Amaranth, a pseudocereal with real benefits

Amaranth, a pseudocereal with real benefits

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By Viviana Viviant *

It is beautiful to see the product of effort
Costing and keeping the seed at home
With wisdom transform it
And eventually commercialize it

To give flavor and encouragement
Make more vigorous and healthy
Flight of imagination
In preparing our food.

Because it is the Huauhtli plant
What gives the man
A product that looks divine
That has strength and animates the spirit

"We are warriors rescuing amaranth
cloistered. "

Fragments of the pema "Huauhtli" (the immortal)
By Odilia Xolalpa Jiménez

A researcher from the Chair of Bromatology, of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry (UBA), analyzed the composition of the amaranth grain and found that its nutritional value is ahead of other cereals. Its protein content is higher and it contains lysine, an amino acid deficient in this food group.

In addition, as the grain is used whole because of its tiny size, the contribution of fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals with a strong antioxidant effect is particularly interesting. The results of the study also show that amaranth provides some minerals such as iron. In addition, as it does not contain gliadins, it is suitable for celiacs. Its consumption would not only be beneficial for the general population, but very particularly, it would constitute a contribution to food plans for disadvantaged populations.

According to archaeological data, there are records that amaranth has been cultivated for at least 7,000 years in America. It was the mainstay of the food of the Aztec, Toltec, Olmec, Mayan and Inca cultures, among others. Thus, for example, among the Aztecs, amaranth was offered as a tribute to the gods, the warriors consumed it in the form of atole because it was considered to provide physical strength. However, upon the arrival of the Spanish, its cultivation and consumption was prohibited and almost eradicated due to its relationship with religious ceremonies, due to its resemblance to blood when combined with red prickly pear honey. Thus, they called it “damn”, and even today the expression “I don't give a damn” refers to trifles, the insignificant, the inconsequential. It only survived in small areas of cultivation scattered in mountainous areas of Mexico and the Andes, where it was practically impossible to reach, or where there was nothing of interest to the conquerors.

Starting in 1973, the first agronomic studies began at the National University of Cusco, Peru, but received the greatest boost in the 1980s. In 1975, the United States National Academy of Sciences, with the aim of diversifying the food base, promoted a work where he proposed amaranth as one of the 36 most promising crops in the world. Likewise, exhaustive investigations were carried out in the field of chemistry and biochemistry, in the seed and
the foliage of various species, which confirmed the quality of this American crop.

China is the country with the largest area planted and has one of the most important genebanks in the world. Its mission consists of locating, collecting, conserving and characterizing the genome of wild plant species that, due to their attributes, are considered relevant to humanity. India and Peru share second place in terms of production and area planted, and the first of these countries has the second largest genebank on the planet.

Although there are fewer hectares planted in the United States, their interest in amaranth has multiplied and, together with Japan, they are the
most advanced countries in the fields of agronomic and food technology research.

"In Argentina, the potential area for cultivation includes the provinces of Salta, Jujuy, Santiago del Estero, Córdoba, Santa Fe, San Luis, the eastern region of La Pampa and western Buenos Aires", explains Luis Dyner, teacher of the Chair of Nutrition of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry (UBA). "The commercial crop in Argentina, although it has grown, occupies only about 50 hectares," he adds.

As there is no developed marketing system or a reference market, it is not a mass consumption food. In any case, the incorporation of amaranth grain in easily accessible industrialized foods, such as cereal bars, puffed grains, granola, etcetera, is being observed with increasing frequency. Its growing presence in the so-called gourmet market is also recorded.

In the 1990s, in addition to the concern about caloric-protein malnutrition in developing countries, which currently prevails in developed countries, were added the actions to prevent specific micronutrient deficiencies in vulnerable groups. This form of malnutrition, called “hidden hunger”, affects growth, physical and intellectual development in children, and job performance and productivity in adults. Iron, calcium and zinc are the most studied, because their deficit is very common and has a decided impact on health.

The quality of iron of vegetable origin is lower than that of iron contributed by meats. The level of use is conditioned by facilitators and inhibitors, present in the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract. "Facilitators are substances that help in its absorption, among these, ascorbic, citric, tartaric acids stand out.
malic, lactic and ethylenediaminetetraacetic (EDTA), and protein from meats ”, says Dyner, who obtained his doctorate in Biochemistry at the UBA, under the direction of Dr. Mirta Valencia, currently a consulting professor at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry.

