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13 Health Benefits Of Millet: Time For This Grainy Goodness

Health Benefits Of Millets

Millets add flavor and nutrition to your diet and work as a versatile alternative to staples like rice and wheat. They are gluten-free, have a low glycemic index, and are a good source of antioxidants. Millets can help reduce the risk of diabetes, prevent heart disease, promote weight loss, and fight aging. They may also have a role to play in the prevention and treatment of several cancers.

One cup (174 mg) of cooked proso millets contains

  • 41 g carbohydrates (14% DV)
  • 207 calories (10% DV)
  • 6 g protein (12% DV)
  • 77 mg magnesium (19% DV)
  • 174 mg phosphorus (17% DV)
  • 0.2 mg vitamin B6 (9% DV)
  • 0.2 mg thiamin (12% DV)
  • 2.3 mg niacin (12% DV)1

Ever felt that the cereal shelf is the most boring one in your pantry, with hardly a couple of staples to choose from? If your answer is “yes” and you’d like to explore, well, newer pastures, millets are just the ticket! Worldwide, the market for healthy cereals that can spice up the daily meal is fast growing. Simultaneously, the increasing prevalence of conditions like gluten sensitivity has created a need for more variety in the cereal and grain aisle. In this scenario, the spotlight has turned on millets – and it’s all looking good!

The millet family includes many varieties such as the big-grained pearl millet and its “smaller” cousins like finger millet, foxtail millet, and proso millet.2. And they work as a nutritional powerhouse for you.

Thanks to its nutritional profile, millet offers several health benefits and here are some of them.

1. Has Antioxidant Properties

All varieties of millets abound in phytochemicals known as polyphenols, which have strong antioxidant properties. Polyphenols flush out harmful free radicals from the body and prevent several potentially fatal conditions ranging from heart disease to cancer. They also reduce inflammation, up your immunity, and help fight viruses.3

Whip up a porridge of pearl millet or finger millet flour for breakfast for a healthy start to your day!

Millets even outperform rice in terms of antioxidant power. Pearl millet and finger millet pack in 1478 and 612 mcg of phenolic acid per gram, respectively, whereas different varieties of rice contain 197–376 mcg of the phytochemical.4

2. Controls Diabetes

Most millets have a low glycemic index and high amounts of soluble dietary fiber, enabling better sugar control and making them a diabetes-friendly cereal.5 When it comes to managing type 2 diabetes, finger millet is considered a superfood with its high magnesium content – 408 mg per 100 gm of cooked grain, which pretty much meets the daily requirement of men (400-420 mg/day) and exceeds that for women (310-320 mg/day).6

Magnesium significantly boosts the efficiency of insulin receptors and decreases insulin resistance. Studies even indicate that consuming a diet rich in this mineral can reduce the chance of developing diabetes by 30 percent.7

3. Is Good For Your Heart

As a good source of magnesium, millets help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes caused by atherosclerosis – a condition where arteries become narrower due to fatty deposits on their inner walls. Millets also contain substantial amounts of potassium, another heart-friendly mineral. Animal studies show that proso and finger millets can even improve the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol.8

4. Guards The Gut If You Have Celiac Disease

Some millet breads contain small quantities of wheat flour. So make sure you check for the gluten-free label before picking your millet goodies.

If there is one property that makes millets a nutritional superstar, it is the absence of gluten. With celiac disease gaining the dubious reputation as one of the most common lifelong disorders affecting people worldwide, millets are a refreshing alternative when you want to go gluten-free.9 Aside from the variety, millets offer the bonus benefits of a host of micro- and macronutrients and phytochemicals. Just the combination you’d want if you are struggling with celiac disease.

5. May Offer Protection Against Cancer

Research shows that some of the phenolics found in millets may help prevent the initiation and progression of many types of cancer, including breast and colon cancers.10 The anti-tumorigenic agents in finger millet have also been found to be particularly effective against chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a rare type of blood cancer.11

6. Keeps Your Bone Healthy

Finger millets contain 344 mg calcium (which is more than the amount of calcium present in milk) that meets 34% of your DV. Calcium is your body’s bone-building mineral, without which your bones may become brittle and weak. Since your body cannot make calcium, it’s important that you get enough of the mineral from your diet.12 Finger millets are also rich in magnesium, which is another mineral that maintains your bone health. Plus, some studies suggest that magnesium may decrease your risk of fractures and osteoporosis.13

7. Helps Digestion

If you frequently suffer from digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, and gas, it might be due to your low intake of dietary fiber. Millets, especially pearl millet, have a significant amount of resistant starch and soluble and insoluble fiber, which regulates your digestion process and prevents the food moving too fast or too slow in your digestive tract. Furthermore, since millets are gluten-free, they also reduce the stomach problems that occur due to the celiac disease.14 15

8. Prevents Gallstone

The fiber in millets is also helpful in reducing the risk of gallstones. Foods rich in insoluble fiber can speed up the transit of undigested food through the colon and also reduce the secretion of bile acids which help form gallstones. In fact, a long-term study found that women who ate a fiber-rich diet were 17% less likely to have gallstones than those who had no fiber.16

9. Helps Manage Weight

Whole grains that are rich in fiber always make it to a diet chart for weight loss. Millets are no exception. They also increase your satiety and keep you full for longer periods of time. This decreases hunger pangs and keeps you from snacking between meals. That apart, their ability to lower cholesterol and increase insulin sensitivity helps you manage your weight too.

