Teff may not be as well-known as other gluten-free grains such as quinoa or buckwheat, but it rivals even the most popular varieties in terms of taste, texture and health benefits. Not only does it provide an impressive set of nutrients, but it’s also been associated with a wide range of benefits, including improved circulation, enhanced weight loss, better bone health and more.
Is teff high in protein? And how can it impact your health? Here’s what you need to know about this super grain and why you should consider bringing it into your kitchen.
What Is Teff?
Teff, also known by its scientific name, Eragrostis tef, is a small, gluten-free grain with a long list of health benefits. It’s a species of lovegrass, native to Ethiopia, where it’s an important grain and used to make injera or keyta. Teff is also used in India, Australia and the United States, where it’s raised in states like Idaho and Kansas.
Between 8,000 and 5,000 B.C., the people of the Ethiopian highlands were among the first to domesticate plants and animals for food. The teff plant was one of the earliest plants to be domesticated. In fact, teff grass is believed to originate in Ethiopia and Eritrea between 4,000 B.C. and 1,000 B.C.
The grain is gaining popularity in the U.S. because it’s a gluten-free option that boasts a number of health benefits. In particular, it’s known to naturally balance hormone levels, boost immunity, stimulate digestion, strengthen bones, promote cardiovascular health and even aid weight loss.
The teff seed is very tiny, measuring less than one millimeter in diameter. A handful of teff is enough to plant a large area. Teff is a high-fiber food and a strong source of protein, manganese, iron and calcium. The array of vitamins and minerals found in teff contribute to its role as a healthy, weight-managing and bone-strengthening food.
One cup of cooked teff contains approximately:
- 255 calories
- 1.6 grams fat
- 20 milligrams sodium
- 50 grams carbohydrates
- 7 grams dietary fiber
- 10 grams protein
- 0.46 milligrams thiamine (31 percent DV)
- 0.24 milligrams vitamin B6 (12 percent DV)
- 2.3 milligrams niacin (11 percent DV)
- 0.08 milligrams riboflavin/vitamin B2 (5 percent DV)
- 7.2 milligrams manganese (360 percent DV)
- 126 milligrams magnesium (32 percent DV)
- 302 milligrams phosphorus (30 percent DV)
- 5.17 milligrams iron (29 percent DV)
- 0.5 milligrams copper (28 percent DV)
- 2.8 percent zinc (19 percent DV)
- 123 milligrams calcium (12 percent DV)
- 269 milligrams potassium (6 percent DV)
- 20 milligrams sodium (1 percent DV)
1. Aids Circulation
The iron in teff increases oxygenation to important organs and areas of the body. Iron is needed to produce hemoglobin, a type of protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs and transports it throughout your body to your cells.
Did you know that iron deficiency is the single most prevalent nutritional deficiency worldwide? In fact, it accounts for anemia in five percent of American women and two percent of American men. Anemia occurs when the body is unable to get enough oxygen to the cells and tissues; as a result, the body feels weak and fatigued.
A 2008 study conducted at Virginia Tech states that iron deficiency anemia can result in a wide variety of adverse outcomes, including diminished work or exercise capacity, impaired thermoregulation, immune dysfunction, GI disturbances and neurocognitive impairment. Fortunately, due to its iron content, teff can help treat and prevent anemia symptoms.
2. Promotes Weight Loss
Copper provides the body with energy and helps heal the muscles, joints and tissue. As a result, teff, which contains 28 percent of our daily value of copper in just one cup, promotes weight loss and increased energy.
Adenosine tri-phosphate (or ATP) is the body’s energy currency; the food that we eat is utilized as fuel, and this fuel is converted into ATP. ATP is created in the mitochondria of cells, and copper is needed for this production to properly take place. Copper acts as a catalyst in the reduction of molecular oxygen to water, which is the chemical reaction that takes place when ATP is synthesized. This means that copper allows the body to create the fuel it needs to boost energy levels and burn fat.
Consuming copper-rich foods also makes protein more available to the body by freeing up iron in the blood, making it better utilized. Because it influences ATP and protein metabolism, it’s important for general healing and well-being.
Teff’s fiber content is also another contributing factor to its role as a food that can help you lose weight fast. An interesting 2010 study published in the Journal of Animal Science evaluated the nutrient composition of teff hay that was fed to obese horses. As a result of this analysis, digestion improved for the horses, and the researchers concluded that teff hay is an appropriate forage source for obese horses and those at risk for laminitis or other metabolic disorders.
