Once a staple of Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations, amaranth (considered an “ancient grain”) is gaining steam as a modern day health food. The reason? Unlike some common grains and grain-based foods, amaranth is naturally gluten-free, high-protein, high-fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals that support you physically and mentally. Research suggests amaranth may help reduce inflammation, support healthy energy levels, boost heart health, and more.
Since prehistoric times, several species of amaranth have been used by ancient civilizations like the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs, as well as Native Americans.
Researchers believe amaranth was first domesticated and cultivated around 6,000 years ago, and that it was most abundantly used among the Aztecs (in what is now central Mexico). The Aztecs referred to amaranth as “the food of immortality,” and, along with maize (corn) and beans, it was one of the main crops harvested for food and ceremonial purposes.
Here’s a look at some of the most exciting potential health benefits of amaranth (and its various nutritional compounds).
4 health benefits supported by amaranth.
The most commonly grown varieties of amaranth also happen to be a rich source of phytosterols—plant compounds that help reduce cholesterol absorption in the intestines, which can help keep your blood levels of cholesterol in check. While cholesterol is used in many bodily processes, too much can cause plaque buildup in the arteries. More research is needed, but preliminary studies have shown that amaranth may help reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, the type that’s typically considered “bad,” by up to 22%.
While processed, refined grains are known to drive inflammation in the body, compounds in healthy whole grains like amaranth may actually help combat inflammation. Research suggests that bioactive peptide compounds in amaranth may help reduce several markers of inflammation. One of these compounds is called lunasin, which, in addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, is thought to have cancer-preventative benefits as well.
Amaranth contains high levels of nutrients that are crucial for energy production in the body, including B vitamins, iron, and phosphorus. B vitamins are particularly important for converting carbohydrates, fats, and proteins from the food you eat into a form of energy your cells can utilize. Iron helps produce hemoglobin, a protein that allows red blood cells to carry oxygen all over the body. With low iron, not enough oxygen reaches your muscles or brain, which can lead to fatigue and weakness. And phosphorus helps make ATP—a molecule the body uses to store energy and power a variety of biological processes.
Amaranth contains high levels of vitamins and minerals needed for optimal mental health, including magnesium. This mineral plays a key role in brain neurotransmitter pathways associated with depression; and symptoms such as apathy, depression, agitation, confusion, and anxiety have been linked to low magnesium intake. Increasing magnesium intake from supplements and food sources has been shown to help people cope with stress. Amaranth is also very high in manganese, which supports overall brain health.
Why amaranth is considered a superfood.
Similar to other whole ancient grains, like quinoa, amaranth is a good source of fiber, B vitamins, trace mineral, and antioxidants. But it has some unique qualities, too—it contains phytosterols and extra high levels of protein, iron, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus.
For some perspective, a typical serving of amaranth fulfills 100% of your daily requirement for manganese, a mineral crucial for proper brain functioning; about half of your daily requirement for magnesium and phosphorus; and about a third of your daily requirement for iron.
Bottom line on amaranth.
Anything that remains a dietary staple for 6,000+ years has to be pretty great—and amaranth is no exception. It’s one of the most nutrient-rich grains on the market, containing ample protein and fiber, and particularly high levels of iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus to support energy and mood. Emerging research on its anti-inflammatory properties and heart-health benefits are also quite promising.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.