10. Improves Your Mood And Helps You Sleep Better

A standard serving of millets contains about 120 gm of an amino acid called tryptophan, which meets about 42% of your daily requirement. Your body uses tryptophan to make serotonin – a chemical that regulates your overall mood and fights depression. Tryptophan is also shown to increase the quality of sleep and improve morning alertness. Additionally, the amino acid is believed to increase cognitive function by improving memory and facilitating learning.17

11. Fights Aging And Improves Skin

Antioxidants and phenolics that millets abound in are renowned for their anti-aging properties. Millets have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce cell damage due to aging.18 But the good news just got better! Animal studies indicate that polyphenols found in finger millet and kodo millet may also boost the production of collagen to give you firmer, healthier, and younger-looking skin.19 Moreover, the benefits of millet for your digestive system as well as your sleep quality are bound to show up on your skin too.

12. Heals Wounds Faster

Apply a mixture of finger millets and water to your wound to aid healing.

By extension, this collagen-increasing property of millets can also help in speeding up wound healing. One study shows that the topical application of millets for 16 days quickened the wound-healing process in injured rats.20

13. Increases Breast Milk Supply

Millets are traditionally used to increase the production of breast milk in the mother. Although there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove that millet can increase breast milk supply, several users bear testimony to the grain’s lactogenic properties.21 There’s no harm in trying to find out for yourselves, provided you stay within dietary limits.

Millets Are A Healthy Alternative To Rice And Wheat

The nutritive value of millets is even better than that of cereals, such as wheat and rice in some instances. Here is how 100 gm (cooked) of two millet varieties stack up against the same quantity of rice and wheat in nutritive value.22

Grain Fiber (gm) Protein (gm) Calcium (gm) Iron (gm)
Pearl Millet 2.3 11.8 42 11
Finger Millet 3.6 7.3 344 3.9
Rice 1 6 32 1.8
Wheat 2 11.8 30 3.5

 

Try A Variety Of Millet Dishes From All Over The World

Wondering how to get your daily fix of millets? Millet flour can replace wheat flour in your cakes and bakes. Millets can also just as easily step in for rice in your meals. Beyond that, since millets are a staple in several parts of the world, you have a variety of traditional and exotic recipes to choose from.

In several parts of Africa, millet finds a place on the daily menu in the form of a simple pearl millet couscous, fura (balls of millet dough), or the more exciting kunu zaki, a very popular and nourishing drink (scroll down for the recipe).23

In Japan, cooked millet is often served in place of rice, along with vegetables and tofu. If you go the Indian way, you can roll out a roti (thick unleavened flatbread) of bajra (pearl millet flour), toss a fistful of ragi (finger millet) flour into your dosa batter, or sit back and relish a comforting bowl of kambu koozh (millet porridge). Be sure to try different millet varieties before you settle for the ones you like best!

But Don’t Overindulge: Millets May Cause Constipation And Impair Thyroid Function

According to U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the recommended amount of whole grains in the daily diet for adults is 3–6 servings of 16 gm each for women and 4–8 servings for men. While millets can make up a substantial portion of whole grains in your meals. So, make sure your daily consumption of whole grains does not cross the recommended levels. Moreover, there are a few health concerns you need to be aware of when you eat millets.

  • While millets do not contain the hard-to-digest gluten, their high fiber content tends to slow down the digestion process. So, excessive millet intake could cause constipation. Also, if you are new to millets or aren’t used to too much fiber, introduce them gradually into your diet.24
  • The flavonoids present in pearl and finger millets may impair thyroid function when millets are consumed in large quantities.25 If you suffer from thyroid-related problems, speak to your physician before trying out millet recipes.

Recipe: Kunu Zaki

Here’s a recipe for a refreshing millet drink all the way from Nigeria! Give this a shot when you want something different from the usual millet porridge or bread.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups millet
  • 2 liters water
  • 1/2 cup mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 tbsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • A pinch of sugar

Method

  • Soak the 3 cups of millets overnight in cold water.
  • Add 1 tbsp ginger and 1 tsp cloves to 1/2 cup mashed sweet potatoes. Blend well.
  • Ground the soaked millets.
  • Add the ground millets to the sweet potato-ginger-cloves mixture.
  • Divide the mixture into 2 parts.
  • Add 2 liters boiling water to one part of the mixture and stir till the paste reaches a thick consistency. Leave it uncovered and let it cool.
  • After it cools, pour in the second part of the mixture. Stir well.
  • Leave the mixture to settle overnight.
  • The next morning, sieve the mixture and add sugar to taste.

