Saturday, December 10, 2022

Millets — the little ‘mega’ nutrient

“Gluten free” foods have been trending for the past couple of years and highly recommended by a host of  functional medicine practitioners. 

Millets have become increasingly popular world over because of its most touted value of being “gluten free”. With its umpteen health benefits the demand for this ancient grain has increased by leaps and bounds, rightly so. 

The millet fad is here to stay. 


Millets are a group of small, round whole, low maintenance and drought-resistant grains grown in India, Nigeria and other Asian and African countries. Considered an ancient grain, they are used both for human consumption and livestock and bird feed.


Did you know? 

Millets are the sixth most important cereal grain in the world.


Types of millet —

Although all millet varieties belong to the same family, they differ in colour, appearance and even species. These are some of the most popular millets. 


  1. Pearl Millet or Bajra: Bajra is the most consumed millet, grown and consumed extensively in India and parts of Africa. Bajra is rich in phosphorus and other vital minerals. Traditional Bajra recipes include bhakri roti.

  • Finger Millet or Ragi/ Nachni: Ragi has the highest calcium content among all millets. It grows easily in arid areas. It is often referred to as the anti-diabetic grain. Loaded with protein and amino acids, this easy to digest millet is great for brain development as well. Due to its calcium content, it is recommended when you have a fracture or rigid bones. Have it like a porridge with gur as an anytime meal.

  • Amaranth Millet or Rajgira: We’ve all heard of amarnath but did you know that it is part of the millet family? It is rich in protein and fibre making it a healthy addition to your diet. Readymade flour to make roti, the boiled pearls is a great substitute for rice and rajgira chikki is a delicious dessert.

  • Foxtail Millet or Kangni: Kangni is the oldest cultivated millet. Considered to be a healing food, it is highly recommended for postpartum and digestive health. It is also a popular fasting food in some parts of India and often used in popular recipes like idli, upma, porridge, payasam and biryani. Foxtail nuts are an anytime snack, just need to be slightly roasted with a sprinkle of salt.

  • Broomcorn/ Proso Millet or Chena/ Baragu/ Barri: Chena helps balance blood sugar levels because of its low glycemic index. It is a good grain option for diabetics. Traditional Chena recipes include upma, pulao or biryani. 

  • Buckwheat Millet or Kuttu: Buckwheat is also known as Kuttu in India. It is one of the most used and popular millets especially during the fasting period of Navratri. Buckwheat is full of health benefits and adaptable to a lot of recipes as a flour or wheat substitute. Buckwheat pancakes sweet or savoury are a must try.

  • Little Millet or Kutki: The smallest of the millet family, Kutki is very easy to cook and is often simply used as rice. It can replace rice in any recipe like that of pulau, khichadi, biryani, 

  • Sorghum Millet or Jowar: Sorghum is widely cultivated and consumed across India and rotis made with johar are much easier to digest than regular wheat atta rotis. Many bakers are using this millet to make ‘gluten free’ breads. Switch now.

  • Barnyard Millet or Jhangora/ Sanwa: Barnyard millet grows super fast. It has the highest fibre and iron content amongst its fellow millets. It is very sticky so often used to make different types of porridges.

  • Kodo Millet: Kodo millet is high in lecithin and is excellent for strengthening the nervous system. Some traditional kodo millet Indian recipes include upma, idli, dosa, and pulaos. 


Did you know? 

Millets are environmentally friendly. Eating them encourages farmers in arid and semi arid areas to grow crops best suited for those regions. Many farmers practice ‘akkadi’, a mixed cropping system that increases on-farm biodiversity, sustainability and productivity. 


Nutritional facts about millets — 

Like most cereals, millets are starchy grains, rich in carbs and fibre. They also have several vitamins and minerals. 

  • Millets are rich in antioxidants: Millets are rich in phenolic compounds which act as antioxidants to protect your body from harmful stress and air in rapid wound healing, skin protection and anti-inflammation. All millet varieties contain antioxidants, especially the darker coloured ones like ragi, nachni chena and kangni. 

  • Millets help control blood sugar levels and diabetes: Millets are rich in fibre and non-starchy polysaccharides which help control blood sugar levels along with having a low glycemic index making it a great addition to a diabetics diet. 

  • Millets help lower cholesterol and manage coronary diseases: Millets contain soluble fibre which helps reduce cholesterol levels. The millet protein helps lower cholesterol levels as well. These little grains are a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to improving heart health, effectively reducing coronary blockages and they can even combat chronic diseases like cancer. 

  • Millets are gluten-free: Millets are a gluten-free grain, making them a practical and healthy grain alternative for people with celiac disease or those following a gluten-free diet. 

  • Millets promote digestion: Being naturally rich in fibre, millets help tremendously in easy digestion, relieving bowel issues, gastrointestinal problems and even liver and kidney related issues. 

  • Millets can prevent Asthma: The magnesium content in millets tend to reduce the severity of your asthma because they do not contain allergens that lead to asthma and wheezing.

  • Eating millets help in detoxification of the body: Millets are loaded with the compounds that help remove foreign agents and free radicals from the body along with  balancing the enzymatic reactions in the body. Thus millets naturally detoxify the blood.


Did you know? 

Both Bajra and Ragi contain goitrogens that could aggravate the thyroid gland. So make sure your intake of these grains is moderate. 


Potential downsides of eating millets —

Despite millets being jam packed with healthy goodness they do contain a few antinutrients which are compounds that block or reduce your body’s absorption of other nutrients that lead to deficiencies. So be sure to not overdo it when it comes to millets and be tempering in your consumption. 


How to add millets to your daily diet? 

There’s no need to give up the food you love. You can add millets to your diet to make it a tasty, balanced diet that’s nutritious too. 

  • Use millets, instead of rice or try a half and half millet and rice mix
  • Make millet payasam or kheer with natural palm sugar or jaggery
  • Try millet porridge instead of oatmeal. 
  • Combine cooked beans with millets to make delicious vegetarian burgers. 
  • Use millets in soups and stews instead of noodles and rice. 


The bottom line —

Millets are a whole grain bursting with protein, antioxidants and nutrients. Their nutty taste and versatility make them a worthy candidate for your daily diet, not to mention them being gluten free. It’s time to give these age-old grains a chance!

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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