Superfood 101: Amaranth!

Amaranth is a seed that has been part of the Aztec diet for more than 8000 years, when the Aztecs would collect the seeds in the wild. They also used the seeds to make flour for baked images of their gods during festivals and for tributary payments. The plant began to be cultivated in Mexico approximately 4000 B.C.E. and continues to be a native Peruvian crop. The Spaniards brought the plant to Europe and today it is cultivated in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America. The plant stands approximately six feet tall with broad green leaves and there are about sixty varieties. It has either gold or bright red flowers, each containing around 60,000 seeds. These seeds are packed with protein, vitamins and minerals and have been a staple part of the diet of many cultures. It is a versatile food and can be used in many recipes and is recommended by the World Health Organization and used in the NASA space program. 

In India amaranth is known as rajgira meaning “immortal.” Ayurveda uses it for many maladies because it is rich in oils, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. Holistic healers have also used amaranth in their healing methods and highly recommend including it regularly in the diet. Amaranth studies in the United States began in the 1970s and it is slowly becoming known to the public as a healthy addition to their diet  It is a complete protein, meaning that the seed contains all that is necessary to sustain life and that was why it was a vital part of the Aztec diet.

Here are 5 more reasons to get more amaranth in your diet:

1. Amaranth’s high amount of dietary fiber and potassium makes it an important food for heart health. It balances cholesterol levels, lowering the risk of atherosclerosis and relaxes the blood vessels, reducing the risk of stroke or heart failure. It also lessens the strain on the arteries and blood vessels, which helps to lower blood pressure and reduces the incidents of coronary heart disease.

2. Amaranth is an excellent source of lysine –  a critical amino acid that the body does not produce, yet is essential for a healthy, functional body. The signs of an adequate amount of lysine in the system are found in strong hair roots, reduction in hair loss and overall healthy hair. It also contains other proteins that keep the body in tone and aid in healthy development of growth cells, skin, muscles and tissues.

3. Adding amaranth to the diet helps to promote ocular health because it is rich in vitamin A. It contains beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant that inhibits the development of cataracts. It also reduces the risk of macular degeneration.

4. Containing high levels of vitamin C, amaranth enhances the immune system. It stimulates white blood cell production, which enables the body to fight disease. It also produces collagen, which speeds the healing process by repairing cells.

5. Amaranth helps to control diabetes and maintain a healthy body weight by regulating insulin levels in the body. It works as an appetite suppressant and controls the body’s blood sugar levels. Since obesity and elevated insulin levels are signs of diabetes, these are very important factors in the decision to add it to the diet.

Amaranth is becoming a popular health food in the United States because it contains high amounts of calcium, iron, phosphorous, carotenoids, proteins and essential amino acids. It is also high in fiber, magnesium, potassium and unsaturated fatty acids. It can be made as salads, side dishes or main course meals. Amaranth is not only delicious, but it also helps keep the body healthy.