Scientific studies have always supported the consumption of green leafy vegetables for its profound health benefits. They are rich sources of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that not only nourish the physiological needs but also prevent many diseases.
Nutritionists and health practitioners recommend that an average adult should consume at least three cups of greens per week for health. This is easier to achieve while on a paleolithic diet, since it is primarily based on eating plenty of green leafy vegetables. However, paleo places restrictions on some types of foods such as amaranth, a green leafy vegetable.
Amaranth is a popular food in Asia, South America and Africa. It belongs to a genus of herbs and is diverse in its appearance. Most of the amaranth species are considered weed, while some of them are valued as food because of their excellent nutritional profile. Amaranth is consumed as a green leafy vegetable and also in the form of seeds. The seeds provide good quality protein, dietary fiber, copper, iron, and manganese. Amaranth greens are excellent source of vitamin C, B6, A, riboflavin, iron, calcium and magnesium.
Amaranth is prohibited in paleo diet because it is a grain-like crop and contains saponins. Saponins are identified as harmful substances and have been implicated in intestinal permeability which leads to leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and some types of autoimmune disorders.
According to paleo followers, amaranth is technically not a part of paleo diet since it was not consumed by cavemen. Our paleo ancestors belonged to the pre-agricultural era which involved hunting and gathering and no agricultural practices. Grains such as amaranth were cultivated after the paleolithic era and hence were assumed as not consumed by our paleolithic ancestors.
Paleo diet prohibits all cultivated plant foods. Amaranth may or may not have been cultivated during paleolithic era and could have grown wild. Several species of amaranth are known to grow as weeds, which could have been eaten by our paleo ancestors.
Five reasons why amaranth should be consumed as part of paleolithic diet:
1) Botanical reasons: Botanically amaranth is a seed and not a grain and compared to other grains, amaranth seeds are high in lysine, which are usually absent in grains and are present in poor amounts.
2) Nutritional reasons: Amaranth leaves are nutritionally rich, and they are particularly rich source of the aminoacid lysine. The protein profile of amaranth contains a superior combination of the essential aminoacids that are highly bio available.
3) Gluten-free: Another strong evidence that amaranth is not grain is that it is gluten-free and thus devoid of most problems such as celiac disease, and trigger for other auto-immune disorders usually associated with grains.
4) Phytonutrients: Amaranth is a good source of phytonutrients such as phytosterols and lunasin. Phytosterols help in reducing the cholesterol levels in the body. Lab studies have also shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer of breast, ovaries, lungs etc due to their antioxidant properties. The compound lunasin exhibits anti-inflammatory as well as anti-cancer benefits.
5) Low toxicity levels: Amaranth is used in traditional chinese and ayurvedic system of medicine for its significant health benefits. In a study that was devised to determine the saponin levels in amaranth seeds, revealed that they contained 0.09 to 0.1 % of saponins in dry matter. Highly purified extracts of the same showed no toxicity in hamsters and the study concluded that lower percentage of saponins in amaranth seeds and low toxicity exhibited by them show no significant hazard for human consumption. Yet another research revealed that dietary saponins helped to reduce the blood cholesterol levels in animal experiments implying saponins could be beneficial in human nutrition.
Paleo Diet Basics (VIDEO):
Amaranth is more likely to be have consumed by our paleolithic ancestors as a wild green leafy vegetable than as a grain. Amaranth with plenty of health and nutritional benefits to its assets should not be ignored as part of the paleolithic diet.
Consuming amaranth in moderate amounts may certainly add value and compliment the paleolithic nutrition. While including amaranth as part of paleo diet it is best to introduce it as a 80/20 diet to check for undesirable effects.
Studies have suggested that consuming moderate amounts of amaranth does not result in harmful side effects. However, people with kidney problems, gout, leaky gut syndrome and certain autoimmune disorders should not consume amaranth.