A big challenge for habesha people (Eritreans and Ethiopians) in adopting the paleo diet is injera, a type of spongy flatbread that is the basis of pretty much every meal. Not only is it a delicious staple but is also used to scoop up the food. It is as essential to the habesha diet as pita is to the Middle Eastern one, rice is to the Asian one, or naan is to the Indian one.
Traditionally, injera is supposed to be made with teff, a grass instead of a grain. If it was made with only teff then keeping it in the diet of habesha people wouldn’t be such an issue for a couple of reasons:
1.) Teff is a grass, not a grain, and as such does not contain gluten, a very problematic anti-nutrient.
2.) In order to make injera, teff needs to be fermented (like sourdough), and the fermentation process breaks down other anti-nutrients that cause inflammation like phytates.
However, teff is so expensive that it usually is substituted with barley and wheat, which contain lots of inflammation-causing gluten and phytates. My mother, a wonderful cook who can make enough injera to feed an army, makes it with wheat or barley as teff is pretty expensive in North America ($25.50 for 6.5 pounds).
It’s really hard to ask people to reduce a staple of a diet they’ve been eating since childhood. I know for me, when I indulge in injera at either an Eritrean or Ethiopian restaurant or during family occasions (usually made with wheat and barley), it just tastes so good but I pay with it later with a bloated stomach and brain fog. And I’m pretty healthy. The effects of eating wheat or barley based injera on people with metabolic and gastrointestinal issues is not pretty. The effects range from severe acid-reflux to elevated blood sugars resulting in hospital trips
So what to recommend to habesha who do want to get better but cannot give up a staple of their diet?
1.) Substitute injera with either vegetables or a fork or spoon
Your health depends on it so keep making zigni, shiro, kitfo, and the rest of our delicious sauces and stews but either eat those stews and sauces on their own or ladle them on top of nice, hot buttered veggies.
2.) Make sure that the injera you eat is made with teff and not with wheat or barley
If you really must have injera, please make sure it is made with teff instead of wheat or barley. Yes, it is expensive but so is metformin and future visits to the doctor. I am sure you’d rather pay a little extra for good ingredients to make delicious food rather than pay lots more for medication and hospital visits in the future. The price is worth your health.