Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Amaranth: Spicing Up Your Breakfast The Aztec Way!

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You may recall my breakfast confession from a few months ago. You remember, right? How I used to eat anything BUT breakfast food for breakfast? Seriously, when I was in elementary school a bowl of spaghetti or some leftover meatloaf would do just fine in my book. Gross, I know.

Though I've graduated from leftover meatloaf, I still feel like something's missing in the breakfast arena. You've got your eggs, your granola, your toast... maybe even your healthy smoothie if you're feeling spunky... but all these choices still leave me feeling like something's missing. This past weekend I decided it was high time to try something new... something old school yet little known... a little something I like to call amaranth.

Excited? Ok, good. Here we go! Let's talk about amaranth.

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Amaranth is usually grouped into the 'grain' category, although it's not really a grain. It's actually the seed of a flowering herb. Amaranth has been around for a long, long time. It was a dietary staple of the Aztecs. At one point in time, it represented almost 80% of their daily caloric consumption! To this day, amaranth is generally grown in Mexico, Peru and Guatamala, although many Asian countries now grow it as well. You can find it in your local health food store or natural grocery store (think 'Whole Foods')!

And great news for a few of my sensitive friends out there, amaranth is GLUTEN-FREE! Happy stomachs everywhere!

(Insert happy stomach dance here)

Amaranth is a very concentrated source of nutrition. Let me explain why amaranth is so great...

HIGH IN PROTEIN - Just 1 cup of amaranth equals about 28 grams of protein. If you remember from my previous posts, the average person needs approximately 50 grams daily. That's almost half your daily requirement! What's even better is that you're getting the plant-based protein without the fat! Perfect combo! 

CHOCK FULL OF CALCIUM - I don't want to burst your dairy bubble, but amaranth is a better source of calcium than milk. Because amaranth also contains magnesium and silicon, which aid in calcium absorption, you are better able to use the calcium in amaranth.

GLUTEN-FREE GOODNESS - I know I said it before, but I'll say it again... if you're gluten-free, amaranth is a fantastic 'grain' source because it contains more iron and fiber than other GF grains.

HEART HEALTH - Studies have shown that amaranth consumption lowers cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, keeping your heart healthy and strong.

This weekend I wanted to experiment with amaranth. As many of you know, I'm in the midst of becoming a Certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City. As part of this week's material, we were encouraged to try cooking with something we'd never used before. That's where amaranth comes in. 

Nothing like a warm amaranth porridge to get the day started right.

For 2 servings, soak 1 cup amaranth in a bowl of water overnight for 8-12 hours (amaranth is most nutritious and digestible if it's soaked prior to cooking).
When you're ready to cook the next morning, bring 3 cups of fresh water to a boil. Meanwhile, pour the amaranth through a strainer (just make sure your strainer's holes are tiny enough to capture the amaranth, which is fairly small, even after soaking). Discard the leftover water and pour the amaranth into the boiling water. Add 1/2 tsp. of sea salt.
Reduce to a low simmer for 30 minutes and cover, stirring periodically. At the 20 minute mark, grab your healthy ingredients
and get busy doctoring your porridge. 
Throw in 1/2 cup of dried goji berries (a fantastic superfood).
Stir in 1/4 cup of milk (or a milk substitute like hemp milk in this case)... if it's not creamy enough for your liking,
don't be afraid to add more.
Add 2 Tbs. of honey...
Add 1/2 cup of currants, raisins or cranberries, whichever you prefer.
Top with raw pine nuts or any other nut that you're digging on (pecans, walnuts or
slivered almonds would work well too).
Grab a cup of hot tea and you've got yourself one impressive, immune-building breakfast!

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