Gluten is a type of lectin. Lectins are the defensive mechanism of plants developed millions of years ago to protect themselves and their off-springs from being eaten by insects, animals, and, more recently, humans. According to Dr. Steven Gundry, lectins are a long-term defensive strategy, found in all plants but highly concentrated in only a few.
While gluten-free grains or pseudo-grains are pretty popular, only four gluten-free grains are also lectin-free: millet, fonio, sorghum, and teff.
Millet, Fonio, Sorghum and Teff – The 4 Lectin-Free and Gluten-Free Grains
Before we get an overview of each of these four grains, this is what’s generally common about millet, fonio, sorghum, and teff:
- They are ancient grains, originating in Africa
- While conventionally they are called grains, millet, fonio, and teff are technically seeds
- They are considered environmentally friendly crops
- They are gluten-free and lectin-free
- They have a better glycemic index than other more popular gluten-free and gluten-containing grains
- Consumed in moderation, they can be part of a healthy lectin-free and gluten-free diet
- They are packed with fiber and nutrients
- They are extremely versatile: in their grain form, they can be used to replace morning cereals, porridge, rice, and quinoa.
- While they are growing in popularity for culinary use around the world, they are still more difficult to find and can be more expensive than other more common grains
- The nutritional value of these 4 gluten-free and lectin-free grains can be enhanced through fermentation.
This article is about the millet, fonio, sorghum, and teff in the form of grains, not flour. All these grains can be ground into flour; for an overview of gluten-free and lectin-free flours, check my article: Quick Guide to Lectin-Free, Gluten-Free Flours
Note for people with celiac disease: due to cross-contamination, you will still have to make sure these grains are handled in a gluten-free facility and the packaging is labeled gluten-free.
How do lectins affect us?
Lectins are large, sticky proteins that will bind to sugar and will try to damage the mucosal lining of your gut. A healthy gut can withstand a certain amount of lectin attack. Still, if your diet is heavy in lectins and your gut is already damaged from an unhealthy lifestyle, the lectins will trigger the production of a protein called zonulin, which will make holes in your gut wall.
Have you ever heard of “leaky gut”? Pieces of bacteria will then be allowed to enter your bloodstream and lymphatic system and unleash your immune system, which will result in widespread inflammation and set the stage for auto-immune diseases.
According to Dr. Steven Gundry, in The Plant Paradox book, avoiding lectins in your diet will remove the root cause of “leaky gut” and will give your gut lining a chance to recover.
1. The millet grain
What is millet grain?
Millet is a small, round, ancient grain from the Poaceae family. Technically, millet is a seed, but it has a grain’s nutrient profile. Millet is probably the most known of the four lectin-free and gluten-free grains and is gaining more popularity in the West.
Millet has been around for a very long time, used in cuisines around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, tracing back thousands of years. It was the primary grain in China before rice became popular, and it is still the primary grain in many countries in Africa. Millet was also popular in the Roman Empire and Eastern Europe, where polenta and bread were made of millet. Millet is still very popular in Russia and Ukraine, and other countries in Eastern Europe.
Millet is also considered a sustainable crop, resistant to drought and pests, and surviving in harsh environments.
Is millet healthy?
Compared to other grains, millet has a relatively low glycemic index, which is less likely to spike your blood sugar.
Not only is millet a high-protein, high-fiber, and rich in antioxidants grain, but it is also an alkaline food, so it is easy to digest.
While millet has an excellent nutrient profile for a grain, it should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Millet contains anti-nutrients and goitrogenic polyphenols that can harm your health if consumed in excess.
What can I use millet grain for?
- to replace rice, as a side dish (it has a lower glycemic index)
- to replace couscous (which is made of wheat, so not gluten- or lectin-free)
- to replace quinoa (millet is alkaline, while quinoa is acid, also quinoa has lectins)
- to make porridge (as a substitute for oatmeal, which is not lectin-free and often contaminated with glyphosate)
- to make faux cornbread or polenta
- as flour, can be used to make bread and other baked goods
- in the form of flakes, can be used to replace oats in oatmeal cookies or pancakes
Just remember, make sure you don’t consume millet in excess. I eat it in different forms, about five times a month.
