Like millet and quinoa, amaranth is usually mistaken for a grain, but it is actually a seed known as a “pseudo-grain.”
There are 60 different species of “amaranthus.”(1) You can view several types of amaranth here: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/types-of-amaranth.
Amaranth is power-packed with lots of gluten-free protein, 26.17% per 100 grams uncooked, but that’s not all! (The protein is reduced to 9.35% after cooking – sprouting is known to increase most nutritional properties of all seeds, legumes and grains [A]) Amaranth contains over three times the amount of calcium than quinoa and millet or any other grain! When we sprout amaranth for our birds we are “unbinding” the calcium that is locked by phytic acid (2) causing the calcium, as well as other minerals and nutrients to be fully absorbed in the digestive tract! In addition amaranth is the only “grain” known to contain Vitamin C! This is a plus due to my current hypothesis that exotic birds through “forced evolution” (domestication) are losing their innate ability to synthesize Vitamin C intrinsically. Vitamin C is a naturally anti-histamine and with so many birds developing auto-immune disorders and displaying allergy-like symptoms such as food sensitivities Vitamin C plays a large role in countering the symptoms of mast cell granulation; those allergy-like symptoms such as itching, scratching, pinkish-red skin, sneezing, wheezing, sinus infections, etc. (3, 4, 5) Amaranth also contains Vitamin E and all of the essential fatty acids (dietary fat).
Studies indicate amaranth as close to any nutrition living creatures could receive from any animal source of nutrition than any other plant source of nutrition! In addition amaranth contains lunasin-like peptide known for its cholesterol-reducing and cancer preventing properties. The only other known plant lunasin has been discovered is in soy. (6, 7) Due to the phyto-estrogen properties of soy as well as the negative properties such as hypothyroidism and other endocrine disorders and even cancer. You can read the long list of scientific studies here: (Soy) . (8)
Amaranth contains “squalene oil” an Omega 2 (18:2n-6) oil found mostly in deep sea sharks living 500-1000m below sea level! Yet this rare oil is found in amaranth! (9, 10) Omega 2 is a rare, but very essential fatty acid requiring that it be ingested due to the fact it cannot be synthesized “in vivo”, meaning most living creatures cannot produce it within their own living systems. (11) Without a small amount of Omega 2 in a living creature’s system many of the other vital Omega 6s and Omega 3s cannot be properly synthesized and metabolized leading to potential malabsorption and digestive tract disorders.
Tender amaranth leaves are a great source of nutrients for our birds too! These young, tender leafy greens have been found to contain high levels of beta-carotene and lutein. As most of us know beta-carotene is the precursor to Vitamin A which all of us are always attempting to get more of in our birds’ diets! Lutein is a cancer-preventing xanthophyll deep yellow-pigmented carotenoid; it is also found in egg yolks. Known as an anti-oxidant lutein protects the eyes from UV damage. (12)
It is believed that amaranth is relatively low in salicylates, but since amaranth is high in oxalates it is not advisable to feed to feather destroyers due to the fact that oxalates (13) are “histamine liberators” which can trigger a session of picking, plucking, barbering and the entire onslaught of symptoms of feather destruction in a “New York minute!” (14)
We can feed amaranth as a just-barely-sprouted seed or micro-green; both have their own, unique nutritional properties. As a barely sprouted seed, as with all seeds, amaranth will contain the digestive enzyme “amylase” which aids in the digestion and overall metabolism of dietary starches. This is keenly important due to the fact that birds do not produce amylase in their mouths like humans do. Because of this fact when consuming starches an unnecessary strain is placed on the overall endocrine system, the pancreas in particular potentially leading up to, but not limited to pancreatitis, avian diabetes and thyroid problems. This is why I always discourage feeding “dead” starch in the form of over-ripe bananas, certain varieties of squash, pumpkin, pastas and highly processed foods including kibble bird foods. Regarding the micro-green form of amaranth, while it does not contain amylase, the fiber it consists of is mostly “hemicellulose”, one of the exact classifications of fiber (the other being “pectin” fiber from fruit), that our birds require for the smooth performance of their digestive tract. Hemicellulose is a soluble fiber that gently flushes toxins while delivering the maximum amount of nutrients to the digestive tract. In addition both hemicellulose and pectin fibers help normalize and balance blood glucose levels so that not too much, or not enough glucose enters the blood at any one time ensuring that our birds have just the right amount of glucose in their system at all times. Cellulose from vegetables does not and cannot offer these same properties, but instead acting as a laxative leaches out the very nutrients the foods that contain cellulose. In addition cellulose, again acting as a laxative containing insoluble fiber cannot deliver nutrients, it can only remove nutrients as it passes through the digestive tract. Cellulose cannot be used as a nutrient source itself due to the fact that our birds do not produce the digestive enzyme “cellulase” in order to digest cellulase, nor do they have a cecum in order to liquefy cellulose. (15, 16) Humans and other mammals have a cecum; parrots are not mammals, they are aves; a very special class of aves at that.
At the end of the day amaranth is a very nutritious food for our feathered friends who are not suffering from the “Mutilation Syndrome™” or any already existing auto-immune disorder stemming from digestive tract problems. If your bird is suffering from digestive tract disorders I strongly encourage a total deep detox and replenishment of your bird’s gut flora with the proper program using pre-biotic foods, probiotic foods and a soil-based probiotic to re-establish the kind of gut flora this special class of aves require in order to thrive!
Please stay tuned for more “Really RAW for Birds” exotic avian nutrition in the weeks and months to come! I will be addressing lots and lots of individual foods, raw nutrition, sprouting, feather destruction, gut flora replenishment and whole lot more!
Happy foraging with your feathered friend!
Ref: (1) http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/amaranth-may-grain-of-the-month-0; [A] http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/sprouted-whole-grains; (2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phytic_acid; (3) http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6420?manu=&fgcd=; (4) http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6451?manu=&fgcd=; (5) http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/6447?manu=&fgcd=; (6) http://www.lunasin.com; (7) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15730231; (8) http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/studies-showing-adverse-effects-of-dietary-soy-1939-2008; (9, 10) http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/health-benefits-of-amaranth; http://www.scienceforlife.eu/tekst%20what%20is%20squalenel.htm; (11) https://books.google.com/books?id=Hcl0fkcrfbEC&pg=PA676&lpg=PA676&dq=18:2n-6&source=bl&ots=Peyj2-hO3R&sig=wyHPj8wA7uGFT9IMOlSSZqj6R68&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAjgKahUKEwjJ_ais86bIAhWLjg0KHVtQBEI#v=onepage&q=18%3A2n-6&f=false; (12) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3708350; (13) http://oxvox.com/what-are-oxalates; (14) http://www.low-histamine.com/blog/amaranth-is-it-suitable-for-histamine-intolerance; (15) http://www.aviannutritionresource.co.uk/avian-digestive-systems.php; (16) https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/wilson/v107n01/p0093-p0121.pdf .
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