Low FODMAP foods: Quinoa, Amaranth and Fat Hen  

All of these plants provide edible seed crops that are high in protein and essential minerals such as calcium, and are gluten free. They are foods that have been popular in South America for thousands of years and are valuable alternatives to oligosaccharides rich cereals. These seed grains can valuable additions to the low FODMAP diet

What are FODMAPS?

In people with food intolerances and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), certain foods draw fluid into the bowel creating gas as bacteria cause fermentation. The foods most likely to cause trouble are sugars with the following characteristics:

Fermentable: rapidly processed by bowel bacteria.

Oligosaccharides: fructans and galacto oligosaccharides

Disaccharides: lactose

Monosaccharides: fructose


Polyols: sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol.

The oligosaccharides provide essential fibre in the diet and are not absorbed by anyone. In a normal gut they are not a problem, but in IBS, where inflammation is present, they can aggravate symptoms. They are at high levels in cereals, such as wheat and rye-based products, but low in seed-based foods such as amaranth, quinoa and rice.

What is Quinoa (kinwa)?

It is species of goosefoot (Chenopodium), and is a  crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is not a member of the grass family so it not technically a cereal. As a chenopod, quinoa is closely related to species such as beetroots, spinach and fat hen. As a member of the Amaranthaceae family, it is related to amaranth, which is also an edible seed crop.

Chenopodium quinoa is an annual plant growing to1–2 metres high. It has broad, lobed leaves normally arranged alternately. The small flowers arise in branched, dense clusters from the top of the plant. The fruits are about 2 millimetres in diameter and of various colours—from white to red or black, depending on the cultivar. 


Quinoa is a native of the Andes, cultivated as a food crop in that region for 3,000 - 4,000 years. Similar Chenopodium species, such as fat hen (Chenopodium album), were grown and domesticated in North America before maize agriculture became dominant.

The raw seeds have a coating of bitter-tasting saponins that must be removed by washing. Most of the grain sold commercially has been processed to remove this coating.


What is Amaranth? 

The genus Amaranthus contains about 60 species of herb including ' Inca wheat' (A. caudatus).The plants are common throughout the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and India in cultivated and waste areas. Amaranth has been cultivated as a grain for over 4000 years, including in South and Central America, where it was a staple food of the Aztecs.

What is Fat Hen (Chenopodium album)

It is a seen all over the world and you probably have it in your garden, and look at it as a common weed. It is extensively cultivated and consumed in Northern India as a food crop and is closely related to quinoa, but has smaller seed heads and leaves. Each plant produces tens of thousands of black seeds. These are high in protein, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. 

Its native range is obscure due to extensive cultivation, but includes most of Europe, eastern Asia  and is an introduced species in  Africa, Australasia, North America and Oceania. In India, the plant is popularly called bathua and found abundantly in the winter season as a food crop. 

How are these plants eaten? 

Quinoa, Amaranth and Fat hen seeds can all be cooked the same way as rice, placed in boiling water until soft, and can be used in a wide range of dishes.

The leaves can be eaten as a leafy vegetable. High levels of oxalic acid are present in the leaves and stems of all species of the Chenopodium genus, and are also in the related genera of the Amaranthaceae family. The risks associated with quinoa are minimal, provided it is properly prepared and the leaves are not eaten to excess.

The seeds may be germinated to boost nutritional value, provided that the seeds are rinsed thoroughly to remove any saponin. It has a short germination period: only 2–4 hours in clean water is enough to make it sprout and release gases, as opposed to 12 hours with wheat. This process, besides its nutritional enhancements, softens the seeds, making them suitable to be added to salads and other cold foods.

In India fat hen (bathua) leaves and young shoots are used in dishes such as soups, curries, and paratha-stuffed breads, especially popular in Punjab. The seeds are used in phambra or laafi, gruel-type dishes in Himachal Pradesh, and in mildly alcoholic fermented beverages such as soora and ghanti.

Nutritional value?

Protein content is high for these seeds/pseudo-cereals (12-17% by mass), but not as high as most beans and legumes. The protein content per 100 calories is higher than brown rice, potatoes, barley and millet, but is less than wild rice and oats. They are a good source of dietary fiber and phosphorus and are high in calcium,  magnesium and iron. They are all gluten-free and considered easy to digest. Because of these characteristics, these foods are suitable for people with lactose, gluten and fructose malabsorption problems and are included in the FODMAB diet (Shepherd, S. and Gibson,P, Food Intolerance Management Plan, Penguin Books, 2011).

An example recipe: Quinoa Salad

Yield:6 to 8 servings

12 cups water

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed

5 pickling cucumbers, peeled, ends trimmed, and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 large tomato, cored, seeded, and diced

1 bunch Italian parsley leaves, chopped

2 bunches mint leaves, chopped

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 lemon, juiced

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 heads endive, trimmed and separated into individual spears

1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced, for garnish


Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the quinoa, stir once, and return to a boil. Cook uncovered, over medium heat for 12 minutes. Strain and rinse well with cold water, shaking the sieve well to remove all moisture.  

When dry, transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Add the cucumbers, onion, tomato, parsley, mint, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss well. Spoon onto endive spears, top with avocado, and serve.  

Copyright (c) 2006, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger  






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