- Millet Stuffing
- Walnut Millet Bread
- How to Make Millet Porrdige
- Thyme Roasted Mushrooms with Millet Polenta
- Tabbouleh with Millet and Hemp Hearts
- Warm Brussel Sprouts and Millet Salad
Where can I find millet?
Millet is quite popular and easy to find in stores worldwide, but if no store carries millet around where you live, you can always order it online. Since millet is a so-called naked grain, it doesn’t have a hull and is naturally grain-free and lectin-free.
How to cook whole grain millet?
Millet can be cooked on the stove or in a pressure cooker. The typical ratio of liquid to millet is 2:1, but from my personal experience, this can slightly differ, depending on the brand of millet, but also the texture you desire. If you are making porridge or even polenta, some extra liquid will be required to create a creamy texture.
When cooked on the stove, millet tends to get a porridge-like texture, so if I want to cook millet for a salad or replace couscous or white rice, I prefer to cook it in a pressure cooker. Times and liquid ratios might differ depending on the pressure cooker you have and the required texture. Below is my current method of making fluffy millet that will work well for salads and couscous-type of dishes.
How to cook millet in a pressure cooker:
- toast 1 cup of millet until fragrant, for 2-4 minutes (use the sautee option if you have one), add 2 cups of water and pressure cook for 10 minutes.
- let the pressure release naturally, then fluff with a fork
- to reheat cooked millet you have to rehydrate it with a little water.
How to cook millet on the stove:
- this method is more appropriate for porridge and creamier textures
- toast 1 cup of dry millet for 2-4 minutes until fragrant
- add 2 cups of water and simmer on low heat until all the water is absorbed, you might need more liquid if the millet grains are still hard
- from experience and to my taste, I always end up adding a little bit more liquid, depending on what I’m planning to use the millet for
- if I make porridge, I add about one more cup of liquid: coconut or hemp milk (see my homemade hemp milk recipe), and continue to simmer until soft and creamy
2. The Fonio Grain
What is fonio grain?
Fonio is a type of millet with a much smaller grain, native to West Africa. Aside from being gluten-free and lectin-free, fonio is also a nutritional powerhouse. Unlike the common millet described above, fonio is considered an underutilized crop and is not readily available in the Western world. Viewing its environmental benefits and nutritional profile, this might change soon.
Is fonio healthy?
Fonio is probably the healthiest of the four gluten-free and lectin-free grains described in this article. Like its cousin millet, fonio has a low glycemic index, and it might not affect blood sugar like other grains. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium, and it’s also a good source for plant-based amino acids.
What can I use fonio for?
Like millet, fonio doesn’t have much of a taste, but a nuttiness can be added if lightly toasted before adding liquid. You can enhance its neutral taste by mixing it with pestos, spices, sauces. You can use fonio:
- to add to salads and serve as side dishes
- to make porridge
- to replace couscous, rice or quinoa
- to replace flour when milled
- to add to vegan meatballs
Where can I find fonio?
Unfortunately, fonio grain is not very easy to find. You might be able to find it in specialty stores, especially those with a focus on African cuisine, but your best bet is ordering online.
How to cook fonio grain?
Fonio is very easy to cook. It just needs about 5 minutes on low heat. Before boiling it, you can lightly toast it to bring out a more earthy, nutty flavor.
To cook fonio on the stove, add 2 cups of water to 1 cup of fonio and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. It doesn’t take too long. Since the cooking time is short, I never cook fonio in a pressure cooker.
3. The Sorghum Grain
What is sorghum grain?
From the Poaceae family, like millet, sorghum is one of the top five cereal crops globally, originating in Africa. Sorghum is an ancient grain packed with nutritional value and one of the four gluten-free and lectin-free grains. You can buy sorghum in the whole grain form and as ‘pearled sorghum’ (hull has been removed). I mainly use pearled sorghum in my cooking, but whole grain sorghum is excellent for making popped sorghum. Sorghum grain is the biggest among these four gluten-free and lectin-free grains.
Is sorghum healthy?
