India celebrated 2018 as ‘The Year of Millets’ and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has declared 2023 as “International Year of Millets”. These substantiate the fact that millets play an important role in diets.
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. Dietary fibre has water absorbing and bulking property. It increases transit time of food in the gut which helps in reducing risk of inflammatory bowel disease and acts as detoxifying agent in the body.
- Most of millet crops are native of India and are group of small grained cereal food crops which are highly nutritious.
- Millets are popularly known as Nutri — cereals as they provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of human body.
- Millets are Gluten free and good for people who are gluten-intolerant.
- Prefer to buy Multi grain processed food products like Multigrain Atta, Multigrain Biscuits, Multigrain Bread etc having millets as one of the ingredients.
- Don’t buy, if odour is unpleasant and taste is bitter or gritty.
- Avoid millets if living or dead insects are visible in the product.
- Prefer millets in packed form and certified under AGMARK.
- Check FSSAI license number on the package label.
- Always read the manufacturing/ packaging date and best before date before buying.
- Look for FSSAI Organic logo (Jaivik Bharat) on the pack while buying organic food products.
Millets are traditional grains and have been grown and consumed in the Indian subcontinent since the past 5000 years making them one of the oldest foods known to humanity. Millets are one of the several species of coarse cereal grasses in the family Poaceae, cultivated for their small edible seeds. Pseudo millets are so called because they are not part of the Poaceae botanical family, to which ‘true’ grains belong. However, they are nutritionally similar and used in similar ways to ‘true’ grains. Millets are hardy grains which have low requirements of water and fertility when compared to other popular cereals. They are highly tolerant to drought and other extreme weather conditions.
Millets are highly nutritious, non-glutinous and nonacidic foods. Millets have many nutraceutical and health promoting properties especially the high fibre content. Millets act as a prebiotic feeding for micro-flora in our inner ecosystem. Millets hydrate our colon to keep us from being constipated. Niacin in millet can help lower cholesterol. Millets contain major and minor nutrients in good amount along with dietary fibre. Millets are gluten free and can be a substitute for wheat or gluten containing grains for celiac patients.
Nutritional composition of various types of Millets with their local name
Millets are high in nutrition and dietary fibre. They serve as good source of protein, micronutrients and phytochemicals. The millets contain 7-12% protein, 2-5% fat, 65-75% carbohydrates and 15-20% dietary fibre. The essential amino acid profile of the millet protein is better than various cereals such as maize. Millets are a very good source of micronutrients such as, vitamins and minerals. Millets contain fewer cross-linked prolamins, which may be an additional factor contributing to higher digestibility of the millet proteins.
They are similar to cereal proteins but millet proteins are a poor source of lysine, but they complement well with lysine-rich vegetables (leguminous) and animal proteins which form nutritionally balanced composites of high biological value. Millets are more nutritious compared to fine cereals. Small millets are good source of phosphorous and iron.
Millets contributes to antioxidant activity with phytates, polyphenols, tannins, anthocyanins, phytosterols and pinacosanols present in it having important role in aging and metabolic diseases. All millets possess high antioxidant activities.
- Major portion of sorghum protein is prolamin (kaffirin) which has a unique feature of lowering digestibility upon cooking and which might be a health benefit for certain dietary groups.
- Sorghum proteins upon cooking are significantly less digestible than other cereal proteins, which might be a health benefit for certain dietary groups.
- It is rich in protein, fibre, thiamine, riboflavin, folic acid, and β-carotene.
- It is rich in potassium, phosphorus and calcium with sufficient amounts of iron, zinc and sodium.
Names Sorghum millet is known by in Indian languages
Hindi: Jowar, Jowari
Gujarati: Jowari, Juar
Marathi: Jowari, Jondhala
Pearl Millet (Bajra)
- Pearl millet contains considerably high proportion of proteins (12-16%) as well as lipids (4-6%).
- It contains 11.5% of dietary fibre. It increases transit time of food in the gut. Hence, reduce risk of inflammatory bowel disease.
- The niacin content in pearl millet is higher than all other cereals.
