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Fonio (Digitaria exilis) is an ancient grain originating from West Africa, where it has been cultivating for thousands of years to this day. It has a nutty flavor and a texture between that of quinoa and couscous. 

Fonio Nutrition Facts

Fonio is naturally vegan, gluten-free and packed with vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in methionine, an essential amino acid that helps protect the body from damage caused by ionizing radiation, as well as cystine, a building block of the antioxidant glutathione. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 cup of cooked fonio has 140 calories in comparison to 216 calories per cup of brown rice, 300 calories per cup of wheat pasta and 222 calories per cup of quinoa. It is very low in fat and contains only 0.5 g of fat per serving. It also contains small amounts of calcium, phosphorus as well as iron. 

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Health Benefits of Fonio

Research suggesting Fonio’s health benefits are very limited, but studies that have been done have indicated that this super grain may provide health benefits. 

1. Naturally Gluten-free

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It helps provide elasticity and gives bread and other foods a chewy texture.

While it may not be a problem for most people, others cannot tolerate it at all. Luckily, the fonio grain is actually gluten free which means that it is perfect for those who are celiac or gluten intolerant.

Celiac disease is a serious immune disease in which individuals are unable to eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine. Symptoms include constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue. 

Fortunately, because it’s gluten-free, fonio is easy to digest and can be an nutritious source of carbohydrates for those with digestive issues and intolerances. 

2. May Aid Thyroid Function

Although studies on fonio and thyroid function have been done, they are limited and date to over 20 years ago. However, research has indicated potent antithyroid properties from fonio grain nutrition.

In one study, after analysing the sample of fonio collected, the total content of flavonoids amounted to 500 mg/kg of the whole cereal grains. More specially, it was found that ten percent of apigenin and 80% of luteolin are present in fonio in free form, whereas the rest are bound as O-glycosyl flavones.

These flavonoids help regulate cellular activity, help with skin protection by fighting off free radicals  and have antithyroid properties. People with common thyroid diseases such as Graves disease or thyroid cancer take medication with these antithyroid properties to block the formation of thyroid.

This is important because hypothyroidism (excess thyroid) can raise cholesterol levels and make you more likely to have a heart attack. 

3. Improves Diabetes Management 

One study in 2018 investigated the properties of fonio flour and pig pea flour for the development of functional cracker biscuits. Adding fonio flour to the pigeon pea flour resulted in increased protein content and amino acid profile as well as significant antioxidant properties. 

The flour mix also was the lowest glycemic index (GI) of the flour types which may be helpful in lowering blood glucose after a meal.  The Gi is a rating system for foods that contain carbohydrates. It allows you to know how quickly a food will spike up your blood sugar levels.

Hence, it was concluded that the formulated crackers may be potential snacks for management of diabetes and hyperkalemia. 

This is because those who have diabetes are unable to process sugars effectively, which make it difficult to maintain the health levels of blood sugars. However, the fonio grain's low GI content makes it a great alternative to other carbohydrate sources.

4. Rich in Iron

Fonio is rich in iron, which is vital because if you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Iron can help eliminate fatigue, boost your immune system as well as treating anemia. 

According to the USDA, fonio provides 0.72mg of iron in one cup of the cooked grain, which is about 4% of your daily recommended intake.

The daily reconvened intake (RDI) of fonio is based on 18mg per day, however individual requirements will vary. For example, post-menopausal women will require much less, about 8mg instead.

Besides just being a good source of iron, fonio also contain a variety of other nutrients and minerals that can benefit your body and overall health.  

5. Aids Cardiovascular Function

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The fonio grain has been found to aid in cardiovascular function. In fact, consuming the whole grain fonio, in dehusked form, decreases the chance of cardiovascular problems including heart disease and stroke. Just like brown rice, eating the grain as it is, with the bran and germ allows you to absorb all the vitamins and minerals it contains to help keep your heart healthy. 

Fonio Recipe Ideas

Fonio Pilaf

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Fonio Breakfast Porridge

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Fonio Chicken Curry

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Fonio Balls in Sauce 

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