Ancient Grains – Worth Trying?

Amaranth a new dietary source of protein

The new-old

Amaranth is a novel, rich in protein, dietary source that’s been introduced in the 2000s diet trends. Sorry, erase that. Let’s go again. Amaranth is a well-known plant in South American cultures. Mayas are the first reported producers of amaranth corps, that was later introduced to the rest of Mesoamerican civilization, Inkas and Aztecs. Although, the invaders, the conquistadors believed that Amaranth was a spiritual seed that was used from those cultures as a ritual food and its production was minimized or even banned. That is the reason we are re-introducing Amaranth, parts in our diet. That plant can be grown in many unusual sites as its photosynthetic mechanism belongs to a group of corps using a different metabolic pathway than the common cereals.

What makes Amaranth popular today…. probably a fashion ….. Wrong

Amaranth is a popular pseudocereal nowadays because of its dietary value and a special feature except its biological and pharmacological actions. Its flour and leaves seem to be a good source of dietary fibers that cause the hypolipemic action of amaranth. It consists of both soluble and insoluble fibers, that play an important role on lipids metabolism and protein accumulation. Lipid metabolism is influenced either by the fiber metabolism from the intestine microflora that leads to alternation of lipids metabolism in the liver or directly affecting hormonal excretion that regulates glucose levels (Choi et al.). Apart for the high fiber content of Amaranth, this plant is rich in protein in comparison with other plants but not with animal origin protein sources. The advantage of this species, it is the high lysine content of it (Escudero et al.). This amino acid is not common in plant resources, though its pour in valine. A hint for Lysine is that this amino acid exhibits antivirus activities and is used as a supplement for the prevention of the higher occurrence of herpes. Also, another nutritional fact is the higher nitrogen content of amaranth flour in contrast with other cereals, reaching the 74% of the animal origin diet (Escudero et al.).

The bad news…. The high fiber concentration might cause a problem in the absorption of proteins and in nitrogen as it’s nitrogen source (Mendez et al.). The good news…. Amaranth is gluten free and can be used in special diets for people with celiac disease, and as it’s a good source of lysine that lacks from other cereals. So, in a mix of a varieties of cereals and pseudocereals we can create a nutritious meal.

Amaranth properties?

I am going to spread amaranth properties to the ones being able to be observed by the food intake of the sprouts or leaves, flour etc of it and the ones that are due to its macromolecules.

What benefits we can get by adding amaranth to our diet?

First, as it is prescribed above, the soluble and unsoluble fibers of Amaranth can influence the metabolism and general regulation of lipids from liver, leading to a decrease in cholesterol levels (Escudero et a.). Another, ingredient with a great pharmacological action is squalene. This compound was first found at shark’s liver and then at olive oil. This substance might either affect in a way the lipid metabolism and contribute to the regulation of cholesterol levels but also it seems to have a immunomodulating effect (Tritto et al., Montagnani et al.) leading to the control of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Finally, Amaranth is a great source of minerals like selenium, that is found at Amaranth sprouts and its contribution to the antioxidant effects that this plant appears to have is one unanswered question (Pasko et al.) and iron. Iron levels and its bioavailability and absorption rate is high making amaranth a great plant to use for iron fortification (Ologunde et al.).

We talked about macromolecules isolated from Amaranth species exhibit some pharmacological properties. The disadvantage is that these macromolecules cannot be absorbed and used. They must be broken down so their possible pharmacological effects are lost when we consume amaranth. One of the well-known actions is the inhibition of the enzyme that’s linked to cholesterol levels, the HMGCoA reductase, the actual target of anticholesterolemic drugs like Lipitor from peptides found at Amaranth (Soares et al.). The antitumor effect of amaranth might be an effect either of two kinds of lectins (protein of the cell surface that binds proteins and carbohydrates) that can be isolated at some amaranth species, or an isolated protein called MPI, derived from an Amaranth subspecies. These lectins are found to bind a tumour factor expressed from epithelial malignancies (Yu et al., Barrio et al.). Lastly, soluble compounds found at amaranth species display antihypertensive effects, affecting the most important regulating mechanism of blood pressure the renin-angiotensin effect just like some antihypertensive drugs do (Tovar-Perez et al.), but also antiallergic effects.

A plant or a drug?

Amaranth seems to hide many more secrets though its simplicity and beauty. It’s a nourishing, easy growing and attractive plant that apart of the benefits that arise by its consumption, it has big potentials to become a source of new drugs.

Harry The Science Guy

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