- It also contains foliate, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and vitamins E and B complex. It has high energy content compared to other millets.
It is also rich in calcium and unsaturated fats which are good for health.
Names Pearl millet is known by in Indian languages
English: Pearl Millet
Finger Millet (Ragi)
- Finger millet is the richest source of calcium (300-350 mg/100 g)
- Ragi has the highest mineral content.
- It contains lower levels of protein (6-8%) and fat (1.5-2%).
- Finger millet proteins are unique because of the sulphur rich amino acid contents.
- The grains have excellent malting properties and are widely known for its use as weaning foods.
- It has high antioxidant activity.
Names Finger millet is known by in Indian languages
English: Finger Millet
Hindi: Ragi, Mandika, Marwah
Gujarati: Nagli, Bavto
Marathi: Nagli, Nachni
Punjabi Mandhuka, Mandhal
Tamil: Keppai, Ragi, Kelvaragu
Telugu: Ragi Chodi
Foxtail millet (Kakum)
- It is high in carbohydrates.
- It has double quantity of protein content compared to rice.
- It contains minerals such as copper and iron.
- It provides a host of nutrients, has a sweet nutty flavour and is considered to be one of the most digestible and non-allergic grains.
Names Foxtail millet is known by in Indian languages
English: Foxtail millet
Marathi: Kang, Bala
Oriya: Kanghu, Kangam, Kora
Tamil: Tenai, Thinai
Kodo millets (Kodon)
- It has high protein content (11%) low fat (4.2%) and high fibre content (14.3%)
- Kodo millet is rich in B vitamins especially niacin, pyridoxin and folic acid as well as the minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc.
- It contains a high amount of lecithin and is an excellent for strengthening the nervous system.
Names of Kodo Millets in Indian languages
English: Kodo millet
Telugu: Arikelu, Arika
Barnyard millet (Sanwa)
- It is the richest source of crude fibre and iron.
- Its grains possess other functional constituents i.e., Gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) and Beta-glucan, used as antioxidants and in reducing blood lipid levels.
Names Barnyard millet is known by in Indian languages
English: Barnyard Millet
Telugu: Udalu, Kodisama
Little millet (Kutki/ Shavan)
- It is smaller than other millets.
- It is high in iron content.
- It has high antioxidant activities.
- It contains about 38% of dietary fibre
Names Little millet is known by in Indian languages
English: Little Millet
Hindi: Kutki, Shavan
Gujarati: Gajro, Kuri
Kannada: Same, Save
Marathi: Sava, Halvi, Vari
Proso Millet (Cheena/ Barri)
- It contains the highest amount of proteins (12.5%).
- Health benefits of proso millet come from its unique properties. It has significant amounts of carbohydrate and fatty acids.
- It is cheaper source of manganese as compared to other conventional sources like spices and nuts.
- It contains high amounts of calcium which is essential for bone growth and maintenance.
- It reduces cholesterol levels and also reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Names Proso millet is known by in Indian languages
English: Proso Millet
Hindi: Chena, Barri
Oriya: China Bachari bagmu
Tamil: Pani varagu
Amaranth (Ramdana / Rajgira)
- High protein content (13-14%) and a carrier of lysine, an amino acid that’s missing or negligible in many other grains.
- Consists of 6 to 9% of oil which is higher than most other cereals. Amaranth oil contains approximately 77% unsaturated fatty acids and is high in linoleic acid.
- It is high in dietary fibre.
- High in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and appreciable amounts of calcium.
- A rich dietary source of phytosterols, with cholesterol-lowering properties.
- Contains a lunasin-like peptide and other bioactive peptides which are thought to have cancer-preventive and antihypertensive properties.
Names Amaranth is known by in Indian languages
English: Amaranth Seed, black/brown
Hindi: Ramdana, Rajgira
Bengali: Amaratba bija
Kannada: Danthu beeja
Marathi: Cavali biya
Oriya: Kosala sag manji Dhala/manji kale
Punjabi: Chaulai beej
Tamil: Keerai vidai
Telugu: Thotakoora ginjalu
- It contains protein 13-15% protein and rich in the amino acid lysine.
