Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Great Grains: Quinoa vs. Amaranth

What few people realize this days is how many so-called "superfoods" are blatantly overlooked in modern society.  There are a whole host of different, whole, natural foods that provide more health benefits than can easily be described in one article, which many people have either never heard of or never cared to look at twice .  Two of these superfoods that I strongly suggest you consider fitting into your diet are ancient grains called Quinoa and Amaranth.  These little beads are packed with some of the best stuff nature has to offer, and definitely deserve the spotlight at least once in my blogging career.

Quinoa
Amaranth
Now if the names are what drove you to disregard them, I can sort of sympathize, as they're not the most easily pronounced foods.  Quinoa is pronounced "keen-wah", while amaranth is a little more obvious and is pronounced "am-a-ranth."  There, see?  Not so scary or outlandish.  Let's delve into the history of these grains just a little bit before I start spouting off everything these grains have to offer.

What's interesting about both of these grains is that they both were known about far before ANY of your traceable ancestors walked this earth.  Surprisingly, both come from ancient South American cultures.  Quinoa was considered a sacred grain in the Inca society, and amaranth was a staple in the ancient Aztec civilization.  Both civilizations were masters at harvesting their respective grains, and knew of their powers far more-so than our modern society does today.  Funny how things work like that, right?  We claim to be so knowledgable about the world, and yet somehow we overlook some of the best stuff nature has to offer.

Amaranth and quinoa are both very similar grains, and to the untrained eye they might be mistaken as the same thing.  Both of the grains are small and bead-like, and the only really discernible differences between the two is the size of each kernel.  Quinoa grains tend to be slightly larger than amaranth, and also come in white and red varieties.  Nutritionally though, these two grains are extremely similar.

Protein:  What's truly unique about these grains is the amount of amino acids they possess, and therefore their extremely high protein content.  Quinoa especially is known as probably one of the greatest sources of plant protein there is in the world today, and that's because unlike the vast majority of plant protein, quinoa has a complete amino acid profile, which means your body has all the essential amino acids it needs to start building muscle directly from quinoa.  That's great news if you're looking to get more protein into a vegetarian diet.

Amaranth also has an extremely high protein content, however unlike quinoa the essential amino acid profile isn't QUITE complete.  That means your body can't use amaranth by itself to build muscle right away, but let me tell you guys it's darn close.  Amaranth (and quinoa as well) is extremely high in an amino acid called lysine, and while it isn't complete (due to the lacking amino acids leucine and threonine), it still can provide the body with a large amount of incomplete protein which may be completed at other points throughout the day with other foods.

If you're a numbers kind of person, here's the scoop.  One cup of cooked quinoa contains 8.1 grams of COMPLETE protein, and one cup of cooked amaranth contains 9.3 grams of INCOMPLETE protein.



Fats:  Both quinoa and amaranth are sources of extremely healthy, unsaturated fats.  Neither grain has any saturated fat to speak of, and therefore you need not worry about raising bad cholesterol levels through the consumption of these grains.  I'll stick with the one cup measurement, and in quinoa and amaranth respectively there are 3.6 grams and 3.9 grams of fat.  Again though, healthy fats, don't be afraid of them.  FAT DOESN'T MAKE YOU FAT!

Carbohydrates:  This is what I love about these grains, as it seems that almost everyone these days is getting their carbs from starchy, sugary, unhealthy sources.  Both quinoa and amaranth provide healthy, complex carbohydrates that digest more slowly and fuel your body for a longer period of time with NO sugar crash.  Believe me, you need healthy carbs (although I did just write an article on ketogenic diets), and the more sources of healthy carbohydrates you can find, the better.  Quinoa and amaranth both fit the bill quite nicely, and in one cup of each there are 39 grams and 46 grams of carbohydrates respectively.  Not bad, right?

Fiber:  Both these grains are packed with healthy fiber, which you could always use a little more of in your diet.  Fiber doesn't only insure a healthy digestive tract, but also slows down the digestion of other food so that your body gets a chance to use everything you give it.  This leads to less fat storage in the long run, and I'm sure you'll all be interested in that.  One cup of quinoa and amaranth both have 5.2 grams of fiber.  Awesome!



Vitamins/minerals:  Both these grains are packed with vitamins, specifically vitamins B1, B2,B3, B6, and E.  Quinoa is slightly more vitamin dense than amaranth, but either grain will boost your overall vitamin intake for the day quite nicely.  In terms of minerals, both grains are rich in magnanese, magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.

You may be wondering how to actually eat these fantastic grains, and not to worry, I have a great link for you that describes a common method of cooking each grain on the stove.  It's not difficult or overly time consuming, so don't use that as an excuse to ignore such a fantastic superfood.  Here's the link:

http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03177/How-to-Cook-Amaranth.html

There you have it!  A little overview of what may be some of the best plant nutrient sources on the market today.  A word of caution, these grains can be a little harder to find than something like oats, but don't despair, one trip to your local health food store should yield results.  Keep in mind though, these grains are usually stored in the refrigerator when in their raw form, so don't get confused when they're not on the shelf next to the Kashi cereal.  Believe me, these grains are definitely worth the little effort required to get them.  They'll make you a vastly healthier person with a body to be envious of.  And boy are they tasty!

Be adventurous, embrace the ancient grains, and as always, GOOD LUCK!

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaranth#Nutritional_value
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinoa
http://www.livestrong.com/article/266224-amaranth-quinoa-nutritional-guides/
http://www.askmen.com/sports/foodcourt_100/149_eating_well.html

9 comments:

  1. Awesome post. I just happen to be looking for a comparison of Quinoa vs. Amaranth. Quinoa is readily available in the Costco my area whereas Amaranth is not available locally. Since they are so similar, I can just use Quinoa and save some money from not having to order Amaranth online.

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  2. Hi there, thanks for this post! Great information. One question though-- a lot of research that I have come across says that amaranth is actually a complete protein. A little confused, because this post says it isn't. Can you clarify? Thank you again~

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    1. Can you please cite your sources of information? I am very interested to know this ... I happen to be Indian and my ancestors ate amaranth more likely than quinoa, so that would make more sense to me that I would seek nutrition from aramaranth than quinoa, hence the question.

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    2. Can you please cite your sources of information? I am very interested to know this ... I happen to be Indian and my ancestors ate amaranth more likely than quinoa, so that would make more sense to me that I would seek nutrition from aramaranth than quinoa, hence the question.

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  3. The best way to cook is in a rice cooker. I make enough to save for a week in the refrigerator and then sprinkle it on my foods throughout the day. It can go with almost anything. I put in on my salads, with my eggs and salsa, in almost any side dish, on top of tacos and burritos, and even in my oatmeal.

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  4. The flour of Amaranth is available in Indian Grocery stores in the USA its called Raaj Gira. I use it myself. I have never been able to find the seed.

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    1. In my neck of the woods I did find the seed in Ambala cash and carry stores ...

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    2. In my neck of the woods I did find the seed in Ambala cash and carry stores ...

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