Exploring the Types of Millets and Their Benefits

Key Takeaways:

1. Millets are nutrient-rich grains packed with fibre, protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them a valuable addition to any diet.

2. Millets are an ideal choice for those following a gluten-free diet.

3. With their low glycemic index and high fibre content, millets can aid in managing blood sugar levels, making them a smart choice for individuals with diabetes.

4. Millets support heart health by being low in fat and cholesterol while providing essential nutrients like potassium and magnesium, which help regulate blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels.

5. The high fibre content of millets helps promote satiety, prevent overeating, and support weight management goals, making them a nutritious option for those looking to maintain a healthy weight.

Introduction

Millets have sustained civilizations for over 4,000 years. In recognition of their global significance, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization declared 2023 as "the year of the millets". Indian millets thrive in arid regions, offering superior nutrition, and being rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. They're gluten-free with a low glycemic index, catering to those with celiac disease or diabetes. India is one of the largest producers of millet in the world. Despite India being a top millet exporter, they remain underused in most of the country. Data suggests that the annual per capita consumption of millets in India has decreased significantly over the years from 30.94 kg in 1960 to 3.87 kg in 2022.

Amidst the surge of lifestyle diseases and the looming threat of climate change, let's embrace the wisdom of the past and reintroduce millets into our diets. Join the movement towards healthier eating and unlock the countless benefits that millets have to offer for your well-being and vitality. Read this blog to explore the types of millets and their benefits.

Image credit: APEPA | Production trends of millets in India

What is Millet?

Millets are members of the Poaceae family, comprising several species of cereal grasses, prized for their small edible seeds. Millets have a somewhat nutty and earthy flavour, with variations depending on the specific type. Some millets may also have a slightly sweet taste.

Millets, with their ability to thrive in harsh conditions, not only benefit our health but also contribute to sustainable agriculture practices, making them good for both the earth and for us. They require minimal inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. Some deep-rooted varieties even aid in soil conservation and desertification mitigation. 

How Many Types of Millet Are There?

Millets are categorized into major and minor types based on grain size, with additional pseudo millets, offering similar nutritional benefits despite not belonging to the Poaceae family.

A chart showing different types of millets
Image credit: A beginner’s guide to millets by the whole truth | Types of millets in India

Millet Nutrition

Millets stand out as nutritional powerhouses, brimming with dietary fibre, and high-quality proteins. They boast an impressive array of micronutrients, and phytochemicals, including phosphorous, potassium, antioxidants, niacin, calcium, and iron. With protein levels ranging from 7-12% and fibre content between 15-20%, millets provide a wholesome alternative to traditional grains like rice, wheat, and maize. 

  • Proso millet leads in protein and vitamin B content.
  • Pearl millet is known for its high dietary fibre and iron content. 
  • Finger millet and barnyard millet excel in mineral content.

Millets Nutrition per 100g

A table of Indian millet and their nutritional values.
Image credit: APEPA | Indian millet list and their nutritional values

