• Rucha Bajpai

How to MILLETS (Traditional Grains) known as "A poor man’s Food" or "SUPERFOOD"?

Updated: Dec 21, 2020




What are millets?


Millets are traditional grains, grown and eaten in in the indian subcontinent for at least the past 5000 years. They are rain-fed, hardy grains which have low requirements of water and fertility when compared to other popular cereals.

Millets can be split into two broad categories: Naked grains and Husked grains. “Naked grains” are the three popular millets (Ragi, Jowar and Bajra) which dont have a hard, undigestable husk.


These millets dont need to be processed after harvest – they just need to be cleaned and can be used. Because of this reason, they are still popular in our country and are widely cultivated (they are also called major millets because of this reason). “Husked grains” are the other millets, like Foxtail Millet (navane), Little Millet (saame) and Kodo Millet (haarka), which have an undigestable seed coat.


This husk needs to be removed before the grain is fit for human consumption. This used to be done by hand in the centuries past and so was rice. However, the mechanization of the processing of these minor millets did not keep pace with rice and other cereals so they soon became unpopular.


Why should we eat millets?


If you’re into healthy eating, chances are your menu includes quinoa. Millets are coarse grains and a repository of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. They include jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), korra (foxtail millet), arke (kodo millet), sama (little millet), bajra (pearl millet), chena/barr (proso millet) and sanwa (barnyard millet).


Millets are highly nutritious, rich in fibre and gluten-free, making them easy for the body to absorb. They are rich in a huge spectrum of micronutrients, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, etc. They are slow digesting foods which don’t cause the huge spike in blood sugar which is caused by eating polished rice, therefore, millets help with preventing and controlling diabetes.


Millets should ideally be an integral part of your daily diet. They add variety and balance to your food. They can replace white rice in all your meals. You can start by mixing millets into rice and slowly make one meal a day a Millet meal. Some people have found enormous benefits, especially in controlling weight and diabetes, by switching completely from a rice and wheat diet to a millet based diet.



The reason for this is lack of awareness about the nutritional benefits, the not-so-sumptuous taste and the tag of “a poor man’s food". Also, government pushed only rice and wheat in the subsidized public distribution system, rendering the cultivation of millets uneconomical



Why are Millets not as popular as rice and wheat?


The green revolution was a landmark initiative to rehaul the agricultural practices of our country. It was launched in response to the multiple famines in the 1950s and 1960s so as to make the country self sufficient with respect to food production. The took a “package” approach – using hybrid variety seeds which have higher yield, adding fertilizers to deal with the additional requirement of this crop, using pesticides and other additives since these hybrid varieties had no defense against local pests and diseases & building dams, supplying electricity, installing borewells and other methods of making sure the crops have sufficient water. There picked two cereals as the main force of change: Paddy Rice (Oryza Sativa) and wheat (Triticum aestivum).


These two grains were made available to farmers and subsidized heavily to get more farmers to grow these (The whole package was subsidized: fertilizers, pesticides, electricity, etc) These initiatives worked remarkably well in making our country produce more food (we produce more than we use now), so well that farmers everywhere switched to growing rice and wheat instead of traditional, hardy cereals like millets. Only the most remote villages and tribes kept to their traditional methods of growing millets and other hardy crops.


Why it is called the "Lazy man’s crop"?


Millets are easy crops to grow & are called the “Lazy man’s crop” because of how less effort is needed to grow them. In fact, many millets grow as weeds in other crops. All you need to do is to broadcast the seeds in the farm and you will have a harvest after 3 months. They just need 2-3 timely rains and will yield a good harvest. Most millets are grown as Kharif crops, i.e. they are sown at the beginning of summer rains. In areas that receive good rainfall, many of the millets are grown as a rabi crop i.e. they are sown in winter and harvested in spring.


There are many types of millets like ragi, foxtail millet, pearl millet finger millets, proso millets, little millets, kodo millets and barnyard millets and all these grains have one in thing common – ample amounts of nutrition. And they are not bland in taste anymore. Millets are now being made into fluffy bread, gooey porridges, hot kitchids, idlis, dosas and even delicious desserts.


Millets are small, round-shaped coarse grains which is an indigenous crop to India that comes with an impressive nutrient profile. They are famed as “poor man’s food grain” due to its affordability. It is a drought and pest resistant crop that survive in a harsh climate and less fertile soil. All millet varieties belong to the Poaceae family, however, they differ in colour, appearance and species.



What are the different Types of Millets?


Foxtail Millet


Foxtail millet loaded with protein and complex carbohydrates regulate blood sugar spikes, diminished bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and increase good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. While being rich in iron and calcium it maintains healthy blood levels and strengthens bones.


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Finger Millet


Finger millets, also known as ragi is a healthier cereal alternative for rice and wheat. It is a gluten-free grain loaded with protein and amino acids that promote growth and boost brain health in children.


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Pearl Millet


Pearl millet or bajra abounds with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron is valuable in uplifting overall health. An immense amount of protein and dietary fibre helps in managing diabetes and support weight loss.


