Amaranth (Amaranthus spp) is a healthy grain that is increasingly being used in many breads, cereals, and snack foods. Although it is relatively new to the commercial foods scene, this whole grain has been used for thousands of years by the Incans and Aztecs in their foods. Amaranth is commonly referred to as a “pseudocereal” because, while it is classified as a grain, it has a high protein content that is consistent with a bean.
Although there are over 60 different species that encompass the genus Amaranthus, only three of them are commonly consumed and used together in products: Amaranthus hypochondriacus, Amaranthus cruentus, and Amaranthus caudatus. The use of amaranth has been examined in a variety of health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. Amaranth has also been touted as having heart-healthy benefits, but is it effective in lowering your cholesterol levels?
Amaranth Has Cholesterol-Lowering Potential
Although there are quite a few studies that have examined the effect of amaranth consumption on cholesterol levels, few studies have looked at the cholesterol-lowering benefits of amaranth in humans. Most studies have involved animals – including rabbits, rats, and hamsters – that were given amaranth in their daily diet. Additionally, these small studies have only looked at a few species of amaranth, mainly A cruentus and A hypochondriacus, which are a couple of the more common species of amaranth included in foods. There were also a variety of forms of amaranth used in these studies, including seeds, oil, flour, grain and extract.
Small-scale studies examining the use of amaranth in reducing cholesterol suggest that amaranth can lower LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides. Animal studies revealed that introducing amaranth into their daily diets resulted in LDL cholesterol being lowered by between 10% and 50% and total cholesterol levels were lowered by up to 50% studies. Triglycerides were only slightly lowered in these studies, with the highest drop occurring by 17%. HDL, on the other hand, did not appear to be significantly increased in the animal studies.
In human studies, only amaranth oil has been used. It was discovered that including 18 mL (which contains 600 mg of squalene, an unsaturated fat) of amaranth oil can reduce LDL cholesterol by as much as 25% and total cholesterol by 20%. triglycerides were also lowered by up to 36% in these studies. As with the animal studies, amaranth did not appear to significantly affect HDL levels.
How Does Amaranth Lower Cholesterol?
Although the manner by which amaranth lowers cholesterol is not known, there have been many suggestions. Amaranth is high in the unsaturated fat, squalene. Previous studies using only squalene extracted from food products resulted in lower cholesterol levels. Although squalene is involved in the pathway that makes cholesterol in the body, it is not exactly known how introducing squalene into the diet lowers cholesterol.
Other studies suggest that the heart-healthy chemicals contained in amaranth, such as soluble fiber and phytosterols, are the cause of lowered LDL and total cholesterol noted in these studies. Both ingredients work by reducing the amount of cholesterol absorbed into the blood from the small intestine.
The Bottom Line…
Although more studies are needed to further investigate amaranth’s cholesterol-lowering ability, this healthy grain is off to a good start. Although there is no recommended amount of amaranth to include in your diet, human studies included up to 18 mL of amaranth oil, which is equivalent to over a tablespoon of amaranth oil a day. However, because of their nutritional properties, other forms of amaranth – including grain and flour – can also be incorporated into any heart-healthy diet.
If you’re interested in including amaranth in your cholesterol-lowering diet, there are many tips and recipes available to help you create tasty meals:
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