Fonio; Health Benefits, Nutritional Composition and Uses

What is Fonio?

Fonio is a grain that is common in Africa, particularly in West Africa. It is an ancient grain that still exists up to date, with little or no recognition by the younger and present generation. Its exact dating is between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago and has been a source of food and nutrition to over 3 million Africans. Fonio is considered to be the oldest cultivated cereal in Africa. Being staple food, it is most common among African countries like Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Mali, and guinea. Asides from the name “fonio,” it can also be called “hungry rice,” “iburura,” or “acha.”

Being an ancient cereal, people of this age do not know much about it, hence the need for you to read this article in order to understand the nutritional composition, types, health benefits, as well as the significance of this ancient cereal.

Fonio is a tiny grained cereal that is packed with zinc, magnesium, and vitamins, which makes it an incredibly nutritious grain to add to your diet.


Fonio can be grouped under two categories, namely;

  • Digitaria iburua: The grains of this kind of fonio are either black or brown. It is common in African countries like Nigeria, Benin Republic, and Togo.
  • Digitaria exilis: The grain color of this kind of fonio is usually whitish. It is common in African countries like Nigeria, Chad, and Senegal.

Nutritional Value and Composition

Fonio contains the following;

  • Calories: 175
  • Fat: 0.7 grams
  • Protein: 2.5 grams
  • Iron: 4.4% of the daily value
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 40 grams
  • Fiber: 4.3% of the daily value


Fonio contains 40 grams of carbs when it is uncooked. It is also packed with plenty of fiber. This makes it a healthy choice, but sometimes, some uncommon types of fonio like the pearled one can have a bitter taste.


The fat content of fonio is quite low, and per serving, there are about 0.7 grams of fat.


Fonio contains series of vitamins and minerals like vitamin B, magnesium, and zinc. Calcium and phosphorus were also found to be present in the ancient cereal.


Protein being an essential nutrient that helps with the growth and development of the body, is highly present in fonio. There are about 2.5 grams of protein in fonio per serving.

In addition, fonio contains different vitamin B types like riboflavin, thiamine, and niacin, which are vitamins that are essential for the development, growth, production of energy, and proper functioning of cells.

In addition, dieticians have discovered that of all cereals and grains, fonio is the richest source of calcium. This is an advantage for those who do not eat dairy products and other calcium food sources. Other nutritional compositions of fonio are;





While zinc is an immune system-friendly nutrient and aids the healthy growth and development of cells, copper and iron help your body develop connective tissues and red blood cells. Magnesium on its own provides the body with surplus energy.

Health Benefits

Being an ancient grain, people barely know about it, talk more of having to research about it. This is why there is no much information about it. However, based on its nutritional value, a number of health benefits have been identified. Consuming fonio provides you with the following health benefits;

Diabetes Management

Fonio, according to research, may help in the prevention and management of illnesses like diabetes and other degenerative illnesses. Combining fonio with pigeon pea and making a cracker out of the mixture helped locals of Africa manage their diabetes, and in others, it helped them prevent diabetes and other associated illnesses.

Improves Thyroid Function

Due to its flavonoids compound, fonio has been found to contain antithyroid properties. These properties help eliminate the formation of a hormone known as the thyroid hormone, which is usually produced by the thyroid gland. However, for some people, this can be harmful, while in others, fonio would be doing them a great favor. People who have graves disease tend to enjoy more of its thyroid functions than other people. In addition, fonio has been discovered to be effective in the prevention and management of thyroid cancer.

Heart Health

A picture of a man holding his left chest regionGrains, in general, contain essential properties that protect the entire cardiovascular system. Fonio contains heart beneficial minerals and vitamins than other grains. This automatically means that including fonio into your diet would help you reduce your risks of developing any heart-related issues and other associated cardiovascular problems.


Though it contains fiber, it is easy to digest. It eases the bowels, prevents constipation, and aids digestion.

Weight Loss

Including fonio in your weight loss diet would help speed up your weight loss process with remarkable results. It helps you control your food intake. It fills your stomach such that you become too full of craving for any food.

Anemia Prevention

Due to its high iron contents, fonio helps prevent anemia. It generates and regulates healthy levels of blood in the body. It also contains some pregnancy-friendly properties like folic acid and amino acids.

Detoxifies the Body

Fonio is a natural body detox. This is made possible through its amino acid contents. An essential amino acid-like methionine and cystine detoxify the liver and the whole body. They also ensure that the liver functions properly while eliminating toxic compounds from the blood. Further studies showed that fonio, with its incredible nutritional values, can help prevent liver illnesses of all kinds.

Cell Protection

After few pieces of research, it was discovered that fonio contains antioxidant properties. These properties help with the development and strengthening of the cells. They do this by preventing the cells from damage, especially damages caused by free radicals. Dieticians have advised that it is better to consume the antioxidants contained in foods rather than the ones in supplements.


Fonio is an energy-giving food, courtesy of its protein content. It generates energy and releases slowly such that the energy lasts till your next fonio meal, unlike other energy-generating foods that leave you tired again after few hours of eating them.

Nails and Hair Health

Methionine is an essential amino acid contained in fonio that plays an important role in the production and strengthening of cartilage in the body. It is also known to perform the same functions for nails and hair. Eating fonio means you are supplying your hair with essential nutrients that would help prevent it from breakage and total or partial hair loss.

Bones and Teeth

Fonio is a rich source of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These minerals play important roles in the development and protection of the bones and teeth. When the body lacks them, a problem ensues. They provide fonio with the incredible ability to protect the bones and teeth. This is why fonio is not a bad idea for growing children. It helps protect both adults and children from bone-related illnesses like osteoporosis and arthritis.

Provision of Gluten-free Nutrition

Certain illnesses prevent some people from consuming gluten. One of these illnesses is celiac disease. Celiac disease makes its victims avoid gluten at all costs. However, fonio has them covered. It provides gluten-free nutrition for them. Studies showed that converting fonio into biscuits or snacks can be beneficial for people who are gluten intolerant.


allergyResearch is still ongoing on this ancient grain, so much information has not been gathered about whether it comes with allergies or not. However, at this point where research has gotten to, no known allergies have been associated with fonio.

Side Effects of Excess Use

Although only a few side effects have been discovered at this point where research has gotten to. If there are others, further studies will unravel them. The only side effect of excessive use associated with fonio is the thyroid effects of its flavonoids contents. Since flavonoids tend to reduce thyroid hormones, people with diseases like hypothyroidism avoid excess intake of fonio. In addition, whether you suffer from hypothyroidism or not, excessive intake of anything, no matter how natural, is bad. It is best to consult your medical care provider for more advice.

In conclusion, fonio is a reputable African whole grain and superfood that is packed with numerous vitamins and minerals and provides the body with outstanding health benefits. It is more common in West Africa than in other parts of Africa. It is easy to digest, provides the body with optimum energy, protects vital organs, and is still very nutritious. Making it your diet is a healthy choice, but avoiding its consumption in high quantities is important.