Millets are small seeds of varied cereal crops grown spontaneously or cultivated in almost all countries for use by humans as food grains and also as fodder for animals. They are seeds of highly drought resistant and short duration grass like crops. It has been cultivated since ancient civilizations by people of most of the countries.
There is a perception that millets are primarily used as fodder which is unfounded. In fact, about one third of world’s population survive on millet based food. It has been classified as major and minor millets and India is the top millet producing country in the world. Sorghum, foxtail, pearl and finger are some of the commonly used varieties. The most common variety of millet is known around the word as pearl millet (pennisetum glaucum).
The nutrient contents in each variety may vary, but generally it provides certain common nutrients. A100gm serving provide 378 calories, 11gm of protein and smaller quantities of many vitamins and minerals.
Health benefits of millets
Millets form a significant part in human diet due to various advantages they provide in comparison with the common food grains, namely rice and wheat.
- They provide energy, iron and copper apart from other vitamins and minerals. Iron content in it improves hemoglobin level in blood. In view of the iron content in millets which enhances hemoglobin level, it is useful as a remedy for anemia as it can combat iron deficiency.
- They are easily digestible for they are alkaline in character.
- It contains significant quantity of dietary fiber. In addition to this the simple sugars in millets are highly valuable as they contribute to the low glycemic index and consequently good for people suffering due to diabetes.
- The high level of protein in it makes it very beneficial to vegetarians as the sources of protein from other vegetarian foods might be inadequate.
- Millets like ragi (yeast) are rich in calcium and are very useful in supply of the required quantity of calcium, so as to strengthen the bones and prevent arthritis.
- The rich magnesium content in it, reduces the menstrual cramps and has the potential to regulate the menstrual cycle.
- While animal proteins contain high amount of saturated fatty acids, millets provide fat free protein. This can be a good source of protein for obese people.
- Millets provide good quality protein like wheat. But the advantage is that it is gluten free contrary to wheat.
- The amino acid, tryptophan present in it regulate appetite thereby preventing overeating and consequent excessive weight gain by the body.
- The amino acids in it lowers cholesterol level in the blood by reducing the formation of plaques in the blood vessels.
- Presence of dietary fiber and phytonutrients in millets prevents the risk of colon cancer. Moreover the rich fiber content satiate hunger quickly and prevents food craving. Due to this phenomena millets are advised as a substitute for rice or wheat in any weight loss program.
- Being gluten free, it can protect from celiac disease, which damages the small intestine and consequently prevent absorption of nutrients by the body. People suffering from celiac disease are intolerant to gluten and millets are the proper substitute food for them.
- Antioxidants present in it fight free radicals in the body and neutralizes them thereby slowing down the ageing process. The amount of anti-oxidants are comparable with that present in fruits and vegetables.
- The low glycemic index of millets are a boon to diabetics, particularly of type-2. Since it increases the insulin sensitivity and controls the blood sugar level in such people particularly if they are on continuous millet diet.
- Consumption of millets, particularly ragi enhances the production of milk in lactating mother.
- Cuscuta reflexa, known as Kudhirai vaali, is astringent which increase appetite and improve body stamina. It cures bleeding as well as pain due to piles, diarrhea, boils and thirst due to fever, cough, abscess and loss of vision due to cataract.
- Another millet, panicum itatifcum, (thinai) is a diuretic and a tonic to enhance the strength of the body. It cures phlegm, strengthens muscles and cures gastric disorders. Gruel made from the flour is consumed to reduce swellings in the body. The thick gruel has the potential to clean the uterus of mothers who have just delivered babies and enhances the strength of the body post-delivery.
Some of the millets can be water or steam cooked and can be used as a substitute for rice or wheat. Some millets need to be pounded into fine flour and made into a cereal with other ingredients. They can be consumed in the form of soups too. Salad, kichadi and uppuma can also be prepared with millets.