Millets are the seeds of grasslike rice and wheat with a little difference in their structure. These are aptly called KiruDanya (small grains) and also called Siri Danya meaning wealthy cereals in Kannada. Undoubtedly, these grains give wealth to the grower and provide rich health to the eaters. Inspired by this Kannada term, our Prime
Minister Narendra Modi named it aptly Sri Anna with a touch of divinity.
Our PM has realised how millets can help the world face the challenges confronting it and has taken the initiative to promote its cultivation, processing technology and culinary preparations. United Nations, at the behest of India, has declared 2023 the International Year of The Millets (IYTM) and 70 countries have accepted the proposal by PM Modi. The declaration of international millet year supports India to position itself as a global hub of millet, which is a step ahead of Atmanirbharatha.
Why do millets need to be popularised?
Were these millets unknown to us? No, not at all. Millets had been used by us for aeons but unfortunately, they were forgotten due to various reasons. Now the time has come to revive the use of these in our daily meals. These small nutritious grains have staple food across India and other East Asia and in Africa for millennia.
If the world looks at millet as a healthy food, it is none other than India getting benefits in various ways. As India, being the largest millet producer sharing 41 per cent of the world’s production, takes a bigger stake in exporting these little grains. An estimation suggests that India is one of the top 5 exporters in the world, and the demand for millet is growing by, the year will support our farmers financially and millet-related food business. Through these means we can showcase our food culture as global food culture.
India is one of the largest millet producers of the world, with 41 per cent share in the world’s production. Better demand will only benefit our farmers and related businesses
Though millets are the oldest foods known to humanity, yet these are still not considered a crop that provides food security. Despite the nutritional quality and availability, millet was not incorporated into mid-day meals and other various government programs. After independence, the political will failed to recognise the values of millet, and if millet had been incorporated into the government food distribution system, that would have stopped the insult of going to the US with the begging bowl. I, as a nutritionist who worked for a global NGO for a few decades back needed to report to my US bosses, that Anganwadi children’s growth rate improved only after the incorporation of wheat-based meal which was donated to India by them. If millet were used properly malnutrition would have been addressed in a better way. Because of less usage, millet has taken a back seat in agriculture. Despite all this discouragement millet produced on a small scale was used by the farmer families and women folk made tasty preparations to keep the millet alive.
Health Benefits of Millets
Millets is rich in niacin, which helps your body manage more than 400 enzyme reactions. Niacin is also important for healthy skin and organ function.
Millets also provides other health benefits, including:
- Control Blood Sugar: Millets are low in simple carbohydrates and higher in complex carbohydrates, making it a low-glycemic index (GI) food
- Improve Digestive Health: Millets are rich in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. The insoluble fiber in millet is known as a “prebiotic
- Protect Heart: The soluble fiber in millets can help reduce the amount of “bad” cholesterol in your blood—a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
The cut-throat competition in the food industry, artificially created food scarcity, foreign-based Agri-research and ignorance made us lose more than one lakh varieties of rice. Oil seeds like soya, sunflower, and olives are pushing Indian oil seed crops to the back door, and off-late seeds like chia, Kenova and many more changing the crop pattern will affect our food choices, in turn, our health. If the same fate is afflicted on millet, this will take a toll on our health and wealth. Our body’s metabolic functions, digestive juices, enzymes, and gut bacterial flora are well-developed and evolved around the use of our traditional foods. If the worthiness of food is based on health facts, millet does take a primary role in supporting health.
Nutritional profile of millets
In India based on millet produce and usage, these are classified as major millets, comprising sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet; and minor millets comprising foxtail, little, kodo, Proso, and barnyard millet. Across India, there are more than 60 varieties of millet used, adding variety to culinary preparation. The nutritional importance of millet cannot be underestimated.Though the millets kernels differ from millet to millet these contain three main anatomical parts – pericarp, Endosperm, and Germ. The pericarp is a rich source of insoluble fibre. The endosperm is composed of starch granules, protein bodies, cellulose, glucans, and hemicellulose. The embryo is composed of good-quality protein, essential fats,and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamins.
Millets help in rendering health benefits like reduction in blood sugar level, blood pressure regulation, euthyroidism, reducing the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, promote the health of digestive disorders by preventing digestive and celiac diseases. An added advantage is that these are gluten-free causing no food allergies.
Effects of Millet on blood sugar values
It is proven beyond doubt that millets help reduce the elevated sugars in diabetes. Their GI value ranges from 35 to 60, delaying the hydrolysis of carbohydrates in the gut is a favourable factor in diabetes management. The effects of foxtail and pearl millet in daily meals were clinically tested in my clinic and the same paper was presented in IIMR. The statistical analysis showed that sugar values before and after the test, were significant. So, why crib about the use of Indian millet and prefer imported foods or packaged foods to control diabetes? Though all millets are nutritiously packed and support our health I have taken two millets that are more commonly used. Pearl millet/Bajra is more nutritious than rice and wheat. It contains good quality carbs, provides low-cost protein compared to animal protein, and less fat to suit the present-day lifestyle, having 45.5mg of folic acid supports the formation of folate in the blood and is a boon to adolescent girls in preventing anemia and miscarriage caused by undernutrition in pregnancy. The calory value is superior to an egg and an excellent source of calcium to promote bone formation in children is a better option than an egg and rice among school-going children.
Finger millet/Mandu has taken a backseat because of its black colour in an elite meal. No other grains can match the values of calcium present in finger millet. The special quality of finger millet is its husk can be easily removed using household technology. Even today in most parts of south India, sprouted and de-husked ragi malt is used as a substitute for mother’s milk in case there is no mother’s milk and is widely used as weaning food for infants. It was challenging to explain how finger millet enhances bone formation to a group of foreign delegates as they could not understand the health benefits of any vegetarian food beyond egg and meat. But today FAO has taken a stand with India in popularising the benefits of millet.
Millets in festivals
Enjoy Varsha Pratipada by preparing some sweet and savory. Buckwheat/Kuttu laddu – Roast Kuttu flour in ghee and add powdered jaggery along with roasted almond, currents, and cashew nuts. Make balls using ghee.
Ambode/ vada-soaked Bengal gram and fresh kernels of maize in equal ratios. Mix them with green chilies, hing, grated coconut, curry leaves, and salt. Grind coarsely. Take a small ball, flatten it, and fry it in the oil.