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Little Millet


Little or kutki is a great millet option for all those fitness enthusiasts, as it serves as a healthy tweak for rice. Bestowed with fibre and minerals such as potassium, zinc, iron and calcium and vitamin B3 supports fat metabolism, tissue repair, reduces cholesterol and energy production.


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What are various Nutritional Facts?


Millets come with a whopping amount of nutrients including proteins, dietary fibre, B vitamins, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, copper and selenium. They are also a powerhouse of antioxidants, flavonoids, anthocyanins, saponins and lignans that provide you with impressive health benefits. Let us know the holistic nutritional benefits these millets offer if included in daily diet.



What are various Health Benefits Of Millets?


  • Regulate Blood Glucose Levels


Millets, when compared to wheat and maize, are high on nutrients, gluten-free and have a low glycemic index of 54-68. The presence of a high amount of dietary fibre, proteins with all essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals helps in stabilizing the blood sugar levels. Millets can be a part of a healthy diet for diabetic patient that prevent blood sugar spikes and promote insulin sensitivity.


  • Help In Weight Loss


Millets are boon for all weight watchers who are wanting to shed those extra kilos. Including millets in the regular regimen like millet flour or having millets for breakfast can remarkably help in lowering the BMI of obese people. Swapping rice with millets daily can lower accumulation of fat, improves gut health and help you in achieving sustained weight loss.


  • Good For Heart


Millets are loaded with an impressive profile of antioxidants that include beta-glucans, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, tannins, lignans, and policosanols. These antioxidants play a crucial role in lowering LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and helps to maintain the blood vessels healthy and clears off the clots, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease, and stroke.


  • Battles Cancer Cells


Millets such as foxtail and proso varieties are `proven by research to be effective in inhibiting the growth of cancerous cells in various tissues. The Phytochemicals in millets exhibit antiproliferative effects and lower formation of cancer cells in the colon, breast, and liver without causing any damages to normal cells.


  • Promotes Digestion


The presence of a good amount of dietary fibre in millets works well to improve the digestive system function. It combats constipation, flatulence, bloating, cramping, regularizes the bowel function and improves the overall health of other vital organs like liver, kidney and boosts the immune system.



Why are millet nutritious grains when compared to rice, etc?


Grains which grow in harsh conditions store a lot of varied nutrients in their seeds. This is perhaps a symptom of

evolutionary pressure – better prepared seeds will survive and thrive and less prepared species will die out. The same benefit is passed on to us as well when we consume it. However, nowadays, the rice and wheat which we eat are hybrid varieties which have been selected for predictable growth and high yield. By nature, they do not store much nutrients in their seeds.


In the same vein, plants which grow on a flourishing rich soil alive with microactivity will get a varied diet to grow on when compared to the plants which grow via hydroponics or soils fed on a steady stream of homogenous fertilisers. This kind of mono-diet for our plants and therefore, our diet, leads to diseases like vitamin deficiency and mineral deficiency.


Whole grain millets vs polished millets


One has to keep in mind an important aspect of cereal grains – almost all the mineral and fatty acids and a good proportion of the fibre content is found in the bran layer. So one needs to make sure that the product you buy is unpolished, whole grain, millet rice, and has suffered minimal bran loss. Polishing millets removes the bran layer leading to major loss of nutrients. But it makes the over-all processing easier and allows for larger scale processing.


How to cook millets?


Cooking with Millets is very easy & takes around the same time as cooking with other cereals.


Should I soak millets before cooking?


It is preferable to soak the rice or brokens of millets for 2 to 6 hours before cooking. This is helpful in improving the probiotic qualities of the food. In case one is unable to presoak the rice or grits before cooking, then there will some reduction in the probiotic qualities, it is in no way harmful or has ill effects of the people consuming. When you soak, you need to use less water and also cook for little less time.


Whatever ‘superfood’ is trending in the West (wheatgrass, cranberries, Soba noodles, broccoli rabe, to name a few), ready to spend a bomb, and indifferent to the goodness of our own food.


“Quinoa” – What’s all the fuss?


Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wah’) is a pseudo-cereal closely related to our own Dantina Soppu (Amaranthus). Quinoa has been traditionally grown in the highlands of South America as a sustenance crop past 3000 – 4000 years. It caught the fancy of the US public, who are always on the lookout for new “superfoods” – which they think will solve all the problems with their diet.

The truth is, we don’t need to look so far as the Southern Andes to find such a nutritious grain. Quinoa, like millets, has evolved in harsh conditions with bad soil & its nutritional profile is comparable to many of the minor millets (especially foxtail, barnyard millets). Why get grains from so far when we have a superfood in our own backyard!


Millets and the Environment


With climate change on our minds and rainfall becoming more and more unpredictable, millets are turning out to be one of the most important grains for the whole world. Being rain-fed crops, Millets put minimal stress on our delicate, already overloaded water systems. Growing millets does not necessitate construction of expensive & ecologically disruptive dams and irrigation systems.


They can survive on soil where rice and wheat cannot grow, even slightly saline and acidic soils, so they can grow well without fertilizers and other soil enhancing chemicals. Also, millets are not susceptible to pests and do not need spraying of pesticides. Millets strengthen food security since they are less likely to fail than other cereal crops.


