Ask the Diva: Is Amaranth a Super Food?

Are claims of amaranth's "super food" benefits true? Nutrition Diva discusses this dietary do-gooder.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS,
December 1, 2012

Ask the Diva: Is Amaranth a Super Food?

by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.

Q. I’ve seen a lot about the benefits of amaranth. Apparently it’s high in protein, super-nutritious, and can benefit people suffering from high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease. Are the claims true?

A. Amaranth is higher in protein than some grains, such as rice. But there are other whole grains with similar protein levels, including quinoa, kamut, and even bulgur wheat. It is also significantly higher in fat (and, therefore, calories) than most grains. Still, most of the calories in amaranth come from carbohydrates. Like most whole grains, amaranth provides a variety of vitamins and minerals. (It’s also gluten-free.) 

As a general rule, replacing refined grains with whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease. As I’ve written before, I think this has more to do with the reduction in refined grains than any healing properties of the whole grains. More about that here.

But is there something special in amaranth that fights heart disease? Amaranth is a good source of phytosterols, a compound can help reduce the cholesterol levels. Phytosterols are also found in soybeans, legumes, and other grains.

There is a sense in which amaranth may qualify as a super-food: As a relatively inexpensive and nutrient-rich source of protein and calories, amaranth is a beacon of hope in regions of the world that suffer widespread malnutrition and starvation. Here, where we generally get all the protein and calories we need (and then some) and where lots of other nutritious foods are readily available, I’m not sure amaranth offers much more than some variety and novelty.

And this leads to a double-edged sword. Quinoa’s rise popularity among the well-fed populations of the U.S. and Europe have pushed global prices higher. This was a boon for Bolivian farmers, who grow the bulk of the world’s quinoa. However, it has priced quinoa out of reach for many South Americans for whom it has been a staple food for centuries. If health-conscious hipsters now take to teff and amaranth, it may have the same effect—making these grains less accessible to those that might have the most to gain from them.  Food for thought.

Amaranth photo from Shutterstock.

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