Millets (cereal crops) are seed grasses that grow in semi arid tropical areas of Asia and Africa. Initially used as animal fodder, it gradually became a popular food grain worldwide. Millets are annual warm-weather cereals with small grains attached to grass. Although the broader term is millet, there are various types of millets that you can find. Jowar, Bajra, Ragi etc., are some of the most common millets that people use, especially in India.
People began to consume only gluten-free items after a significant shift in food culture. After that critical transformation, millets started to receive the attention they deserved, and have gradually evolved into a food staple in most households, alongside rice and wheat.
Millets: An Overview
In the last few years, the number of patients undergoing lifestyle diseases like diabetes and obesity, with their accompanying complications, has reached almost epidemic levels. In addition, these diseases have also become the leading cause of death in some high-income countries. One of the primary causes of the aggravation of these diseases is the food we eat. If you observe, most of our daily foods contain salt, sugar and fat. Of course, we know that these are unhealthy, and hence, we realise the importance of the seven essential nutrients that our bodies need. These nutrients are available in whole grains, essentially unpolished grains without depleted nutrient qualities.
However, there’s more to whole grains than wheat, corn and rice. For example, millets are whole grain and an excellent source of essential nutrients. Unfortunately, till the last few years, the nutrition-rich millets have been ignored. However, they were an integral part of the diet for many generations.
Millets offer various health benefits like providing gluten-free proteins, high fibre content, low glycemic index, and high bioactive chemical content, making them an ideal health food.
Millets are the sixth most widely grown cereal grain globally, and they are still a staple diet in many parts of the globe. These whole grains are a rich source of several essential nutrients and offer a distinct advantage in the fight against nutrient deficiency in third-world nations.
Types of Millets
Unlike other grains, millets require less water and soil fertility. In addition, they are low in cost. Therefore, they are known as the “poor man’s food grain”. However, with their numerous health benefits, millets are increasingly gaining popularity worldwide for their immense potential.
Worldwide, there are nearly 6,000 varieties of millets that act as a significant source of energy and protein for more than a billion people in arid and semi-arid regions. They are becoming more prevalent because they do not require many agricultural efforts, unlike our over-cultivated wheat-rice-corn.
Although various millets are common worldwide, we can primarily categorise them in two parts.
Naked grains are millets that do not have a tough husk. Some examples of these millets are Ragi, Jowar and Bajra. These are one of the most cultivated forms of grains as they don’t require processing after their harvest.
Fox millets, Little millets, and Kodo millets belong to this type. They consist of an indigestible seed coat. Therefore, it is advisable to remove the seed coat before consumption. This process is mechanical, primarily used for rice.
Nutritional Value of Millets
As per USDA, 100g of cooked millet contains:
- Water: 71.4mg
- Energy: 119kCal
- Protein: 3.51g
- Fat: 1g
- Carbohydrate: 23.7g
- Fibre: 1.3g
- Calcium: 3mg
- Magnesium: 44mg
- Phosphorus: 100mg
- Potassium: 62 mg
Health Benefits of Millets
Millet meals and beverages have functional and health-promoting effects, including anti-diabetic, anti-obesity, and cardiovascular benefits. In addition, phytochemicals like phenolics, sterols, lignans, inulin, resistant starch, β-glucan, phytates, tocopherol, dietary fibre and carotenoids that are present in millets improve the body’s immunological system.
Diabetes is a condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Millets have a significant amount of magnesium, which aids in preventing Type II Diabetes. Magnesium is a vital mineral that aids in the efficacy of insulin and glucose receptors by creating numerous carbohydrate digesting enzymes that regulate insulin function.
According to research, millets are high in micronutrients such as vitamins, beta carotene, and other nutrients now consumed similarly to pharmaceutical pills. As a result, all millets are now significantly superior and act as a solution to malnutrition and obesity, which afflict the vast majority of the Indian population. There are many advantages of millets:
1. Aids in Weight Loss
According to some studies, millets are high in fibre and are one of the most significant sources of complex carbohydrates. Hence, they have various health advantages. It is now widely accepted that eating whole grains can help you lose weight. According to some researchers, the fibre present in millets and bioactive chemicals are helpful to keep us satiated for extended periods, reducing the urge to snack between meals. As a result, it aids in losing excess pounds without sacrificing nourishment.
Several studies prove that a high-fibre diet can help control obesity. According to studies, eating high-fibre foods improves bowel function and lowers the incidence of obesity by increasing digestion and absorption in the body, lowering the risk of chronic diseases. In addition, according to several case studies, millets are low in calories and high in vital elements such as carbs, proteins, amino acids, lipids, minerals, and vitamins that helps lose weight.
