What makes millets an Indian superfood worth an ‘International Year’

Nutritionists vouch for the benefits of millets, which has made news after finding a mention in the Union Budget 2022-23.
Millets can offer all sorts of health benefits! Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Team Health Shots Updated: 30 Oct 2023, 11:10 am IST

The good old, humble millets are having their moment, courtesy the Union Budget 2022. As Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rolled out the plans, a mention of increased production and promotion of millets gave health aficionados and experts a reason to rejoice. And that’s simply because the benefits of millets can be reaped by one and all!

Union Budget 2022 and millets

During her budget address, Sitharaman said, “2023 has been announced as the
International Year of Millets. Support will be provided for post-harvest value addition, enhancing domestic consumption, and for branding millet products nationally and internationally.”

Did you know that India celebrated 2018 as ‘The Year of Millets’?

It was in 2021 that the 193-member UN General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution to make 2023 the International Year of Millets. Sponsored by India and backed by over 70 nations, the resolution was aimed at promoting the nutritional as well as ecological benefits of millets.

What are millets?

According to the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI), millets are a group of small grained cereal food crops. These are highly tolerant to drought and other extreme weather conditions, and are grown with low chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. That explains why it is a farmer-friendly crop.

Most millet crops are native to India, and what’s interesting is that they are called
nutri-cereals. Wonder why? It’s because they provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of the human body.

Millets can be magical for your health! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Millets comprise of Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Ragi), Minor Millets such as Foxtail Millet, Prosco Millet, Kodo Millet, Barnyard Millet, Little Millet and Browntop Millet. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare also recognises two ‘pseudo millets’ – buckwheat (kuttu) and Amaranth.

What are the benefits of millets?

As lifestyle diseases like diabetes and blood pressure issues are rising, the demand for superfoods to tackle these problems is also running parallel. In the recent past, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is increased attention towards healthy eating.

New studies are being undertaken to understand the benefits of millets. A study published in the journal ‘Frontiers in Nutrition’ indicated that regular consumption of millets can improve haemoglobin and serum ferritine levels to reduce iron deficiency anaemia, which is on the rise globally.

These ‘smart foods’ have been found to be a boon for children and adolescents. According to latest research undertaken by the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics, millets boost growth in children and adolescents by 26 to 39 percent when they replace rice in a standard meal.

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Alongside, social media has made room for people to share their stories of reversing diabetes, achieving weight loss, or recipe innovations with the power of millets far and wide. Entrepreneurs have started millet brands with ready to make options, easing out the cooking process for people. Collectively, these have been steering attention towards the manifold benefits of millets.

Check out a past Instagram post on millets by celebrity nutrition expert Rujuta Diwekar, who is an active proponent of desi superfoods.

Nabanita Saha, Chief Clinical Dietician, Manipal Hospital Old Airport Road,
Bengaluru, tells HealthShots why millets are called superfoods.

“They are high in nutrients like protein, fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants
it is called as superfood and an ideal choice for cereals. When combined with
lentils and vegetables, it makes a complete food.

Due to its easy digestion, it’s a good food for babies and children. The calcium
and magnesium help in making strong bones and promote growth. The fiber and
antioxidant content in them helps managing weight, control diabetes and keeps the heart healthy,” Saha says.

Nutritionist Parul Malhotra Bahl explains that millets are the oldest cultivated grain
which have been a part of our food culture since ages. But millets have finally started getting their due attention because of their versatile nutritional content.

“They are rich sources of fiber, vitamins A and B, iron, calcium, antioxidants,
potassium, phosphorus etc, and they are extremely beneficial across all age groups,” she says.

Fermented porridge or Ambali is a popular way to eat millets. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

5 key benefits of millets, points out Bahl.

1. Fiber content

They are high on fiber especially soluble fiber, thus help in proper bowel movements. Since they are rich in soluble fiber, they are easy on the stomach not just for adults but even children. Moreover, millets are a great prebiotic (food for good bacteria) source for the body and shall work as a boon for gut health.

2. Gluten free

Millets are gluten free, and thus extremely beneficial for people having
gluten allergy.

3. Low glycemic index

Millets have low glycemic index. So, they are extremely beneficial for all the
children and adults having diabetes or facing insulin resistance. They are also
good for people who may be battling Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and Obesity.

4. Antioxidants

They are a powerhouse of antioxidants thus may contribute in boosting immunity, skin and hair health.

5. Low calorie

Last but definitely not the least, they are low on calories. What else can one ask for when looking forward to lose weight without compromising on carbs and satiety? They are a wonderful replacement to high calorie grains like wheat and rice.

Millets are available both in whole grain and flour form, thus can easily be used to make a variety of food items like cheela, upma, dosa, idlis, khichdi, pulao and many more.

Also Read: Try this barnyard millet upma recipe for a mix of taste and health

Nutrition experts welcome the attention to millets

The move to produce and promote millets is a win-win for all.

Sakshi Bakshi, Founder – Nucros Science, says, “One of the key reasons that it is
promoted is because it is native to India. It comes with health benefits. It is great
for food security and sustainable agriculture. It is a great unprocessed wholegrain, so it should be promoted.”

As per Upasana Sharma, Head Dietician, Max Hospital, Gurugram, the millet harvesting promotion in Budget 2022 will be a positive move for people’s health. “It is a good move as millet diet is considered as ‘good carbs’.”

Saha says millets were always a part of our grandparents’ daily diet until wheat and rice came into picture. Due to promotion, their production started overshadowing millets and people almost forgot about them.

“With this Budget 2022 announcement, millets will be back on our plates again,” says the expert, adding that children and older people can have them in the form of porridge or in their fermented form such as malt, idlis and dosas.

Fermenting and sprouting of millets are advised for making the most of its health
benefits and for improving its nutritional content. ”

Adults and women, especially post menopausal women, can also include them in
their diet in the form of millet roti, upma or dosa.”

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