By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.
Millet is a family of grains that falls under the “ancient grain” category. It has a wide range of gluten free benefits and can be used in a variety of different recipes. Millet is an excellent example of a healthy, gluten free grain that you should consider adding to your diet. (1)
What is Millet?
Millet is a cereal grain that belongs to the Poaceae family, commonly known as the grass family. While it may look like a seed, millet’s nutritional profile is similar to that of sorghum and other cereals. Millet has gained popularity in the West because it’s gluten-free and boasts high protein, fiber, and antioxidant contents. (2)
Millet’s and the history
Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for human food and as fodder. There is evidence of the cultivation of millet in the Korean Peninsula dating to the Middle Jeulmun Pottery Period (around 3,500–2,000BC). In India, millets have been mentioned in some of the oldest Yajurveda texts, identifying foxtail millet (priyangava), Barnyard millet (aanava) and black finger millet (shyaamaka), thus indicating that millet consumption was very common, pre-dating to the Indian Bronze Age (4,500BC).
Even until 50 years ago millet’s was the major grain grown in India. From a staple food and integral part of local food cultures, just like many other things, millets have come to be looked down upon by modern urban consumers as “coarse grains” – something that their village ancestors may have lived on, but that they had left behind and exchanged for a more “refined” diet.(3)
Nutritional Importance of Millet’s
Sorghum and millets namely, Pearl millet, Finger millet, Kodo millet, Proso millet, Foxtail millet, little millet, and Barnyard millet are important staples to millions of people world-wide. Almost all the millets are used for human consumption in most of the developing countries but their use has been primarily restricted to animal feed in developed countries. Millets are nutritionally comparable to major cereals and serve as good source of protein, micronutrients and phytochemicals. Processing methods like soaking, malting, decortications, and cooking affect the anti-oxidant content and activity. While sorghum and most of the millets contains about 10% protein, 3.5% lipids, finger millet contains 12-16% protein and 2-5% lipids. Sorghum and millets are very good sources of micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Major portion of sorghum protein is prolamin which has a unique feature of lowering digestibility upon cooking whereas; the millets have a better amino acid profile. It has been reported that sorghum proteins upon cooking are significantly less digestible than other cereal proteins, which might be a health benefit for certain dietary groups. On the other hand, millets contain fewer cross-linked prolamins, which may be an additional factor contributing to higher digestibility of the millet proteins. (4)
Health Benefits of Millet’s
Millet’s have potential health benefits and epidemiological studies have showed that consumption of millets reduces risk of heart disease, protects from diabetes, improves digestive system, lowers the risk of cancer, detoxifies the body, increases immunity in respiratory health, increases energy levels and improves muscular and neural systems and are protective against several degenerative diseases such as metabolic syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. The important nutrients present in millets include resistant starch, oligosaccharides, lipids, antioxidants such as phenolic acids, avenanthramides, flavonoids, lignans and phytosterols which are believed to be responsible for many health benefits.
Being rich sources of magnesium, millets help in reducing blood pressure and risk of heart strokes especially in atherosclerosis. Also, the potassium present in millets helps in keeping blood pressure low by acting as a vasodilator and help to reduce cardiovascular risk.
Regulating digestive process can increase nutrient retention and reduce chances of more serious gastrointestinal conditions like gastric ulcers or colon cancer. Fiber content in millets helps in eliminating disorders like constipation, excess gas, bloating and cramping. An immune mediated enteropathic disease called celiac disease which is usually triggered by the ingestion of gluten in susceptible individuals.
The fiber present in sorghum and millet and also the phenolic have been attributed for lower incidence of esophageal cancer than those consuming wheat or maize. Recent research has revealed that fiber as one of the best and easiest ways to prevent the onset of breast cancer in women. They can reduce their chances of breast cancer by more than 50% by eating more than 30 gm of fiber every day.
Detoxification (Anti-oxidant Properties)
Many of the antioxidants found in millet have beneficial impact on neutralizing the free radicals, which can cause cancer and clean up other toxins from body such as those in kidney and liver. Quercetin, cucurmin, ellagic acid and various other beneficial catechins can help to clear the system on any foreign agents and toxins by promoting proper excretion and neutralizing enzymatic activity in those organs. Therefore, tremendous attention has been given to polyphenol due to their roles in human health. (5)
Cooking with Millet’s
Millets can be consumed on a daily basis like any other grain. They are available as rice, rava & flour. They are also available in raw and parboiled form. Normally most millet rice’s can be cooked just like paddy rice (usually with 1:2.5 rice to water ratio).
They can also be used for preparing dosa and idli batter by soaking and grinding along with urad dal and fenugreek. With these versatile millets, you can prepare upma, porridge, puttu, adai, and various other delicacies like laddus, kesari, payasam, cakes etc.(6)