Health Benefits of Millet

Image credit: APEPA | Health Benefits of Millet
  • Promotes gut health: Millets are renowned for their ability to support gut health, primarily due to their high fibre content. Fiber plays a vital role in promoting regular bowel movements, preventing constipation, and supporting overall digestive health. Additionally, millets contain prebiotics, which are non-digestible fibres that nourish beneficial gut bacteria, promoting a healthy gut microbiome. Furthermore, millets are gluten-free, making them an excellent choice for individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. 
  • Builds strong bones: Incorporating millet into your regular diet can be an effective way to support bone health and reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis. Packed with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and antioxidants, millets provide essential nutrients necessary for maintaining strong and healthy bones. Calcium is crucial for bone strength and density, while magnesium aids in calcium absorption and bone formation. Phosphorus works alongside calcium in bone mineralization, further supporting bone health. Additionally, the antioxidants found in millets help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, contributing to overall bone health. 
  • Improves heart health: Millets are high in dietary fibre, which helps lower cholesterol levels by reducing the absorption of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the bloodstream, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis. Millets are packed with essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants. Potassium helps regulate blood pressure, magnesium supports heart muscle function, and antioxidants protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which are linked to heart disease.
  • Helps to control diabetes: Millets have a low glycemic index, meaning they release glucose into the bloodstream slowly, preventing sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels help reduce the risk of diabetes and related heart complications. For example, a meta-analysis of 65 studies revealed that millets exhibit significantly lower glycemic index compared to white rice, refined wheat, glucose, or white wheat bread. Long-term consumption of millets led to significant reductions in both fasting and post-prandial blood glucose levels by 12% and 15%, respectively, among diabetic individuals. Moreover, pre-diabetic subjects experienced a significant decrease in HbA1c levels when incorporating millets into their diet over an extended period. Minimally processed millets were found to be 30% more effective in lowering the glycemic index of a meal compared to milled rice and refined wheat. These findings suggest that millet can play a beneficial role in managing and reducing the risk of diabetes. 
  • Reduces risk of obesity: Millets are low in fat and calories while being filling due to their high fibre content. Including millet in your diet can help manage weight and reduce the risk of obesity, a major risk factor for heart disease.
  • Cancer prevention: While no single food can prevent cancer, including millets in your diet may contribute to reducing cancer risk due to their rich antioxidant content, high dietary fibre, and potential anticancer properties. Antioxidants in millet help neutralize harmful free radicals, while fibre supports digestive health and may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Additionally, millets provide essential nutrients that support overall health and immune function, potentially aiding in cancer prevention. 

FAQs

How much millet to eat per day?

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), it is recommended to consume 30 to 40 grams of cooked millet once daily as part of a meal.

Which is the best millet for weight loss?

Incorporating a variety of millets into a balanced diet, along with regular physical activity, is key to achieving and maintaining weight loss goals. Foxtail millet, finger millet and pearl millet are often favoured choices due to their high fibre content, which helps promote satiety and prevents overeating. Additionally, these millets have a low glycemic index, making them suitable for weight management.

How can I incorporate millet into my daily diet?

  • Use cooked millets like foxtail millet, pearl millet, or sorghum as a nutritious alternative to rice or wheat in your meals. You can use millet flour to make flat breads or dumplings popularly known as Mudda in South India. 
  • You can use foxtail millet, pearl millet or finger millet to make idli or dosa.
  • Prepare a hearty breakfast by cooking millet with milk or water and adding fruits, nuts, and honey for extra flavour and nutrition.
  • Add cooked and cooled millets to salads along with fresh vegetables, herbs, and a light dressing for a nutritious and filling meal.
  • Make homemade snacks like millet-based crackers, muffins, or energy bars.
  • Prepare desserts like millet pudding, cookies, or cakes.

Are millets high in protein?

Yes, millets are a good source of plant-based protein, with content ranging from 7-12% depending on the variety.

Also read: Mass Gainer vs Whey Protein

Can millet cause food allergy?

Millets are generally considered safe for consumption and are not common allergens, like wheat or nuts. However, allergic reactions to millets can still occur, albeit rarely. Symptoms of a millet allergy may include itching, swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, or gastrointestinal distress.

Which millet is the best source of iron?

Among various millets, finger millet is often considered the best millet for iron content. Consuming finger millet regularly, especially in combination with other iron-rich foods and sources of vitamin C to enhance iron absorption, can contribute to maintaining optimal iron levels and overall health.

Conclusion 

In conclusion, millets stand out as versatile and nutritious grains offering a plethora of health benefits. From their high fibre and protein content to their low glycemic index and a rich array of vitamins and minerals, millets are a valuable addition to any diet. Whether you're aiming to manage diabetes, support heart health, or boost your overall well-being, incorporating millets into your meals can be a wise choice. 

To discover personalized nutritional guidance and track your health journey effectively, I urge you to download the Aware Health app. Our app combines medical research, experience design, and cutting-edge technology to offer an engaging care journey, preventing heart attacks and strokes associated with chronic lifestyle conditions.

Also read: Sweet Rewards: Health Benefits of Kimia Dates

About the Author

Dr. Satish Madiraju, a renowned cardiologist is passionate about consumer heart health and is on a mission to prevent a million heart attacks. He shares his expertise not only on heart health but also on leadership, digital health, and improving patient experience.
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