International Year of Millets: Making Sense of Millets for a Healthy You

Millets are a group of small-grained cereal food crops that are highly tolerant to drought and extreme weather conditions. They are grown with low chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Most of the millet crops are native to India and are popularly known as nutri-cereals as they provide most of the nutrients required for the normal functioning of the human body.

Millets are classified into major millets and minor millets based on their grain size. Major millet crops include jowar or sorghum, bajra or pearl millet, ragi or finger millet, samai or little millet, kodomillet, barnyard millet, proso millet and brown top millet. Millets are good for you, the planet, and the farmers.
India celebrated 2018 as the ‘The Year of Millets’ and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) declared 2023 as ‘The International Year of Millets’. 

Health benefits 

  • Millets are rich sources of nutrients like carbohydrates, protein, fiber, good quality fat and have substantially higher amounts of minerals. 

  • They also have antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and neuroprotective activities which are beneficial against diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases, etc. 

  •  They have antimicrobial and DNA damage protection activities. 

  •  Millets are an excellent source of slow digestive starch and fibers which are food for the gut. 

  • Fermentation of millets promotes the growth of bacteria which makes millets an effective probiotic food for the gut. 

  • They have lower glycemic properties owing to high fiber content. 

Millets are gluten-free and non-allergenic. Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein, thereby preventing cardiovascular disease. All millets are rich in dietary fibre which has water-absorbing and bulking properties. It increases the transit time of food in the gut which helps in reducing the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and acts as a detoxifying agent in the body. 

Anti-nutritional factors
Food processing methods such as soaking, germination, malting, fermentation, roasting, grinding and autoclaving are commonly used to eliminate the anti-nutritional factors found in millets, thereby improving the nutritional quality of the millets. 

Millets vs wheat and rice 

  •  Millets are rich in calcium. Finger millet and amaranth seeds have the highest content. 

  • Millets are rich sources of phosphorus, magnesium and zinc. 

  • Amaranth and pearl millets contain higher iron content. 

  • Millets are good sources of niacin and folic acid. 

  •   Millets are a rich source of dietary fiber as compared to rice. 

Undernutrition and millets 
Undernutrition, such as stunting and being underweight, is a major public health concern, which requires multi-sectoral attention. Diet plays a key role in growth and should optimally supply all required nutrients to support growth. While millets are traditional foods and climate-smart nutrition crops, they have not been mainstreamed yet like rice, wheat and maize. Diversifying staples with millet can potentially provide more macro and micronutrients, compared to the mainstream crops. 

Millets and child growth 
Given the high nutrient content of millets, understanding their role in child growth would be instrumental in achieving sustainable nutritional security. With being rich sources of many vital nutrients, they have promising potential to combat nutritional deficiencies in third-world countries.
Regular consumption of millets can help to manage the risk of developing type-2 diabetes and reduce hyperlipidemia, hypertension and body mass index (BMI), thereby helping manage cardiovascular disease risk, improve hemoglobin and reduce anemia as well as help calcium retention. (Source:newindianexpress.com 

Image courtesy of theindianmed.com

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