Absorption inhibitors, on the other hand, fix the mineral or form highly insoluble compounds, preventing its assimilation. “These include phytates, tannins, polyphenols and some proteins of animal origin, such as dairy, bovine albumin, ovalbumin; and vegetable, such as soy and wheat ”, he clarifies.

Certain traditional food-making processes, such as fermenting bread, can be helpful in reducing the amount of inhibitors. And this is how it is possible to increase the use of iron from the activation of endogenous phytases of cereals.

In order to examine the degree of absorption of iron, calcium and zinc from amaranth, Dyner practiced in vitro a methodology called "percentage mineral dialyzability", as an indicator of bioavailability. This is defined as the proportion of a nutrient that is absorbed and used to exercise its normal organic functions. The stages of digestion and absorption are fundamental in the bioavailability of nutrients in general, and in that of minerals in particular.

"Although no in vitro method can reproduce the physiological conditions prevailing in in vivo studies, for iron the dialyzability showed results similar to those obtained in human studies", continues the researcher.

In social food aid programs, for example, if whole wheat amaranth flour, citric acid and phytases were added to fermented baked goods, enormous nutritional advantages would be obtained. In the formulation of breads, by replacing 20% ​​of the wheat flour with amaranth whole flour, a significant increase in the total mineral contribution was evidenced. "80:20 bread, with the addition of citric acid and phytase, would provide more iron than that made
only with wheat flour enriched with this mineral ”, says the specialist.

The iron-enriched wheat flour used in bakery products increased its content but, on the other hand, the dialyzability of zinc decreased, which should be considered in the design of foods for such programs. Products made with blended flours would not constitute a source of calcium.
The same procedure was put into practice for making noodles. Formulations with sodium EDTA, as a promoter of bioavailability,
presented a greater potential contribution of iron.

The use of whole wheat amaranth flour and sodium citrate in extruded products with corn or rice also showed a strong nutritional increase.

In the mixed corn or rice products and amaranth wholemeal flour (75:25), the available lysine rose by 37 and 16%, respectively.

“As a result of different processes such as the fermentation of bread, the preparation and cooking of noodles and extrusion at high temperature, an interesting decrease was observed in the amount of inositols hexa and pentaphosphate, main inhibitors of mineral absorption and protein digestibility ”Says Dyner.
Another aspect that deserves to be mentioned is that amaranth does not contain gliadins, which makes it suitable for celiacs and ideal for the industry dedicated to the manufacture of products without "TACC". The Argentine Celiac Association (ACELA) participates in the dissemination and promotion of the cultivation and use of amaranth, in order to satisfy the demand for these foods.

In relation to fiber, the general population consumes little, due to a diet poor in vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals and integral derivatives. Fiber is credited with protective properties against chronic non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. "The addition of whole amaranth flour to food products such as bread, noodles, snack products, cereal bars, puffed cereals and sweets, is extremely positive in this regard, since as has been said amaranth is consumed as a whole grain or well as whole wheat flour, which
it preserves the supply of fibers ”, concludes the researcher.

In order to promote the cultivation and consumption of amaranth, as well as other crops such as chia, quinoa, among others, in Argentina the bill “Promotion, Promotion and Development of Under-exploited Andean Crops of Nutritional Value in the Argentine Northwest ”, which aims to study the current situation, select them according to their importance and identify strategies and actions for their dissemination. At the same time, internationally, it is trying to revalue and
promote the cultivation of amaranth, for which there are research programs supported by the UN, FAO and UNICEF, among others.

* She is a nutritionist and was trained in the Course of Medical Journalism, of the Argentine Society of Medical Journalism (SAPEM), Argentine Medical Association (AMA). For this production he collaborated with the Center for Scientific Dissemination of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry of the University of Buenos Aires (CDC-FFyB-UBA).

Textual edition: Amalia Dellamea, CDC-FFyB-UBA.

Video: 8 Grains to Eat to Lose Weight and 3 to Avoid (July 2022).


  1. Choncey

    I apologize for interrupting you

  2. Najar

    I am aware of this situation. Enter we'll discuss.

  3. Frederico

    I congratulate you, this very good thought is falling by the way

  4. Vanderveer

    Between us, I wouldn't do that.

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