Millet, a dietary staple and the main source of protein in most of the developing world. Globally, millet is the sixth most cultivated grain after corn, rice, wheat, barley, and sorghum. It is very much suited to drought conditions and has great natural biodiversity. It can be cultivated in a variety of locations. They are one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purpose.
Millets are grown on marginal lands by some of the poorest and marginalized communities – the Dalits, the Adivasis, and the women in the dry land and hilly region. The millet symbolizes the food and knowledge sovereignty of Indian farmers and ensures a life of dignity and self-reliance for them. Most of the millet fields are inherently bio-diverse and no real farmer grows millets as a monocrop. They grow millets in combination with a host of pulses, legumes, vegetables, and oilseeds.
There are many factors that make millets more sustainable as crops. According to ICRISAT, one rice plant requires nearly 2.5 times the amount of water required by a single millet plant of most varieties. That is why millets are primarily grown in arid regions of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
Millets can also withstand higher temperatures. Crops like rice and wheat can’t tolerate temperature more than 38-degree centigrade, while millets can tolerate a temperature of more than 460 degrees C. They can grow in saline soil. They can thus be grown as an important solution for farmers grappling with climate changes sea level rise which leads to an increase in soil salinity, heatwaves, droughts, floods etc. Due to this peculiar nature, they are termed as the “miracle grains” or the “crops of the future”. Millets are cultivated as dual-purpose crops (food and fodder). Millets help in reducing the atmospheric CO2 as this contribute to mitigating the climate change.
India is the largest producer of many kinds of millets, which are often referred to as coarse cereals. Apart from India, Nigeria, China, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, Senegal are the leading millet producers in the world.
Millets are some of the oldest of the cultivated crops and a group of highly valuable small-seeded grasses, widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for human food and as fodder. The Chinese believe that millet was brought from the heavens by Houji or “Lord Millet”. Millets were one of the five sacred grains in ancient China. By around 5000 BC, people in North-Central China were depending on millet as a staple food and by about 3000 BC millet was a staple food all over northern China. Millets have been important food staple in human history, particularly in Asia and Africa for the last 10,000 years. In India, millets have been mentioned in some of the oldest Yajurveda texts, identifying foxtail millet (priyangava), Barny and millet (aanara) and black finger millet (shyaamaka), this indicating that millet consumption was very common, pre dating to the Indian Bronze Age (4,500BC).
Millets are called ‘sridhanya’ meaning rich grains referring to their nutritional value. They can fill the nutritional gaps when one’s diet is predominantly non-vegetarian. In terms of nutritional value, millets can supersede rice and wheat. Millets are an extremely good source of fiber and protein when compared with white rice. They are rich in iron, copper, manganese, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and B vitamins. They also contain antioxidants, flavonoids, certain amino acids, and tryptophan. Millets in our diet ensure glycerine control which in turn is effective against diabetes.
- Pearl millet/Kambu
- Finger millet/Ragi
- Foxtail millet/Thinai
- Kodo millet/Varagu
- Little millet/Saamai
- Barnyard Millet/Kudhiraivaali
Health benefits of millets
- Increases heart health
Millets being a rich source of magnesium serves as an important mineral for reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart attacks or strokes, particularly in the case of atherosclerosis. Since it is also a great source of potassium; it keeps blood pressure low by acting as a vasodilator.
2. Controls cholesterol level
The high fiber level in millets helps in cholesterol lowering and making it ideal. This eliminates dangerous “bad cholesterol” (LDC) from the system and also promotes the effects of good cholesterol (HDC).
3. Prevents diabetes
The significant levels of magnesium found in millets help in reducing the chance of Type 2 diabetes. Since, it increases the efficiency of insulin and glucose receptors in the body, thereby preventing the diseases.
4. Digestive health
Being fiber-rich millets can help to keep up the health of the gastrointestinal system and eliminate problems like constipation, excess gas, bloating and cramping. By regulating the digestive process nutrient retention can also be improved reducing the chances of serious gastrointestinal conditions like gastric ulcers etc. Moreover, regular digestion and elimination of waste help to optimize kidney, liver and immune system health.
5. Prevents Cancer
Recent research has revealed fiber to be one of the best and easiest ways to prevent the onset of cancer especially breast cancer in women. In fact, women can reduce their chances of breast cancer by more than 50% by eating more than 30 grams of fiber every day.
6. Detoxifies the Body
Antioxidants found in millets neutralize free radicals and also clean up other toxins from the body. Quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, and various other beneficial catechins help to rid the system of any foreign agents and toxins by promoting proper execution and neutralizing enzymatic activity in the organs.
- It helps in managing weight
Millets are a great way to satiate your hunger and keep you feeling fuller for long . This mitigates the need to constantly snack or munch on anything and therefore, millets are a great way to aid weight loss. Furthermore, millets are a good source of nutrition for people who wish to indulge in a healthy diet because these grains can provide you with the necessary nutrition with fat less calories.
- They are helpful in managing asthma
Millets are a great addition to the diet of those people who have been suffering from asthma. Although these claims can not be completely substantiated but consumption of millets can be attributed to a reduction in the symptoms of asthma like coughing etc.
- Are millets healthier than rice?
Millets are a low-calorie food which is rich in carbohydrates. They are packed with a lot of nutrients and therefore they are a healthier alternative to rice.
- What is the best time of the day to consume millets?
Millets are a very rich source of proteins and fibre and they are appropriate for consumption for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- What is the best way to cook millets?
The best way to cook millets is to soak them in water before cooking. This makes millets more digestible and enhances their nutrient absorption.
- What are the health benefits of millet sprouts?
By sprouting millets you can significantly increase the concentration of lysine in your millets, which is an important amino acid to promote overall health. In addition to that, millet sprouts are also lighter in weight as conoater to normal millets.