References   [ + ]

1. Basic Report: 20032, Millet, cooked. United States Department of Agriculture.
2. Types of Millets. FAO.
3. Chandrasekara A, Shahidi F. 2010. Content of insoluble bound phenolics in millets and their contribution to antioxidant capacity. J Agric Food Chem 58:6706–14.
4. Dykes, L., and L. W. Rooney. “Phenolic compounds in cereal grains and their health benefits.” Cereal foods world 52, no. 3 (2007): 105-111.
5. Saleh, Ahmed SM, Qing Zhang, Jing Chen, and Qun Shen. “Millet grains: nutritional quality, processing, and potential health benefits.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 12, no. 3 (2013): 281-295.
6. Magnesium. Linus Pauling Institute.
7. Kumari, P. Lakshmi, and S. Sumathi. “Effect of consumption of finger millet on hyperglycemia in non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) subjects.” Plant Foods for Human Nutrition 57, no. 3-4 (2002): 205-213.
8. Devi, Palanisamy Bruntha, Rajendran Vijayabharathi, Sathyaseelan Sathyabama, Nagappa Gurusiddappa Malleshi, and Venkatesan Brindha Priyadarisini. “Health benefits of finger millet (Eleusine coracana L.) polyphenols and dietary fiber: a review.” Journal of food science and technology 51, no. 6 (2014): 1021-1040.
9. Catassi C, Fasano A. 2008. Celiac disease. In: Gallagher E, editor. Gluten-free cereal products and beverages. Burlington, MA: Elsevier. p 1–27
10. Sarita, Singh E. “Potential of millets: nutrients composition and health benefits.” J. Sci. Innov. Res 5 (2016): 46-50.
11, 18. Chandra, Dinesh, Satish Chandra, and A. K. Sharma. “Review of Finger millet (Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn): a power house of health benefiting nutrients.” Food Science and Human Wellness 5, no. 3 (2016): 149-155.
12. Calcium and bones. MedLine Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
13. Castiglioni, Sara, Alessandra Cazzaniga, Walter Albisetti, and Jeanette AM Maier. “Magnesium and osteoporosis: current state of knowledge and future research directions.” Nutrients 5, no. 8 (2013): 3022-3033.
14. Nutritional and Health Benefits of Millets. Indian Institute of Millets Research.
15. Saleh, Ahmed SM, Qing Zhang, Jing Chen, and Qun Shen. “Millet grains: nutritional quality, processing, and potential health benefits.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 12, no. 3 (2013): 281-295.
16. Tsai, Chung-Jyi, Michael F. Leitzmann, Walter C. Willett, and Edward L. Giovannucci. “Long-term intake of dietary fiber and decreased risk of cholecystectomy in women.” The American journal of gastroenterology 99, no. 7 (2004): 1364.
17. Jenkins, Trisha A., Jason CD Nguyen, Kate E. Polglaze, and Paul P. Bertrand. “Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis.” Nutrients 8, no. 1 (2016): 56.
19. Hegde PS, Rajasekaran NS, Chandra TS. 2005. Effects of the antioxidant properties of millet species on oxidative stress and glycemic status in alloxan-induced rats. Nutr Res 25:1109–20.
20. Hegde, Prashant S., B. Anitha, and T. S. Chandra. “In vivo effect of whole grain flour of finger millet (Eleusine coracana) and kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum) on rat dermal wound healing.” Indian journal of experimental biology 43, no. 3 (2005): 254-258.
21. Increasing Breast Milk Supply. Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.
22. Dayakar Rao, B., K. Bhaskarachary, G. D. Arlene Christina, G. Sudha Devi, and A. Tonapi Vilas. “Nutritional and Health benefits of Millets.” ICAR_Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR) Rajendranagar, Hyderabad (2017): 112.
23. Guntoyinbo, Folarin A., Panagiotis Tourlomousis, Michael J. Gasson, and Arjan Narbad. “Analysis of bacterial communities of traditional fermented West African cereal foods using culture independent methods.” International journal of food microbiology 145, no. 1 (2011): 205-210.
24. U.S. Dietary Guidelines and WG Whole Grains Council.
25. GAITAN, EDUARDO, RAYMOND H. LINDSAY, ROBERT D. REICHERT, SIDNEY H. INGBAR, ROBERT C. COOKSEY, JIM LEGAN, EDWARD F. MEYDRECH, JOHN HILL, and KEN KUBOTA. “Antithyroid and goitrogenic effects of millet: role of C-glycosylflavones.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 68, no. 4 (1989): 707-714.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.