Millets - a superfood or a diet fad

Over the last few years, a variety of diets have caught the attention of people and are hence trending as health-friendly foods among the masses. Some of them have been recommended by nutritional experts while others have just proven to be mere diet fads. Millets, like many other such foods have had their own share of fame, even though there are many others who are still unaware of their countless health benefits. In today’s blog, we shall explore the various types of millets and how each and every one of them is a complete source of nutrition on its own. 

Millets are considered to be the flavour among people who are into healthy eating. Millets, which are often termed as “the powerhouse of nutrition”, are also a superfood. They are one of the oldest foods known to humankind. This natural gluten-free whole grain plays a pivotal role in preventing and curing a host of health issues. Many assume that millet is a single variety of grain, however, there are over 500 varieties within the main types. Millets are broadly classified into two categories. One is the major category, which includes the likes of pearl millet (bajra) and sorghum (jowar). The second category, also known as minor millets, includes finger millet (ragi), kodo millet, barnyard millet, little millet, proso millet and foxtail millet. These are referred to by their local names in different regions.

Types of Millets:

  • Major millets like pearl millets (Jowar) are rich in insoluble fibre which helps in better digestion. They are also known for their anti-cancer properties. This whole grain contains soluble fibre, which produces a somewhat viscous substance in the human gut. This, in turn, traps fats and helps reduce cholesterol levels. Sorghum or jowar is also gluten-free and is mostly beneficial for those suffering from celiac disease.
  • Minor millets are rich in iron and calcium and aid in boosting immunity. Researchers believe that this magnesium-rich grain can greatly lower the risk of type-2 diabetes. Magnesium present in these millets can help reduce the effects of migraines and heart attacks. Niacin (vitamin B3) in millet can help lower cholesterol. Minor millets are loaded with a variety of components such as curcumin, ellagic acid, Quercetin and catechins. These further help in removing foreign agents and free radicals and balance the enzymatic reactions in the body.  

Out of all the different varieties of millets, Little millet, finger, barnyard, foxtail, browntop, kodo, proso, sorghum and pearl millet are native to India. Each of the millets have their own unique nutritional profile and composition.

The Different Moods of Millets:

Millets are usually consumed in various forms like, flattened, beaten, popped, roasted, powdered, ground or fried. They are the perfect companion in every meal and can even be consumed as snacks.

Gourmet chefs are now creating world class recipes using millets. From fried snacks and biryani to risotto and brownies. In baking, they often replace regular flour with millet flour. Research shows that baking using millet flour significantly enhances their nutritional profile by increasing their antioxidant content.

In the traditional Khichdi, you can also replace rice with millets and even though it doesn’t make a big difference in taste, it does spike up the nutrition level. In South India, ragi grain is consumed in various forms and is given to children for its high calcium content. 

Further, one should try to consume a cup of millet porridge every night as it helps you get a sound and peaceful sleep. The tryptophan in millet raises the serotonin level in the body which helps in reducing stress.

Millets-Benefits and Risks:

Millets help with controlling blood sugar, and can be rightfully called a healthy food. However, millets also require to be prepared and consumed appropriately in order to provide optimal benefit. In addition, millets also help in weight management. The Indian Institute of Millet Research (IIMR) states that the health benefits of Millets are countless. From being anti acidic to gluten free, millets also detoxify the body. Niacin (vitamin B3) in millets  can help lower cholesterol. Further, millets aid in preventing breast cancer and type 2 diabetes. They’re also effective in reducing blood pressure and protecting against heart diseases.

However, despite all the countless benefits and health properties, millets are considered safe only when consumed in moderate amounts for some. Even though it has been consumed as staple food for the past thousands of years, excessive consumption of millet might cause an adverse effect. There have been questions about whether one or two millets have goitrogenic properties, meaning, whether they block the absorption of iodine or not? Millets do contain goitrogen, a substance that interferes with the production of thyroid hormones. It inhibits iodine uptake and utilisation by the thyroid gland. Hence, people with thyroid problems need to restrict their consumption of millets upto a certain amount.

Conclusion:

While moderation is always the key to  healthy eating, Millets do have an extraordinary nutritional value. Each and every type of millet contains your daily dose of nutrients thereby making it a superfood. Therefore you must try different dishes, forms, different millets and most importantly listen to your body. You will be able to figure out what works best for you eventually. So let a variety of millets come to your plate, let them find their place, but do not let the millets overwhelm your diet.