Teff Grain: The Secret To Marathon Success?

Tuesday, January 31, 2017. Author Martin Cheifitz

Teff Grain: The Secret To Marathon Success

You are certainly forgiven if you’ve never heard of teff. It isn’t the most well known food and it is not available “everywhere”, but it is certainly worth finding and incorporating into your diet, and here’s a delicious recipe to do it: Teff and Pecan Bread.

What is Teff?

Teff is an ancient grain, predominantly grown in Ethiopia and Eritrea, but now grown in the US, Europe, and Australia in a variety of climates and altitudes from the wet lowlands of the Netherlands to the dry mountains of Idaho. The edible portion is the seed of native grasses in Ethiopia and it is most commonly ground and made into a pancake called injera, which is often used as a plate, with other foods placed on top. Teff grows in virtually any conditions, sprouts quickly, literally takes 1/100 of the space of wheat for a similar crop yield and uses far less water.

Before we go any further…...YES, it is a naturally gluten-free grain.

Teff is a tiny grain—about 1 mm in diameter, which is smaller than a poppy or chia seed—and comes in a variety of colors, from white and red to dark brown. It has a very mild, nutty flavor, and it packs a serious nutritional punch. Teff has an excellent amino acid profile, and it is also high in protein, calcium, and iron.

Sounds interesting, but what do I do with it?

Teff can be ground into flour to make an excellent gluten-free flour alternative, or eaten whole and prepared similar to quinoa or porridge (1:1 ratio with water, simmer for 5 mins and let sit until all liquid is absorbed), or sprinkled onto roasted vegetables, added to baked goods instead of (or in addition to) other small seeds, or toasted in a skillet and served as part of a muesli mixture.  Here's a delicious, nutritious, recipe for Teff and Pecan Loaf that we'd highly recommend for breakfast, or a hearty snack during the day 

If you live in a city or a reasonably sized town or suburb, you should be able to find teff at your local health food/specialty food store, or perhaps even in your supermarket’s gluten free aisle. Failing that, there are a wide variety of specialty internet retailers who can deliver it right to your front door.

Health Benefits of Teff

Teff leads all grains for calcium content, with a cup of cooked teff offering 123 mg, about the same amount of calcium as in a half-cup of cooked spinach.

Teff is also high in resistant starch, a type of dietary fiber that can benefit blood-sugar management, weight control, and colon health. Since teff’s bran and germ make up a large percentage of the tiny grain, (and unlike wheat it’s too small to process out the goodness), teff is always eaten in its whole form.

It has been estimated that Ethiopians get about two-thirds of their dietary protein from teff. Many of Ethiopia’s famed long-distance runners attribute their energy and health to teff. (Have you read our genetic analysis of those Ethiopian runners?)

Nutritional Profile

One cup (about 250 grams) of cooked (steamed) teff contains:

  • 255 calories
  • 6 grams fat
  • 50 grams carbohydrate (of which 7 grams is dietary fiber)
  • 10 grams protein
  • 46 milligrams thiamin (Vit B1) (31 percent DV)
  • 2 milligrams manganese (360 percent DV)
  • 126 milligrams magnesium (32 percent DV)
  • 302 milligrams phosphorus (30 percent DV)
  • 17 milligrams iron (29 percent DV)
  • 5 milligrams copper (28 percent DV)
  • 8 percent zinc (19 percent DV)
  • 24 milligrams vitamin B6 (12 percent DV)
  • 123 milligrams calcium (12 percent DV)
Teff’s Potential Health Benefits

Improved circulation 

Teff’s high iron content may increase oxygenation in the blood and may help improve circulation. High iron content is particularly helpful for vegetarians, whose obvious lack of red meat consumption raises their potential risk for anemia.

Weight Management 

Teff’s high copper content, as well as high protein and fibre content, all contribute to higher levels of satiety and therefore may aid in weight loss. Adding to its weight loss credentials, teff is also very low in fat and sodium.


Teff’s high copper and phosphorus content may help reduce inflammation and muscle cramps associated with menstrual cycles.

Bone Health 

Teff’s high calcium and manganese content is excellent for bone health.

Insulin Function

Teff’s high manganese content may also contribute to normal insulin function and therefore help manage symptoms of diabetes.

Gut health

Teff’s resistant starch content is a great source of nutrition for the good bacteria in the lower gut (colon) helping to create a healthy microbiota which has multiple health benefits both in the gut and in the rest of the body.

Gluten Free, Plant Protein

Teff is a good source of plant based protein and contains no gluten, which makes it a very good alternative for those who are trying to maintain muscle while reducing our reliance on animal products (and gluten containing grains).

Sources and for further reading:







Mansoor, M.A., Kristensen, O., Hervig, T., Bates, C.J., Pentieva, K., Vefring, H., Osland, A., Berge, T., Drabløs, P.A., Hetland, Ø. and Rolfsen, S., 1999. Plasma total homocysteine response to oral doses of folic acid and pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6) in healthy individuals. Oral doses of vitamin B6 reduce concentrations of serum folate. Scandinavian journal of clinical and laboratory investigation, 59(2), pp.139-146.

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