Superfood in our menu: Health benefits of Amaranth
Amaranth leaves and seeds are a regular in the menus in the West these days for the immense health benefits they carry. Amaranth, which we locally call latte ko saag, however, is somewhat neglected in Nepal despite its abundance
A few weeks ago I was walking on a Kathmandu street and I saw a man plucking leaves from a bush on the roadside. Out of curiosity, I asked what he was plucking and why. As he put the freshly plucked green leaves into the basket of his bike, he told me they were latte and that he would use them for that evening’s vegetable. I could recognise the leaves only when I had a closer look. They were Amaranth leaves. We call them locally latte ko saag.
At my home also I have Amaranth leaves, but they are red ones. I have also used Amaranth leaves as vegetables.
For some, Amaranth (Amaranthus caudatus) could be just another weed. Many people these days not only grow this plant for its beauty, for its colourful flowers, but they also use it as food and medicines.
My family members, however, did not like it much, for its leaves carry some sort of smell, and they would say “they smell mud”. But I really like the taste of these leaves when cooked.
Amaranth these days is gaining traction in the West and often described as superfood. Superfood is a quite popular term of late in the language of food and health. Those foods are described as superfoods – mostly plant-based but also some fish and dairy – which are considered to be nutritionally rich, hence good for our health.
Some examples of superfoods that are quite popular in the West are blueberries, salmon, kale and acai. These days some people in the West see Amaranth as a good substitute of kale, or leaf cabbage (Brasica oleracia). But Amaranth somewhat remains neglected in Nepal despite it abundant presence and its nutritional and medicinal value.
Around 100 grams of fresh leaves of Amaranth can provide you with 43 milligrams of vitamin C. It also contains antioxidant which plays a crucial role in fighting viral infection. It is also rich in vitamin A. In short, Amaranth can boost our immune system.
Many of us tend to pop vitamin B complex tablets every day. Amaranth can be a natural source of this essential nutrient. Since it also contains folic acid, it is also good for pregnant women.
Amaranth leaves contain three times more calcium and three times more niacin (vitamin B3) than spinach leaves – or 20 times more calcium and seven times more iron than lettuce.
Then Amaranth grains are also equally healthy.
I remember very well that my grandmother used to make pudding of Amaranth seeds, especially on her fasting days, and I used to wait outside the kitchen to taste the dish. I would watch from a distance as my grandmother fried the Amaranth grains, poured milk into it and let it boil. She would then add sugar and sprinkle finely chopped dry coconuts. These days my mother makes the pudding on her fasting days. To my request that she should make this pudding quite often, she simply says “this should be eaten only when someone is fasting”.
Now I understand the reason. This has got such an important status that it should be eaten only during fasting because of its nutritious value.
Amaranth is considered a native plant of Peru, South America, but it is now grown around the world. It is very popular among farmers in the United States, who grow it for its seeds. Leaves, however, are not much used in the USA.
Technically, Amaranth is not a grain but is a seed. One plant can produce up to 60,000 seeds.
Because of the nutritional property of its seeds, it is also called super grain which is rich in protein. Around 100 grams of seeds contain 14 per cent of protein. Quinoa, also a flowering plant of Amaranth family, contains 13 per cent of protein, but it is comparatively expensive.
Just like quinoa, Amaranth seeds are naturally gluten-free. Gluten is a type of protein that is found in grains such as wheat, barley, spelt and rye.
Eating gluten can trigger an immune response in people with celiac disease, causing damage and inflammation to Amarnathsmall intestine. Since Amaranth does not have gluten, it is very good for those with gluten allergy.
People are believed to have been using Amaranth seeds for 6,000-8,000 years.
Growing Amaranth is easy. I grow this plant in my kitchen garden and it demands minimum time and energy. Just throw some seeds into the soil and water them regularly. In a few weeks, you will see the leaves coming out. While it tastes good, it has immense health benefits.
In different regions, it is eaten differently. For example, in Mexico people fry amarnath seeds and eat with honey. They look like tiny popcorn kernels.
Studies have shown that Amaranth has cholesterol-lowering potential. For example, in 1996 an American study found that the oil found in Amaranth could lower total and Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or bad cholesterol as often called, in birds and animals. In the West, it is used regularly for it is a good source of fibre.
Since Amaranth has immense health benefits, we should include it more often in our menu.
We should also give our children Amaranth leaves and grains so as to help them acquire a taste for this nutritious plant. While children will get required nutrients, parents will have to spend less on expensive supplementary foods and snacks. Family members will remain always away from constipation and anaemia.