- Rich in carbohydrates (mainly starch).
- Contains vitamins Bl, C and E.
- Rich in polyunsaturated essential fatty acids, such as linoleic acid.
- Contains higher levels of zinc, copper, and manganese than other cereal grains, and the bioavailability of these minerals is also quite high.
- High in soluble fibre.
- A rich source of polyphenol compounds.
- Contains rutin, a bioflavonoid thought to help control blood pressure and possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Names Buckwheat is known by in Indian languages
Gujarati: Biyam satheno dano
Comparison on Nutritional Composition of Rice and Wheat with Millets
Millets are rich in terms of their mineral content as compared to wheat and rice. Finger millet proteins are unique because they have abundant sulphur rich amino acids. Millets are extraordinarily superior to rice and wheat in their nutritional composition and therefore is the solution for the malnutrition that affects a vast majority of the Indian population. Millets are viable option to live healthy life and reduce the incidence of lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Millets have many nutritional, nutraceutical and health promoting properties especially the high fibre content.
Following is the Comparative Chart of nutritional value of Millets vis-a-vis Wheat and Rice.
Table – Source: Indian Food Composition Tables, MN- 2017; *Nutritive value of Indian Foods, NIN – 2007.
Observations on nutritive values of Millets vis-a-vis Wheat and Rice
- Millets are rich in Calcium. Finger Millet and Amaranth seeds have highest content.
- Millets are richest source of Phosphorus, Magnesium and Zinc.
- Amaranth and Pearl millets contain higher Iron content.
- Millets are good sources of Niacin and Folic acid.
- Millets are richest source of Dietary fibre as compared to Rice.
Why Millets are Miracle crops?
- Good for the consumer: they help overcome vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as iron, zinc, folic acid, calcium, diabetes etc.
- Good for the planet: Most of the millets can be grown on low fertility soils and many of them are also grown to reclaim soils. They do not demand chemical fertilizers and are pest free crops. In fact, under dry land conditions, millets grow better in the absence of chemical fertilizers. Therefore, most millet farmers grow them using farmyard manure under purely eco-friendly conditions. Most millet fields are inherently biodiverse and climate change compliant crops. They are useful in ensuring food safety.
Why should one eat millets?
Millets are gluten-free, highly nutritious and rich in dietary fibre. They are rich in micronutrients, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, etc. They are low in Glycaemic Index (GI) as such don’t cause huge spike in blood sugar. Millets should ideally be an integral part of our daily diet.
Dietary fibre in millets has water absorbing and bulking property. It increases transit time of food in the gut which helps in reducing risk of inflammatory bowel disease and acts as detoxifying agent in the body.
What are the Health benefits of Millets?
- Millets are anti acidic
- Millets are gluten free
- Helps to prevent type 2 diabetes
- Effective in reducing blood pressure
- Reduces risk of gastrointestinal conditions like gastric ulcers or colon cancer
- Eliminate problems like constipation, excess gas, bloating and cramping
- Millet act as a prebiotic feeding microflora in our inner ecosystem.
Facts about Millets
- Can celiac patients consume millets?
Yes. The millets do not contain gluten and therefore, safe for consumption in case of gluten sensitivity.
- Are millets healthy for consumption by infants or aged people?
Millets are easy-to-digest and full of nutrients and therefore, ideally suitable for consumption by every age group.
- Do millets prevent Cardiovascular disease?
Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C – reactive protein, thereby preventing cardiovascular disease.
- How to cook millets and what recipes can be made from Millets?
Information can be obtained from the following:
`Millet Recipes – A Healthy Choice by ICAR- Indian Institute of Millets Research’ may be referred. (https://apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/miscellaneous/Millets_Recipes_A_Healthy_choice_final.pdf)
Provisions under FOOD SAFETY AND STANDARDS ACT, 2006
Standards of Sorghum (Jowar) and its flour, Whole and decorticated pearl millet grain (Bajra) and its flour, Finger Millet (Ragi), and Amaranth are prescribed in the sub regulation 2.4 of Food Safety & Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011. Further, the standard of Ragi flour is under process of Notification in Gazette of India.