We can consume sorghum grain in moderation as part of a healthy diet as with any grain. Naturally a gluten-free and lectin-free grain, sorghum is one of the most nutritious grains you can consume. Sorghum is rich in protein, fiber, and antioxidants and packed with iron, vitamin B6, niacin, and magnesium. High in potassium and low in sodium, sorghum might help promote healthy blood pressure.
What can I use sorghum grain for?
Sorghum grain is so versatile and can be included in any meal. Taste- and texture-wise, sorghum is my favorite gluten-free and lectin-free grain. Here are some of its uses:
- use it to make porridge
- use it to replace rice, couscous or other grains and pseudo-grains
- you can make popped sorghum (like popcorn, but much smaller)
- you can add it to salads or soups
- sorghum flour can be used in baking
Where can I find sorghum grain?
Sorghum can be found as a whole grain or pearled sorghum (hulled removed). I only use whole-grain to make popped sorghum, and I use pearled sorghum for cooking. Sorghum grain is relatively easy to find in stores and easily ordered online.
Gundry MD Pearled White Sorghum
Gundry MD Pearled White Sorghum is a great-tasting alternative to couscous, quinoa, and pasta — without any of the lectins, added sugars, gluten, or extra calories. You can buy Gundry MD Pearled white sorghum here.
How to cook sorghum grain?
Making popped sorghum
I have great news if you don’t eat corn like me but sometimes miss popcorn. You can make delicious, albeit very tiny, popped sorghum, the same way you make popped corn. It would help if you used whole grain sorghum, a small but heavy-duty stainless steel pan with a lid (like a saucepan), and high heat. Oil is optional, and I prefer to make popped sorghum without oil. After popping, you can add extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, salt, or any spices and flavors you like.
Cooking pearled sorghum
While we can cook sorghum grain on the stove, it does take up to an hour. That’s why I prefer to cook pearled sorghum in a pressure cooker.
To cook sorghum in the pressure cooker: rinse well 1 cup of sorghum, and add it to the pressure cooker with 4 cups of water. Pressure cook on high (normal pressure on a manual pressure cooker) for 12-15 minutes. My sweet spot is 12 minutes, although some prefer cooking it longer. Let the pressure release naturally. If there is still some liquid left, drain it. Fluff with a fork while cooling down.
Cooked sorghum can quickly be frozen or stored in the refrigerator. I rehydrate the sorghum with hemp milk to make porridge and add spices and sweeteners to taste. You can also use cooked sorghum to make risotto by rehydrating it with vegetable stock.
4. The Teff Grain
What is teff grain?
Teff, also called lovegrass, is one of the earliest plants cultivated, originating from Africa (modern-day Ethiopia). Like millet, teff is technically a seed, part of the Poaceae family. Also called ‘the world’s smallest grain, ‘ teff has the smallest grain among these four gluten-free and lectin-free grains.
Is teff healthy?
Cooked teff is an excellent source of protein, dietary fiber, and manganese. Naturally gluten-free and lectin-free, teff is highly nutritious, rich in minerals such as iron, copper, magnesium, zinc, potassium, selenium, and exceptionally high in lysine. Due to its high mineral content, teff is sometimes used in baby food.
Like all the above cousins, teff has a lower glycemic index than other more popular grains such as wheat, quinoa, and buckwheat. Like the other three grains above, teff can be part of a healthy diet if consumed in moderation.
What can I use teff grain for?
Teff has an earthy, slightly nutty taste. You can use teff grain:
- to make porridge
- as a side dish
- to add to vegan meatballs
- milled into flour, for baking
Where can I find teff grain?
Teff grain is not readily available due to its limited production, but you can order it online from vendors selling gluten-free products in most regions worldwide.
How to cook teff grain?
How to make teff porrdige:
Lightly toast the teff grains for about 2 to 3 minutes, then add three times the amount of water, bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes, until all the water is absorbed and you get a creamy consistency. Add sweetener and flavors to taste.
If you need help ordering any of these lectin-free and gluten-free grains online, please check my SHOP Page, Flours & Grains Category, for suggestions.
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