Fonio Benefits: Top 10 Benefits of Fonio

Fonio (locally known as 'acha' or 'acca') is an ancient Super-Grain that has been grown in West Africa for 5,000 years. Today it is making headlines thanks to its moreish flavour and remarkable health benefits: The Guardian described it as “the grain that would defeat quinoa as king among foodies” and The Boston Globe as “the most nutritious grain you’ve probably never heard of”.

Fonio is a delicious, gluten-free, nutrient-rich, low GI grain from the millet family. It has a light nutty flavour and fluffy couscous like texture. Aduna Fonio is rich in iron and amino acids and a source of zinc, phosphorus and vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B3 (niacin). It can be cooked in just 3 minutes and used as an alternative to rice, couscous, quinoa or polenta in stir-fries, stews, soups, salads, porridge or as a side dish. But more than that, it provides life-changing income to women farmers in the African Sahel and restores degraded soils. Truly a “super” food that can improve your health and that of the planet while creating sustainable livelihoods in one of the world’s poorest regions.

Fonio has been predicted to be one of the hottest food trends of 2020 by Whole Foods and The Times and it’s not hard to see why. In this article we take a look at the top 10 fonio benefits.

THE TOP 10 HEALTH BENEFITS OF FONIO

Fonio Super-Grain

1. NATURALLY GLUTEN-FREE

Fonio is naturally gluten-free so it is suitable for coeliacs and those with gluten intolerance. According to Coeliac UK, coeliac disease (spelled celiac in other countries) is a serious illness where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when gluten is eaten. Coeliac disease is common and affects one in 100 people in the UK. Symptoms can include bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, wind, constipation, tiredness and anaemia and the disease is treated by eliminating gluten from the diet.³  

Fonio is genetically closer to millet (sub-family Panicoideae) than wheat or barley (sub-family Pooideae). As such fonio is reported to have “no toxic effects for people with a gluten intolerance” including coeliacs⁶.  Because it is gluten-free, fonio is notoriously easy to digest and can be helpful for anyone suffering from stomach trouble or digestive issues. 

2. LOW GI

The Glycaemic Index (GI) ranks foods containing carbohydrates based on their overall effect on blood glucose levels. Foods that are absorbed slowly produce small changes in blood glucose and therefore have a low rating. Choosing low GI foods is important for those with diabetes because these foods can help even out blood glucose levels. They can also reduce the risk of heart disease².

Studies have placed fonio’s GI between 50 and 66 (Methode Montignaque, France; Sante Diabete Mali and USDA/Institute of Food Science Technology, Senegal respectively). Whereas white rice has a GI of 73 and brown rice of 68 (Harvard Medical School).

3. DIABETIC-FRIENDLY

Fonio’s low GI and sugar content helps reduce fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels, which is beneficial for diabetics. This is well known in West Africa. According to one report, doctors in Nigeria recommend fonio to diabetic patients and fonio sellers identify diabetic patients as their major customers.²

According to the Collaborative Crop Research Programme (CCRP), another reason that fonio is a suitable choice for diabetics is because it contains higher amounts of insulin-secreting amino acids (valine, leucine, isoleucine) compared to other cereals such as rice, maize or millet⁵.

4. RICH IN AMINO ACIDS

Amino acids are vital to human health and an important part of the human diet¹. They are the building blocks of protein, which is needed for the proper growth and development of the body. There are nine essential amino acids which can’t be made by the body and so need to be supplied through food⁴.

Fonio is especially rich in essential amino acids², which is what sets it apart from other grains. In particular, it contains significant amounts of cysteine and methionine, two amino acids that are important for human growth and metabolism² and are often deficient in today's major cereals: wheat, rice, maize, sorghum, barley, and rye¹. These two sulphur-containing amino acids are known to play important roles in skin, hair, nail and overall health. Methionine has an anti-ageing effect on the skin, helps to avoid hair loss, strengthens nails⁴ and helps the liver to process fat². Cysteine is a major constituent of the proteins that make up hair, nails and skin, and is involved in major detoxification processes in the body². One study showed that fonio protein contains almost twice as much methionine as egg protein¹ and another found that it contains triple that of rice.⁶

5. RICH IN IRON

Aduna Fonio is a rich source of iron, containing 4.6mg per 100g - 33% of your daily recommended intake (RI). Iron is an essential mineral in the body and supports a wide range of benefits from a strong immune system to fighting tiredness and fatigue. The high iron content of fonio makes it particularly suitable for those suffering from anaemia and iron deficiency.