Some FAQ’s regarding millets


Que 1: Is millet good for breakfast?


Ans : Millet is a beneficial whole grain and, according to MayoClinic.com, it can help regulate blood pressure and improve heart health. ... With 207 calories, 6 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and 2 grams of fiber per cooked cup, millet is an ideal breakfast choice.


Que 2: Can millets be eaten everyday?


Ans : For those who are health conscious and are wary about what they eat, experts suggest that millets should be a part of their daily regular diet. Millets are nutritious, non-glutinous (non-sticky) and are not acid-forming foods, thus making them very easy to digest.


Que 3: What do you eat millet with?


Ans : This pseudograin also makes a great bed for roasted vegetables, curries, and stews. Lightly toast millet before cooking to enhance the earthy, nutty flavor. Leftover millet can be tossed in salads or added to your morning eggs ( I love adding about 1/2 cup of cooked millet to frittatas – it's a great way to add bulk).


Que 4: Which Millet is tasty?


Ans : Apart from the many health benefits, millets come with a unique taste that ups the flavour quotient of any dish. With many culinary innovations in the recent past, major millets like ragi, bajra and jowar are being used to prepare heart-warming snacks and meals such as bajra tarts, khichdi, ragi dosas, etc.

Que 5:Is Millet good for the body?


Ans : Millet is a whole grain that's packed with protein, antioxidants, and nutrients. It may have numerous health benefits, such as helping lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Plus, it's gluten-free, making it an excellent choice for people who have celiac disease or follow a gluten-free diet.


Que 6: Which Millet is healthiest?


Ans : Wheat and rice may be amongst the most popular grains, but millets such as sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), foxtail millet (kangni), finger millet (ragi), Barnyard millet, Kodo mille, Little Millet, Proso Millet are amongst the healthiest millet grains available.


Que 7: Who should not eat Millets?


Ans : “Millets are advised in moderate amounts because excessive consumption can lead to adverse effects as the cereals contain substances that interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland. Millets can cause delayed digestion due to their slow digestibility as they are high in fibre.


Que 8: Is Millet healthier than rice?


Ans : “Compared to white rice or wheat, millets are high on fibre and control blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Idli, dosa or chapatti are easily digested and,there will be excessive insulin secretion leading to weight gain. With millets, you eat slow and consume less because of the fibre content.


Que 9: Which Millet is good for heart?


Ans : Wheat and rice may be amongst the most popular grains, but millets such as sorghum (jowar), pearl millet (bajra), foxtail millet (kangni), finger millet (ragi), Barnyard millet, Kodo mille, Little Millet, Proso Millet are amongst the healthiest millet grains availablee. It helps to control blood sugar & cholester.


Que 10: Which is better quinoa or millet?


Ans : Advantages of Quinoa Quinoa contains about 4.4 grams of protein per 100 grams, a little more than millet.In addition, however, quinoa is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids—not produced by the human body—and the millet does not.


Que 11: Does millet make you fat?


Ans : It is very low in calories but is extremely rich in magnesium, fiber, bioactive compounds, and other important minerals and vitamins. Millets are a vital part of a well-balanced diet and moderate consumption of this whole grain is linked with effective weight loss.


Que 12: Is millet carbohydrate or protein?


Ans : Raw millet is 9% water, 73% carbohydrates, 4% fat and 11% protein (table)


Que 13: Is millet a Superfood?


Ans : The good-old grain, packed with nutrition, is back as a superfood. Millet has more protein than rice and is rich in vitamins A and B, iron, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese.


Que 14: Is Millet anti inflammatory?


Ans : Millet Exerts Anti-Inflammatory Effects Results showed that all extracts of several types of millet, including the one that is used mostly in the United States, showed suppressive activities against the production of inflammatory cytokines. What was even better is that the compounds in millet worked selectively.


Que 15: Is Millet toxic?


Ans : Millets are small-seeded, fast-growing summer annual grasses used for hay, pasture, and silage. ... Because millets do not produce this toxic compound they can be a safe alternative to sudangrass pastures. Foxtail millet is used primarily as a forage crop for silage or hay.


Que 16: What is the difference between millet and quinoa?


Ans : Known as the 'mother grain', quinoa is actually a pseudo-cereal or seed and not quite a grain as many would think. ... Like millet, quinoa is gluten-free, high in protein and fibre. The major nutritional difference between quinoa and millet is their amino acid profiles – quinoa is a complete protein whereas millet is not.


Que 17: Can we eat quinoa everyday?


Ans : But aside from being on-trend and low in calories, scientists believe eating a bowl of quinoa, whole grains and cereal fibres each day could reduce the risk of premature death caused by heart disease, cancer, respiratory ailments, diabetes and other chronic diseases by 17 per cent.



Que 18: Eating rice at night will make me fat Fact?


Ans : High carb foods that are digested to form glucose include rice, wheat, ragi and millets.


Que 19: Which Millet is good for diabetes?


Ans : In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who ate a special diet with added foxtail millet lowered their blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Another study found that switching from rice to foxtail millet at breakfast led to lower blood sugar levels after the meal.


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