3. Relieves PMS Symptoms
Adding teff to your diet cuts back inflammation, bloating, cramping and muscle pain associated with menstruation. Because teff is a food high in phosphorus — containing 30 percent of your daily value — it helps balance hormones naturally. In fact, hormone balance is the primary factor that determines the PMS symptoms someone experiences, so teff also serves as a natural remedy for PMS and cramps.
Plus, copper increases energy levels, so it helps women who feel sluggish and fatigued before and during menstruation. Copper also helps relieve muscle and joint pain while reducing inflammation.
4. Boosts the Immune System
Because thiamine aids digestion, it allows the body to extract nutrients from food more easily; these nutrients are used to boost immunity and defend the body from illness. Thiamine helps in the secretion of hydrochloric acid, which is essential for the complete digestion of food particles and absorption of nutrients. That means you don’t want a thiamine deficiency, and consuming teff can help prevent developing one.
5. Supports Bone Health
Over 10 million U.S. adults are affected by osteoporosis, and it’s one of the leading causes of bone fractures in the elderly. Luckily, teff is a great source of calcium and manganese, so it promotes bone health. Calcium-rich foods are critical for bones to solidify properly. Growing young adults need enough calcium in order for the body is achieve its peak bone mass.
Manganese, in combination with calcium and other minerals, can help reduce bone loss, especially in older women who are more susceptible to bone fractures and weak bones. Manganese deficiency also poses a risk for bone-related disorders because it helps with the formation of bone regulatory hormones and enzymes involved in bone metabolism.
6. Aids Digestion
Due to fiber’s structure and our inability to absorb it, fiber passes through our digestive system unabsorbed by digestive enzymes within the stomach, taking with it toxins, waste, fat and cholesterol particles. In the process, it helps improve heart health, promote feelings of fullness and support digestion and detoxing.
A high-fiber diet helps speed up the time it takes waste to pass quickly through the digestive tract, which prevents indigestion. Eating teff and drinking plenty of water throughout the day will keep you regular, which affects every other bodily process.
7. Supports Cardiovascular Health
Consuming teff can naturally lower blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Teff is rich in vitamin B6, which maintains healthy blood vessels and reduces the risk of heart disease. Vitamin B6 benefits the body by regulating levels of a compound called homocysteine within the blood.
Homocysteine is a type of amino acid acquired from eating protein sources, and high levels of homocysteine in the blood are linked to inflammation and the development of heart conditions. Without enough vitamin B6, homocysteine builds up in the body and damages blood vessel linings; this can set the stage for dangerous plaque buildup, resulting in the threat of heart attack or stroke.
A 1999 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation found that when patients take vitamin B6 along with folate, total homocysteine concentrations are significantly reduced. Vitamin B6 helps treat high homocysteine levels so the body can heal the damage to blood vessels. Vitamin B6 also plays a role in managing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are two other important factors for preventing heart disease.
8. Manages Diabetic Symptoms
Teff helps slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Consuming one cup of teff supplies the body with more than 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of manganese. The body needs manganese to help with proper production of digestive enzymes responsible for a process called gluconeogenesis, which involves the conversion of protein’s amino acids into sugar and the balance of sugar within the bloodstream. Manganese has been shown to help prevent high blood sugar levels that can contribute to diabetes — working as a diabetes natural remedy.
A 2013 study conducted at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center tested the effects of manganese supplementation in mice that were susceptible to diet-induced diabetes. The research suggests that the group of mice given manganese over 12 weeks experienced improved glucose tolerance compared to mice not taking manganese. The manganese-treated group exhibited improved insulin secretion, decreased lipid peroxidation and improved mitochondrial function.
9. Serves as High Source of Protein
There are a number of benefits of eating more protein foods everyday. It keeps our metabolism running, our energy up and our blood sugar levels stable. Without enough diverse protein food sources in your diet, you risk becoming deficient in certain amino acids, which leads to low energy, trouble building muscle mass, low concentration and memory, unstable blood sugar levels and difficulty maintaining or losing weight. Eating foods with protein, like teff, improves muscle mass, balances hormones, keeps appetite and mood in check, promotes healthy brain function and slows aging.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences suggests that when a high-protein diet is consumed by athletes, it elevates levels of functioning and stimulates protein muscle synthesis. According to the research, high-protein snacks and foods should be consumed by athletes who are involved in high-frequency and high-intensity workouts.
