Teff Grain Could Strengthen Your Microbiome, Study Shows


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Key Takeaways

  • Relatively new to the U.S., teff grain may potentially improve gut health and help with mineral absorption.
  • In general, whole grains have been shown to be helpful for gut health, and eating a diversity of them is important, a dietitian suggests.

Teff grain could improve the function of the gut microbiome, as well as provide high levels of nutritional iron and zinc, according to a study recently published in the journal Nutrients.

Using chicken eggs, food scientists from Cornell University injected teff seed fiber extract into the amniotic fluid as a way to simulate the type of tissues found in the human microbiome. They found that several important metabolic pathways were enriched by the teff extract.

They noted that this shows positive benefits to the gastrointestinal tract, and also other systems and tissues, which means the advantages of teff could extend beyond just gut health.

Benefits of Teff

Although relatively new to the United States, teff is considered a staple in East Africa, and especially in Ethiopia. it goes by other names like lovegrass, bunch grass, and eragrostis tef, and it cultivated for its edible seeds, similar to wheat.

Much like many other whole grains, teff is rich in:

  • Fiber
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Slow-digesting carbs

It is also gluten free and has a relatively low glycemic index, which is helpful for blood sugar control and satiety. In terms of its unique characteristics, one major benefit is the size of the edible seeds, according to dietitian Lori Chong, RDN, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

"They're very small, which makes them difficult to mill," she says. "That's an advantage, because it means teff isn't an option as a highly processed grain. You can get teff flour, but even then, you will likely get the whole grain and that means getting all the good minerals that are in there."

The fiber in the teff is mainly what strengthens the microbiome, Chong adds, because it gives your beneficial gut bacteria the nourishment they need.

"If you don't feed your good bacteria, they won't proliferate, and that's why it's vital to be feeding them properly," she says. "Teff can definitely be part of that effort."

Focus on Diversity

Another advantage to teff is that it can help diversify the type of whole grains you're eating. When it comes to the microbiome, Chong says the larger you can make your array of healthy choices, the better it will be—not just for your digestive system, but for every system.

"When you eat a broader variety of whole grains, much like eating more types of fruits and vegetables, it provides more nutrients," she says. "Your microbiome needs that kind of diversity."

Plus, she adds, whole grains like teff often form a base for other healthy options like vegetables and lean protein. For example, you might have rice or oatmeal as your "foundation," and then layer on top of that with steamed veggies, chicken breast, fruits, nuts, and seeds.

"All of those options are a great way to support your gut health, and when you do that, you'll get the health advantages," says Chong.

Go for the Gut

Stronger microbiome function has been linked to a breadth of health outcomes, not just improved digestion. Research has suggested connections between gut function and:

  • Higher immunity
  • Quality sleep
  • Heart health
  • Mood and emotional regulation
  • Brain health and memory function
  • Lower inflammation
  • Cancer prevention
  • Lower obesity risk

"Gut bacteria play a vital role in regulation of many systems of the body, and this community of bacteria is really like an organ within our gut," says Jeffrey Gordon, M.D., of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. "Variations in this community can reflect the state of our health."

What This Means For You

Every time you eat, you either help or hinder these bacteria, says Gordon. Other habits can also play a significant role for gut health, including exercise, sleep, and lowering stress, but your diet tends to be the largest factor for microbiome regulation. Finding new options to support this process, such as fiber-rich teff, can boost gut health while providing minerals like iron and zinc.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Carboni, J.; Reed, S.; Kolba, N.; Eshel, A.; Koren, O.; Tako, E. Alterations in the Intestinal Morphology, Gut Microbiota, and Trace Mineral Status Following Intra-Amniotic Administration (Gallus gallus) of Teff (Eragrostis tef) Seed ExtractsNutrients 202012, 3020. doi:10.3390/nu12103020

  2. Tang WH, Kitai T, Hazen SL. Gut Microbiota in Cardiovascular Health and DiseaseCirc Res. 2017;120(7):1183-1196. doi:10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.117.309715

By Elizabeth Millard, CPT, RYT
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.