Amaranth is an 8,000 year old grain that was once a staple of Aztec diets. The amaranth plant related to Swiss chard, quinoa, beets and spinach produces thousands of tiny seeds that actually make up this grain-like product. Although not commonly used in American diets, it is gaining in popularity because of its extraordinary nutritional value.
Per cup, amaranth contains 251 calories and just 4 g of fat --- none of which is saturated. It offers 29 percent of the recommended dietary allowance for iron, based on a 2,000 calorie diet, and 12 percent for calcium. It is high in magnesium, with 40 percent of the RDA, and 36 percent of the RDA of phosphorus. A cup of amaranth also offers 105 percent of the RDA for manganese which functions as an antioxidant and plays a role in energy metabolism, bone health and wound healing.
Amaranth provides 5 g of fiber per cup. The Institute of Medicine recommends women consume 25 g of fiber daily and 38 g daily for men. Fiber helps with digestive health and can make you feel fuller after meals while controlling blood sugar levels.
Comparison to Wheat
Amaranth contains four times the calcium found in wheat and two times the iron and magnesium. It is also rich in several amino acids, specifically lysine, methionine and cysteine and as a result, amaranth is a more complete protein than many other types of grains.
Amaranth is gluten-free, making it and its flour an alternative for celiac disease sufferers who must avoid wheat, barley and rye. Amaranth counts as a whole grain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consuming a minimum of 3 oz. of whole grains daily.
Amaranth is very versatile in its uses; it may be cooked like a hot cereal or mixed with other grains like rice or faro to create a pilaf. Amaranth flour can be substituted for part or all of wheat flour in pancakes or muffins. The grain may also be popped in the oven to make a crunchy snack.