If you are trying to avoid gluten and reduce lectins in your diet, this article will help you understand what grains you can still include in your diet and how to prepare them. The only gluten-free grains that are also lectin-free are millet, fonio, sorghum, and teff.
Is gluten a lectin?
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.
Some of the plants with a high-lectin content are wheat, rye, beans and legumes, and nightshades. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “when consumed, lectins in their active state can cause negative side effects.
The most publicized accounts report severe reactions in people eating even small amounts of undercooked or raw kidney beans. They contain phytohaemagglutinin, a type of lectin that can cause red blood cells to clump together. It can also produce nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, and diarrhea. Milder side effects include bloating and gas.”
If you are gluten intolerant, you are probably familiar with gluten-free pseudo-grains like buckwheat and quinoa.
Does quinoa have lectins? Unfortunately, yes, quinoa has a high lectin content, which can be reduced by fermentation and pressure cooking. According to Dr. Steven Gundry, “it is highly recommended to consume pressure-cooked quinoa in moderation — and only if you absolutely must. Otherwise, it’s best to avoid quinoa lectins altogether.”
The same goes for buckwheat.
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 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 our 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 and processed 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 of plant-based essential amino acids like methionine, leucine, valine, and cystine.
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, and 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
- Chicken and Fonio with Herb-Avocado Cream
- Creamy Fonio Porridge with Almonds and Blueberries
- Baked Fonio with Pomegranate and Walnut Salsa
- Vegetarian Loaf with Mushrooms, Fonio, and Parmigiano (Gluten-Free)
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.
New article about fonio
For more detailed information about fonio, check out this article Fonio: a Healthy Addition to a Gluten-Free and Lectin-Free Diet.
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
Does popcorn have lectins? Although gluten-free, popcorn and corn have lectins. But don’t worry, you can make amazing popped sorghum that tastes exactly like popcorn (just much smaller in size).
This is what you need to make popped sorghum, a great lectin-free replacement for popcorn:
- whole grain sorghum
- heavy-duty, stainless steel saucepan, with a lid
- oil is optional
- flavors: butter and salt
If you are familiar with making popcorn on the stove, use the same method.
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 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.
New article about teff
For more detailed information about teff check out this article All About Teff, the Ancient Grain Gaining Popularity.
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.
If you are interested in following a lectin-light or lectin-free diet, check out our article:
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Vicki joAugust 6, 2022 at 2:39 pm
I need to know about the histamine, histamine liberator, and oxalate content of these 4 grains. Being gluten-free and lectin free is great. But I also react to these 2 other things. Hopefully they are low in both and not histamine liberators either. Thank you for your help.
Sincerely, Vicki jo
ClaudiaAugust 7, 2022 at 5:10 am
Hi Vicki, from my knowledge, grains are not on any high histamine list. Histamine intolerance is a very complex topic, if you search this website you will find a few articles. As with histamine sensitivity, oxalate sensitivity is due to gut dysbiosis. So once you identify the cause of your gut problems, and treat it, you will be able to handle a diversity of foods. All plants have anti-nutrients, so getting into the rabbit hole of eliminating all of them only makes the root cause worse. Anyway, in my opinion, I would not place these grains on any of the lists above, but it depends on how you handle these grains and their quality. In our days, everything can be contaminated with mycotoxins, so buy the best quality you can find, preferably organic. Eat them in moderation. I hope this helps xx
LizFebruary 3, 2023 at 11:29 am
Hello Claudia, You’re recipes are so nutritious and delicious. A huge help to navigate Lectin Free land. Re the 4 grains, do they all have a negative effect on the thyroid is consumed “too much”? How often can one safely eat any of them as porridge? Is there any lectin free substitute for oatmeal porridge that is safe to eat daily?
ClaudiaFebruary 3, 2023 at 12:09 pm
Hi Liz, thank you so much for the kind words; I’m happy my information helps you in your journey. There is no simple answer to your questions about the 4 grains, but I am a fan of diversification and rotation of foods. No one will know for sure how much impact having a bowl of grains every morning will have on your thyroid. I think when people say it will have a negative impact, is just a guess (same if they say it will not affect you). That’s why I prefer not to eat the same thing every day, especially grains, and especially if they are not fermented (I think that is made into sourdough, is more acceptable). If you like porridge, I would have porridge twice (maybe three times) a week, rotating in between grains, and diversify your breakfast the other five days. All 4 grains make delicious porridge. Another reason for me to not have porrdige every day will be the carb content. All grains are pretty high in carbs, and I do carb cycling. When I do a cab load (a high carb day), a porrdige would be great. I hope this helps xx
LizFebruary 3, 2023 at 2:42 pm
Thanks so much Claudia, this helps very much. I appreciate your thoughtful reply.
HarlandMarch 14, 2023 at 4:11 am
Hi Claudia, can you please share further info yo clarify the specific types of each grain (seed) crop that you recommend for culinary / nutrition al food use, in particular in regard to millets where a number of different genera and species of plant are teferred to as millet, with a range of common names, for example pearl millet, Japanese millet etc. Thank you.
ClaudiaMarch 14, 2023 at 1:53 pm
Hi Harland, all millets are lectin-free and have similar tastes and nutritional profiles. Use whichever is available to you.
JanMarch 17, 2023 at 12:59 pm
Thanks so much for All of your valuable content. This website is a godsend for those just embarking on the Plant Paradox lifestyle.. I’ve just ordered your new cookbook after trying a couple of your recipes.
My question is about traveling. I’m going on a 10 day holiday trip with friends to an island not on the usual tourist destinations list and subject to grocery delivery interruptions. I know without a doubt, that low lectin food will be all but impossible, and bringing food really impossible. What tips can you offer?
ClaudiaMarch 17, 2023 at 1:11 pm
Hi Jan, thank you for the kind words; I’m happy I can help. I have a travel article on the website, search ‘travel’ and you will find it, I think you will find a lot of tips and tricks there. I do a lot of travel to all kinds of places, and I always manage to find something good to eat. All shops have some kind of basic foods you can eat, from sweet potatoes, to cabbage, to nuts, to seasonal vegetables. Eggs are pretty much everywhere. Some seafood or fish if you are on an island. I’d say focus on eating simple, local, fresh foods, even if sometimes not lectin-free and avoid processed food. I assume you will have a kitchen. Also, enjoy your holiday!!