6. GIVES YOU ENERGY

Aduna Fonio Super-Grain is rich in nutrients that support the release of energy in the body. It is a rich source of iron and a source of thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3) and phosphorus, all of which are essential nutrients for healthy energy-yielding metabolism. Iron and niacin are also essential for the reduction of tiredness and fatigue. As well as being packed with energy supporting nutrients, it is also low GI meaning the release of energy is slow, avoiding energy spikes. Try fonio in your morning porridge to keep you energised all day!

7. MENTAL HEALTH

Food is an often-overlooked component of mental health however the body needs certain nutrients to work effectively and this includes our psychological and neurological processes. Aduna Fonio Super-Grain is a source of B vitamins including thiamin (B1) and niacin (B3), both of which are essential for the healthy functioning of the nervous system and normal psychological function.

8. BRAIN POWER

Cognitive function is the term used to describe our mental abilities including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making and attention. For all these vital processes to work effectively, certain nutrients are required. Aduna Fonio is a rich source of iron and a source of zinc, two minerals essential for normal cognitive function.

9. CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH

A healthy cardiovascular system is key to our overall health and wellbeing, ensuring the effective transportation of nutrients, oxygen and water to every cell in the body. Aduna Fonio Super-Grain is rich in iron, which supports oxygen transport in the body and a source of thiamin (vitamin B1), which contributes to the healthy function of the heart. It is also low GI helping reduce the risk of heart disease.

10. IMMUNE SYSTEM

A strong immune system helps the body fight off attacks by viruses, bacteria and other foreign bodies that can cause infections and illness. Keeping our immune systems strong is key to our overall health and the foods we eat can help. Iron is one of the essential minerals for the normal function of the immune system and Aduna Fonio is a rich source of iron so including it in your diet can help you stay immune strong.

SUMMARY

These are what we believe to be the top ten health benefits of Aduna Fonio, however, the truth is that there are many more. For example, zinc contributes to the maintenance of healthy skin, nails, hair and vision as well as healthy fertility, reproduction and testosterone levels in the body. It also protects cells from oxidative stress. Niacin contributes to the maintenance of normal skin, phosphorus supports healthy bones and teeth and each of the amino acids in fonio support specific health benefits.

As well as being packed with beneficial nutrients, Aduna Fonio is 100% organic - certified by the UK’s leading organic certification body The Soil Association, so it is free from pesticides. It is suitable for vegans and vegetarians and those following a Kosher diet and contains no additives or preservatives. Incorporating fonio into your diet as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle is an easy and delicious way to improve your wellbeing. Just swap out rice, couscous or quinoa for fonio in any recipe or use it as a side dish to soak up sauces.

Aduna Fonio Super-Grain is available from our online store from £3.99 for a 275g resealable, recyclable pouch or from Whole Foods Market. To find out more about fonio, read our blog post or check-out our fonio recipes. Enjoy!

SOURCES

¹“Lost Crops of Africa: Volume I: Grains”. Board on Science and Technology for International Development, Office of International Affairs, National Research Council. 1996. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://www.nap.edu/read/2305/chapter/6

²“Nutritional properties of Fonio: health claims and evidence”, Fibre, Food & Beauty for poverty reduction https://www.doc-developpement-durable.org/file/Culture-plantes-alimentaires/FICHES_PLANTES/fonio/Fonio_Health%20Claims.pdf

³ Coeliac UK https://www.coeliac.org.uk/

⁴ Bezalel Adainoo, Stay Well Now, https://www.staywellnow.com/post/fonio-nutritional-and-health-benefits-of-a-hidden-cereal

⁵ Collaborative Crop Research Programme, https://www.ccrp.org/grants/fonio-i-ii/ 

⁶ Fonio, an African cereal. J Cruz et al. 2011. Éditions Quæ, CTA, Presses agronomiques de Gembloux. CIRAD.

All nutrient health claims are taken from the European Commission Nutrition and Health Claims Database: https://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/register/public/?event=register.home