2. Improve Immunity
As per studies, millets have immune-boosting properties. They strengthen the immune system and help in preventing infection. Millets contain iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, selenium, and zinc, which are essential for the body’s regular functioning. Millets enhance natural immunity to combat various diseases that might harm human health. These assertions about millets have some scientific backing.
3. Regulate glucose levels in the body
According to studies, millets have a lower glycemic index than most other grains. This indicates that millets help regulate blood glucose levels better than other whole grains. Millets are a good grain substitute for people with diabetes or carbohydrate intolerance.
Several properties of millets can help regulate diabetes. Millets contain saponin and niacin, which help manage blood glucose levels. Saponin reduces cholesterol and homocysteine levels in blood vessels. It also raises good cholesterol while lowering bad cholesterol. Studies including meta-analysis have shown promising results of millet consumption in limiting blood glucose levels.
4. Improve Heart Health
According to some studies, millets are suitable for the heart, and including them in our diet can help us maintain healthy blood pressure. Millets are abundant in soluble fibre, which aids in cholesterol reduction and the prevention of heart disease. They defend against cardiovascular illnesses by lowering bad cholesterol and triglycerides. In addition, millets include monounsaturated fatty acids and a lot of vitamin E, which help lower bad cholesterol and prevent heart diseases.
Since millets are high in dietary fibre, some studies state that millets are beneficial to people with coronary artery disease. Dietary fibre in millets is around 75% carbohydrate by weight. So, it is not digested or absorbed in the small intestine but ferments in the colon, with some gut-health benefits.
5. Cancer-Fighting Abilities
Millets, India’s staple food and the world’s third-largest cereal crop, are also a wonder medicine. Research suggests that it is one of the most promising anti-cancer drugs currently accessible due to their ability to cleanse the body.
6. Improve Digestion
Studies prove that millets support a healthy digestive tract by encouraging the production of hydrochloric acid and the helpful bacteria required for digestion. In addition, millets aid in generating pancreatic fluid, which is involved in digestion and metabolism.
7. Improve bone health
You cannot ignore the importance of having strong bones. Of course, calcium is an essential component for strong bones. However, vitamin D is a crucial vitamin that helps absorb calcium from your food.
8. Improve skin health
Millets help to improve skin suppleness, moisture, and flexibility. Millet contains vitamin E, amino acids, magnesium, and fatty acids, all beneficial to the skin. Experts believe that millet consumption can make your skin smoother and more elastic.
Besides the benefits listed above, millets are an excellent source of iron for anaemia patients. Millet cultivation is environmentally friendly because they are predominantly rain-fed crops. As a result, they do not place a strain on our already depleting water resources. Furthermore, these grain crops do not attract pests and can thrive without the use of pesticides.
Healthy Recipes Using Millets
Millets are simple to grow and consume. Minerals, vitamins, fibres, carbs, and oils are abundant in millets. Therefore, millets are a portion of suitable food for the healthy functioning of the human body.
Many Indians consume millets for good health and long life. Since millets are versatile, you can serve them with a side of curry or dal, as you would serve rice. Although many people eat raw millets, it is best to cook them before consumption. One of the significant advantages of millets is that they are gluten-free, making them an excellent choice for people with celiac disease or people following a gluten-free diet.
Millets are a vital food source in arid and semiarid regions worldwide and many other cultures’ traditional cuisines. Sorghum (also known as Jowar) is a cereal grain extensively consumed as a staple in the rural areas and by impoverished people in the shape of roti in western India. In addition, you can use millets to give cookies, bread, and quick breads a delightful crunch. It is equally tasty and healthy, too, serving the purposes of being fulfilling yet delicious. Here are some of the healthy recipes using millets.
Spiced Millet Salad
A salad packed with vegetables and warm spices like garam masala and turmeric. It constitutes a wholesome meal in itself.
- Uncooked Organic Millet: 200g or 1 cup
- Olive Oil: 2 tbsp
- Tomato Paste: 2 ½ tbsp
- Spring Onions ( tail removed): 3
- Salt and Pepper: As per taste.
Method Of Preparation:
- Rinse your millets with running water.
- Then, add millets and 2 cups of water to a medium stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low heat and cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove the stockpot from the heat and cover it to steam for 10 minutes.
- Add Millet to a large mixing bowl and fluff with a fork after 10 minutes.
- Cool the Millet for 5 minutes before adding the onion, olive oil, tomato paste, and lemon juice. Mix vigorously with a fork or a spoon until the sauce covers the millets.
