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The word “Teff” is thought to originate from the Amharic word teffa, which means “lost”, and likely refers to its minute seeds. This tiny, nutrient rich grain has been a staple food in Ethiopia for millennia and it is used to make the national dish injera – a sourdough flatbread that is served with every meal.
This gluten-free grain is gaining popularity in health-conscious circles for its many health benefits and the wealth of nutrients it provides.
Apart from being much easier on the digestive system than its gluten containing counterparts, Teff is high in fibre and a type of fibre known as “resistant starch”. Around 40% of the carbohydrate content of Teff is made up of resistant starch, a prebiotic fibre that passes through the gut and intestines undigested. Upon reaching the colon it feeds the friendly gut bacteria, allowing their numbers to flourish and consequently overwhelming bad bacteria, creating a healthy environment for optimum digestion.
The regular fibre in Teff speeds up the movement of waste through the digestive system. It helps to naturally alleviate constipation, bloating, cramp and other gastrointestinal issues. Because fibre is not absorbed, it passes through the digestive system taking with it waste, fat and toxins.
Healthy Weight Loss
Just one portion of Teff provides around 40 percent of the body’s requirements for copper. Copper is a key mineral for fat metabolism – it is essential for the breaking down of fat cells in usable energy.
A recent study at the University of California, Berkley, published its findings that copper plays a key role in metabolising fat. According to Chris Chang, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and leader of the study, “Copper is essential for breaking down fat cells so that they can be used for energy. It acts as a regulator. The more copper there is, the more the fat is broken down.”
Additionally, the high fibre content of Teff promotes satiety and can act as an appetite suppressant. In particular, soluble fibre helps to regulate the hormones involved in appetite control and some studies have found that it reduces the levels of hunger hormones produced by the body, including ghrelin.
Teff benefits the heart in a multitude of ways. It is high in many heart-healthy nutrients, including magnesium and vitamin B6. Magnesium helps to regulate heart rhythm, co-ordinating the activity of the heart muscle and the nerves that initiate heartbeat. Low magnesium levels can cause heart palpitations and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats).
Magnesium also helps to keep the coronary arteries from having spasms that can cause the intense chest pains known as angina. It is relatively well known that a deficiency in magnesium is the most common cause of these spasms.
Also keeping blood pressure in check, magnesium relaxes the muscles that control blood vessels, allowing the blood to flow more freely. This can help to reduce high blood pressure – an important factor in decreasing the risk of a heart attack of stroke. Magnesium’s effect on high blood pressure is further enhanced because it helps equalize the levels of potassium and sodium in the blood.
Vitamin B6 is a key factor in the manufacture of haemoglobin – the oxygen carrying component of red blood cells – and has a role in preventing heart disease. Without enough B6, a compound called homocysteine builds up in the body which can damage blood vessel linings, setting the stage for plaque build-up when the body tries to heal the damage. Vitamin B6 prevents the build-up of homocysteine, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack.
Teff is also high in many nutrients that feed and nourish the brain. Just one serving of this super-grain provides over twice the daily value of manganese – a trace mineral that is essential for healthy brain function. With powerful antioxidant properties, manganese is a component of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which helps to protect brain cells from free radical damage in the neural pathway. It can also improve cognitive function by stimulating more efficient movement of electrical impulses through the brain.
Teff provides a wide range of B vitamins that are vital to a healthy brain. It is high in vitamin B1 which improves memory and concentration, and vitamin B6 which is needed for proper brain function and prevents mental fatigue. It is also a good source of vitamins B2 and B3 which help to maintain mental agility, and all of the B vitamins are necessary to keep the nervous system functioning at an optimal level which in turn helps with the management and reduction of stress and anxiety.
Teff grains can be used to make porridge, stews and stuffing. The grain can also be cooked alone and used in the same way as quinoa.
Teff is one of the world’s most ancient grains, believed to have been domesticated around 6,000 years ago in its native Ethiopia. The Ethiopians were among the first people to domesticate plants and animals for food.
Teff is the main component of the diets of many of Ethiopia's running elite, including Haile Gebrselassie, marathon world record holder; Kenenisa Bekele, 10,000 metre world record holder; and Tirunesh Dibaba, outdoor 5,000 metre world record holder.
Teff contains protein, fibre, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, pantothenic acid, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese.
In very rare cases Teff may cause an allergic reaction.