Millets -Nutrition, Benefits, and More
Millet is a cereal grain that belongs to the Poaceae family, commonly known as the grass family.
Millet has gained popularity in the West because it’s gluten-free and boasts high protein, fiber, and antioxidant contents.
Attributes and types of millet
Millet is a small, round whole grain grown in India, Nigeria, and other Asian and African countries. Considered an ancient grain, it’s used both for human consumption and livestock and bird feed.
It has multiple advantages over other crops, including drought and pest resistance. It’s also able to survive in harsh environments and less fertile soil. These benefits stem from its genetic composition and physical structure — for example, its small size and hardness. Although all millet varieties belong to the Poaceae family, they differ in color, appearance, and species.
This crop is also divided into two categories — major and minor millets, with major millets being the most popular or commonly cultivated varieties.
Major millets include:
- proso (or white)
- finger (or ragi)
Minor millets include:
- adlay (or Job’s tears)
Pearl millet is the most widely produced variety intended for human consumption. Still, all types are renowned for their high nutritional value and health benefits.
Benefits of millet
Millet is rich in nutrients and plant compounds. Therefore, it may offer multiple health benefits.
Rich in antioxidants
Millet is rich in phenolic compounds, especially ferulic acid and catechins. While all millet varieties contain antioxidants, those with a darker color — such as finger, proso, and foxtail millet — have more than their white or yellow counterparts.
May help control blood sugar levels
Millet is rich in fiber and non-starchy polysaccharides, two types of undigestible carbs that help control blood sugar levels. This cereal also has a low glycemic index (GI), meaning that it’s unlikely to spike your blood sugar levels. Thus, millets are considered an ideal grain for people with diabetes.
For instance, a study in 105 people with type 2 diabetes determined that replacing a rice-based breakfast with a millet-based one lowered blood sugar levels after the meal. A diet containing 20% finger millet led to lower fasting blood sugar levels and a drop in triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
May help lower cholesterol
Millet contains soluble fiber, which produces a viscous substance in your gut. In turn, this traps fats and helps reduce cholesterol levels.
One study in 24 rats found that those fed foxtail and proso millet had significantly reduced triglyceride levels, compared with the control group.
Adiponectin is a hormone with an anti-inflammatory effect that supports heart health and stimulates fatty acid oxidation. Its levels are usually lower in people with obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Fits a gluten-free diet
Millet is a gluten-free grain, making it a viable choice for people with celiac disease or those following a gluten-free diet.
Gluten is a protein that occurs naturally in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance must avoid it because it triggers harmful digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and nutrient malabsorption.
When shopping for millet, you should still look for a label that certifies it gluten-free to ensure it hasn’t been contaminated with any gluten-containing ingredients.
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