce you gluten consumption you might also try to switch to buckwheat that is extremely popular in Russia and China.
Children often like buckwheat for its slightly sweet taste. What’s more, all you need to do to cook buckwheat is to boil it for some thirty minutes: a very simple technique that never fails. Yet another viable alternative to grains from Central America is rice, number one staple in Japan and China.