- Mix in the scallions, bell pepper, and parsley.
- Season with salt and pepper, then top with a few parsley leaves. Allow cooling completely before using.
Millet Chocolate Energy Bar
It is a wholesome pack of energy bars, best suited as a pre-workout snack.
- Dry pitted dates soaked into purified water for at least 30 mins: 1 cup
- Coconut oil: 1 tbsp
- Mixed nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds: 1 cup
- Puffed Millet: 1 cup
- Almond butter: 1 tbsp
Method Of Preparation:
- Drain the pitted dates and combine them with the coconut oil and almond butter in a food processor, then pulse to make a puree.
- Pulse one or two times to mix the mixed nuts and seeds.
- Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, then stir in the puffed millet until well combined.
- Line a baking pan with parchment paper (I used a 6 “x10” one), pour the ingredients into the pan and smooth it out evenly.
- Melt the coconut oil and cacao butter in a small saucepan, then add the cacao powder and almond milk and stir to combine.
- Set aside to cool after pouring the chocolate over the nut and millet mixture and topping with desiccated coconut.
- And your bars are ready.
Sweet Potato Millet Pancakes
Starting the day with these millet loaded pancakes would be beneficial as it is satiating and full of grains.
- Millet flour: ½ cup
- Spelt flour or gluten-free flour: 1 cup
- Powdered baking soda: 2 tbsp
- Cinnamon powder: 1 tsp
- Salt: ¼ tsp
- Nutmeg powder: ¼ tsp
- Jaggery Powder: 2 tsp
- Apple cider vinegar: 1 tsp
- Soy or almond milk: 1¼ – 1½ cups
Method Of Preparation
- Lightly oil a large skillet or griddle using a spatula.
- Mix the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and jaggery powder in a mixing bowl.
- Now add the apple cider vinegar and almond or soy milk in a mixing bowl.
- Mix the vegetable oil and sweet potato puree in a mixing bowl.
- Add all these ingredients to a mixing bowl and stir until thoroughly blended.
- If you observe a thick batter, add more almond or soy milk until it reaches the perfect consistency for pancakes (not runny, but easy to scoop and pour into your skillet).
- Allow the batter to sit while the skillet or griddle heats to medium.
- When the skillet is heated, drop ¼ cup scoops of batter into it and prepare your pancakes.
Mixed Millet Bhel Puri
With the healthiness of ragi, peanuts, amaranth, and a combination of millets blended with potatoes, tomatoes, onion, lemon juice, and chillies, this Bhel puri recipe is low in fat and light on the stomach.
- Millet flakes (mixed): 1 cup
- Ragi flakes: 1 cup
- Rice flakes (puffed): 3 cups
- Toasted peanuts: ½ cup
- Chaat Masala: 3 tsp
- Sesame seeds: 3 tsp
- Onions: 2 chopped
- Potatoes (diced), cooked: 4
- Tomatillos: 2
- Lime juice: 2 tbsp
- Green chillies: 2
- Chutney: 2 tbsp
- A smidgeon of fresh coriander
- Powdered moringa leaves: 3 tsp
Method of Preparation:
- Mix millets, ragi flakes, and puffed rice flakes in a bowl.
- Add the roasted peanuts, amaranth, and brown rice Namkeen now.
- In a bowl, combine the chat masala and black sesame seeds.
- Add potatoes, tomatoes, onions, lime juice, and green chillies to the mixture to moisten it. Mix thoroughly.
- Mix in the moringa powder and green chutney afterwards.
- Serve garnished with coriander leaves.
Ragi Wheat Dosa
Nobody can resist a light and crispy dosa, a South Indian dish! Here’s how to make a dosa using only four ingredients. First, you need to make a thick batter using ragi and wheat flour, buttermilk, and salt. Then, you are ready to cook it.
- Ragi flour: 1 Cup
- Wheat flour: 1 cup
- Buttermilk (to combine)
- Salt to taste
Method Of Preparation:
- Mix the ingredients thoroughly, and the batter should be the consistency of the conventional dosa batter.
- Keep it in the fridge overnight and prepare dosas the next day.
- Serve with your favourite chutney.
Possible Health Risks of Eating Millets
With the ever-increasing awareness of a healthier lifestyle, there is a shift in people’s diet towards more nutritious options. One such item incorporated into their diet is millets. While one cannot overlook the importance of millets (low carbohydrates and high protein), nutritionists do not recommend only millet diets.
