The Gluten-Free Grain That You Don’t Eat…But Should

By , Category : General Health

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Teff is gluten-free grain, native to the northern Ethiopian Highlands of East Africa.Here’s a gluten-free grain that you might not have heard about. It’s called teff and it’s a staple of Ethiopian cuisine.

Ethiopians use this grain to make a delicious, sourdough flatbread called injera. If you’ve ever tasted this bread, you’ll know how well it complements other dishes served up on the Ethiopian menu such as wot, a stew that takes many different forms.

Injera is used as an edible plate and foods are placed on top of the bread. Diners simply tear off a piece of bread and roll some food inside. Teff is also used to make alcoholic beverages such as tella and katikala.

The word teff itself roughly translates as lost. This is because teff is the smallest grain in the world and is often lost during harvesting in the threshing process. But this tiny grain is one you definitely need to know about, because it has many health benefits.

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Nutritional Properties of Teff

Teff is estimated to contain 80% complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are made from chains of sugar or glucose molecules. These types of carbohydrates are also high in starch which is why they are sometimes called starches. Complex carbohydrates offer an excellent source of fuel for your body as well as fiber which is needed for good digestive health. Teff also contains about 10% protein and three percent fat.

One of the nutritional properties that make teff unique in the world of whole grains is the fact that it contains the essential amino acid lysine. Lysine is not well represented in other grains. Wheat, barley, and millet all have lower amounts of this amino acid.

Lysine’s main role is to help in the building of proteins. Lysine is also used to make collagen and in the production of hormones, enzymes and antibodies. Lysine aids in calcium absorption and influences the amount of nitrogen you have in your body.

And last but not least, teff contains iron, calcium and potassium—all beneficial and necessary nutrients that you need every day in your diet. In fact, eating just one cup of cooked teff will give you your entire daily recommended dose of iron.

Health Benefits of Teff

So can this grain impart any specific health benefits? According to researchers, teff may have a role to play in diabetes prevention. This is largely due to teff’s fiber content which is much higher than other grains with the exception of rye.

Although there is little published research on the direct effects of teff in preventing the onset of diabetes, researchers have studied the Ethiopian diet, which teff makes up a big part of, and found that Ethiopians who immigrated to Israel and changed their diet—adopting to the local diet—saw an increase in diabetes from 10% to 17% very rapidly.

This has led researchers to believe that the health benefits of teff really can help prevent chronic diseases like diabetes.

You can look for teff flour at your local health food store. As for injera, you can make it yourself at home or buy some from a local Ethiopian restaurant.

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Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Forsido, S.F., et al., “Antioxidant capacity, total phenolics and nutritional content in selected ethiopian staple food ingredients,” Int J Food Sci Nutr. June 19, 2013.
Piccinin, D., et al., “More About Ethiopian Food,” EthnoMed web site, December 14, 2010; www.ethnomed.org, last accessed June 27, 2013.


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Dr. Victor Marchione, MD

About the Author, Browse Victor's Articles

Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The... Read Full Bio »