10. Serves as a Gluten Alternative
Teff is a gluten-free grain, so people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can safely add teff to their gluten-free diet and take advantage of its health benefits. Celiac disease is a serious digestive disorder that’s increasing around the world. When a person has celiac disease, gluten causes an immune reaction that targets the intestinal villi. These finger-like projections are responsible for nutrient absorption, and the damage flattens the villi over time. The disease is linked to issues like malnutrition and can cause a long list of adverse effects on health.
Some common symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance include abdominal bloating or pain, anxiety, joint or bone pain, canker sores, constipation, infertility, skin rashes, vomiting, foul-smelling or fatty stool and chronic diarrhea. Gluten intolerance is also considered significantly more prevalent than celiac disease.
To overcome gluten sensitivity, try going gluten-free for a while so your intestinal villi can recover and then slowly introduce wheat products back into your diet. If you experience similar reactions after consuming gluten, you may have a more severe intolerance that requires avoiding it altogether. Teff is a great alternative to wheat, so experiment with this tiny grain or other gluten-free grains like quinoa and pay close attention to the way your body reacts to the change.
How to Use
Wondering where to buy teff? Fortunately, teff is widely available and can be easily found in local health food stores and online retailers. When storing teff, make sure it’s kept in a sealed container to maximize its potential shelf-life.
So what does teff taste like? It has a sweet, light flavor that’s often described as earthy and nutty. This makes it a great addition to just about any gluten-free dish or recipe.
Teff is commonly used to make injera bread in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Injera is a sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, spongy texture. Injera is made with teff flour, which is mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, as with sourdough starter; as a result of this process, injera has a mildly sour taste. The injera is then ready to be baked into large, flat pancakes.
Just like a pancake, the injera dough is a liquid texture that’s poured onto a baking surface. It’s cooked in a circle and used as a base for other foods, much like a french crepe. It’s traditionally used to scoop up sauces, meats and vegetables, which is easy because of its porous texture.
So how do you cook teff? Cooking teff is similar to quinoa; it cooks quickly, and it’s very easy. Here’s how to cook the grain:
- Add one cup of teff and three cups of water to a medium-sized pot.
- When the water boils, turn down the heat to a simmer and cover the pot with a lid.
- Remove the teff from heat after 15–20 minutes or when the water is completely dissolved.
Once you’ve prepared your batch, there are plenty of options for how to eat teff. If you are new to cooking with teff, think of it as quinoa and experiment with a few of the best quinoa recipes. Teff may need more water than quinoa when cooking. Start by adding one cup of teff and three cups of water. You will notice immediately that teff is smaller than quinoa, but it adds a filling and fluffy element to any dish.
Teff is often compared to millet as well, so try these 24 millet recipes for inspiration too!
Teff porridge is a popular dish; you can make it the same way as quinoa porridge, just keep an eye on the liquidity as you cook and remove the mixture from heat as soon as the liquid is evaporated.
Because injera, the Ethiopian teff bread, already looks a bit like a pancake, trying quinoa banana oat pancakes is a great way to experiment with this nutritious grain. This recipe is gluten-free, healthy and delicious.
Risks and Side Effects
Although uncommon, some people have reported allergic reactions or intolerances after consuming teff. If you experience any adverse side effects or food allergy symptoms such as hives, itching or swelling, discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.
However, for most people, teff is perfectly safe and nutritious when consumed in food amounts. It serves as a great alternative to wheat, and it boasts a ton of health benefits. If you are new to teff, start experimenting. You will love the flavor and texture of this traditional Ethiopian grain.
- Teff is a small, gluten-free grain that is native to Ethiopia but now cultivated and enjoyed around the world.
- In addition to providing plenty of fiber and protein, teff is also high in manganese, phosphorus, magnesium and B vitamins.
- What are the benefits of teff? Some of the top teff benefits include improved heart health and circulation, increased weight loss, enhanced immune function, better bone health, decreased diabetes symptoms and more.
- There are plenty of teff recipes and ideas for how to cook teff out there, but it can be easily swapped in for other gluten-free grains such as quinoa or millet.
- Besides being highly versatile and easy to prepare, teff is also delicious and jam-packed with nutrients and health benefits, making it a great addition to a gluten-free diet.