Millets – part II

This is part II of a series of articles on millets. This part describes the benefits of millets from the perspective of the ‘millet consuming’ general public. The next part will discuss issues with the current use of millets and possible solutions to these issues.

by Dr. Saigopal Sathyamurthy & Dr. Abhijeeth Chandrasekaran

Why we should use Millets – Consumer perspective

Increased Fibre content

Millets have an extremely beneficial nutritional profile. Each one of the millets has more fibre than rice and wheat. Some types of millets have as much as fifty times fiber content as rice (Mini – Millet network of India). Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate that cannot be digested by our bodies’ enzymes. These help in supporting the growth of friendly bacteria needed to help maintain a healthy gut, reduce cholesterol absorption by binding to it in the gut, slow down the time it takes for food to pass through the stomach into the small intestine. This helps slow down the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and has the benefits of an increases satiety time (i.e., keeps you feeling fuller for longer).

Crop Protein (g) Fiber (g) Minerals (g) Iron (mg) Calcium (mg)
Pearl Millet 10.6 1.3 2.3 16.9 38
Finger Millet 7.3 3.6 2.7 3.9 344
Foxtail Millet 12.3 8 3.3 2.8 31
Proso Millet 12.5 2.2 1.9 0.8 14
Kodo Millet 8.3 9 2.6 0.5 27
Little Millet 7.7 7.6 1.5 9.3 17
Barnyard Millet 11.2 10.1 4.4 15.2 11
Rice 6.8 0.2 0.6 0.7 10
Wheat 11.8 1.2 1.5 5.3 41

MINI, DDS, FIAN. Millets Future of Food and Farming. Available at: http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/millets.pdf

Increased / more easily absorbable micronutrients

Calcium

Finger millet has thirty times more Calcium than rice while other millets have at least twice the amount of Calcium as rice. Finger millets also have a higher calcium content (per 100 gram) than commonly used sources of calcium; cow’s milk (120 mg), almond (234 mg) and chick peas (150 mg) (Mini – Millet network of India, millets online ref).The components of dietary fibre which remains undigested until fermentation in the colon (resistant starch, a fibre) aids in increased absorption of calcium.

Iron metabolism

Pearl millet and barnyard millet are rich sources of iron and can prevent iron deficiency anemia. This has also been borne out in clinical studies; one study showed that food based approach using pearl millet ladoo is as effective as elemental iron supplementation used for improving the Hemoglobin status of adolescent girls (Singh et al 2014). While most of us seek micronutrients such as β-carotene in pharmaceutical pills and capsules, millets offer it in abundant quantities. Interestingly, rice, has negligible amounts of this precious micronutrient (Mini – Millet network of India).

Glucose metabolism

Compared to rice, especially polished rice, millets release lesser percentage of glucose and over a longer period of time. Refined grains / flours have no bran in them. In the case of wheat flour, even the germ is missing. When these foods are consumed, glucose / blood sugar levels rise rapidly. The body produces excess insulin to lower the blood sugar levels. Multiple cycles of such rapid excess insulin secretion may lead to insulin resistance (i.e. the sensitivity of the human body to endogenous insulin may decrease with time). A more infrequent, but hazardous consequence may be the absence of insulin production by the pancreas. Irrespective of the mechanism, glucose levels rise and stay increased, resulting in diabetes. Millets, being whole grains, release lesser percentage of glucose and over a longer period of time, thus lowering the risk of diabetes. Studies incorporating millets into idly, chapatti, rice string hoppers, noodles etc. showed a significant decrease in post prandial blood glucose (Geeta et al 1990, Shukla et al 2011).

Other advantages

Millet is more than just an interesting alternative to the more common grains. The grain is also rich in phytochemicals, including phytic acid, which is believed to lower cholesterol, and phytate, which is associated with reduced cancer risk. These chemical are also putated to have anti-oxidant properties (Mini – Millet network of India).

Millet is gluten-free, and therefore an excellent option for people suffering from celiac disease, who often develop bowel symptoms due to the gluten content of wheat and other more common cereal grains.

Summary – consumer

In this fashion, nutrient to nutrient, millets in general are vastly superior both quantitatively and qualitatively to commonly used cereals such as rice and wheat. Therefore, millets offer an effective solution to the malnutrition that affects a vast majority of the Indian population.

[Issues in use of millets and possible solutions to these issues (part III) to follow]

Dr Saigopal S is a physician and public health expert. Dr Abhijeeth C is a pathologist. They are currently involved in pharmaceutical consulting. Some parts of the article (related to agri/horticultural practices) are not the authors’ domain expertise – nonetheless, they represent informed opinions based on robust literature evidence.

Corresponding author: Dr. Saigopal Sathyamurthy; email: saigopal2784@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors in their private capacity

References

  1. MINI, DDS, FIAN. Millets Future of Food and Farming. Available at: http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/millets.pdf
  2. https://millets.wordpress.com/health/calcium/
  3. Singh TS, Goyal M, Sheth M. Intervention Trials with Pearl  Millet  Based  Iron  Rich Ladoo and  Iron  Folic Acid  (IFA) Tablets  on  Hemoglobin  Status of Adolescent Females  in  Bikaner  City. Ethno Me d. 2014;8(1):77-82. Available at: http://www.krepublishers.com/02-Journals/S-EM/EM-08-0-000-14-Web/S-EM-08-1-14-Abst-PDF/S-EM-08-1-077-14-Singh-T-S-259/S-EM-08-1-077-14-Singh-T-S-259-Tt.pdf
  4. Geetha C, Parvathi EP. Hypoglycemic effect of millet incorporated breakfast on selected non-insulin dependent diabetic patients. Indian J Nutr Diet. 1990;27:316-20
  5. Shukla K, Srivastava S. Evaluation of finger millet incorporated noodles for nutritive value and glycemic index. J Food Sci Technol. 2011:1-8

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