Nutritionists advise consuming millets in moderate amounts as excessive consumption of these can lead to health risks that might affect the function of the thyroid gland. In addition, it possesses some health risks due to the antinutrients. Phytic acid in millets can inhibit potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium (if over consumed). Furthermore, millets have a greater oxalate concentration than other cereals, making them a poor choice for people trying to restrict their oxalate intake.
However, if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, you can prevent Millet’s adverse side effects by eating a well-balanced diet. Furthermore, millets consumption can significantly reduce the antinutrient content by soaking millet overnight, rinsing it, and cooking it.
The Recommended Intake
Millet, like other whole grains, is not a low-calorie food. Hence, you should consume it in moderation to maintain a healthy weight. According to the ICMR-National Institute of Nutrition, you can consume about 270 gm of cereals, including Nutri-cereals (millets). So, if you take millets, you can take about ⅓rd (90-100gm of millets per day) of the recommended quantity.
The Bottom Line
Millets have several health benefits. Therefore including them in our regular diet is a healthy practice. You can use these grains in both traditional and innovative dishes. However, it is necessary to investigate the possibility of alternate applications. It is no surprise that fibre-free foods cause several health problems worldwide. Hence, we should avoid refined foods such as processed rice, wheat, refined flours, processed meats, refined oils, packaged and ready-to-eat foods, and milk products.
Several foods impart various health benefits. However, it is essential to know about their recommended intake and the correct ways to eat them. The same is the case with millets. Although they are ancient foods that our ancestors ate to get various benefits, the modern-day health-conscious population has also started shifting towards millets. However, an excess of anything is harmful. Hence, it is best to consume millets in moderation. Also, when you intend to lose weight, starvation is not a good option. Instead, fat-free foods and foods rich in fibre can improve the diet by replacing certain foods.
Nevertheless, millets have numerous health benefits when you eat them in moderation. So, add millets to your daily diet and enjoy the benefits of the multi-benefit grain.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Q. Which Millet is the healthiest?
A. Most millets have similar health benefits. However, Sorghum (Jowar), pearl millet (Bajra), foxtail millet (Kangni), finger millet (Ragi), Barnyard millet, Kodo millet, Little Millet, and Proso Millet are among the healthiest millet grains available.
Q. Is Millet healthier than rice?
A. Millet is a healthier alternative to rice since it contains significantly more protein and fibre. If you choose unpolished millets, you can reap the most benefits. It is because the uncooked ones are rich in minerals and vitamins.
Q. Can we eat millets every day?
A. According to experts, millets should be a part of anyone’s regular diet that is health-conscious and concerned about what they eat. Millets are nutrient-dense, non-glutinous (non-sticky), and acid-free, making them extremely easy to digest. However, one should avoid excessive consumption.
Q. Are millets better than oats?
A. Millets and oats are both excellent for your health in their way. While oats are good for decreasing cholesterol, millets, such as Ragi, are suitable for diabetes. Proso Millet and Foxtail Millet offer roughly 40% less protein than oats. Oats are higher in phosphorus and Thiamine than any millets and contain more fibre than Barnyard millet. And the protein level of both oats and Millet varies. In terms of calcium content, millets win out over oats.
Q. What is the best time to have millets?
A. They’re great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If you substitute millet rice for white rice in your recipes, your foods will be much healthier. Millet is a sleep aid. According to seasons, Millet varieties such as Bajra and corn are suitable for winter. These millets are grown specifically for this season. As a result, having them would be better for your health. They’ll aid in keeping your body warm.
Q. How many times can we eat millets in a day?
A. Millets like Ragi and Jowar can be eaten once a day as a meal or snack. An adult should consume 30–40 grams of grains each day. Millets, like any other healthy meal, must be consumed in moderation. These are safe to eat 3-4 times a week. Millets like Ragi and Jowar can be eaten once a day as a meal or as a snack.
Q. Which millet is best for diabetes?
A. According to the research, millets, high in dietary fibre, can help keep blood sugar levels in check. Dietary fibre improves insulin sensitivity by allowing sugar to be released slowly after eating. According to research, millets have a low glycemic index, ranging from 54 to 68 in Foxtail Millet, Pearl Millet, and Finger Millet. Some studies suggest their usage in diabetic patients to control their blood glucose levels.
Q. Does eating millet increase weight?
A. On the contrary, it is linked to effective weight loss when consumed in moderation. Studies have shown that it is often considered a healthier option than other potential food items. It also helps to curb obesity. This whole grain is free from gluten and a variety of critical nutrients. It has a low-calorie count but is high in magnesium, fibre, bioactive substances, and other essential minerals and vitamins.