Millets are super grains, and were used extensively for human consumption but have been removed from our staple diets as a result of urbanization and large scale production and availability of cereals like wheat, rice and corn. Considering that millets are packed with nutrition, are easy to digest and require minimum agricultural support for growing them, it is the time to revive millets. Enough information should be spread about their advantages and farmers must be given the support to grow them. Replacing cereal with millets can address many diseases such as Celiac disease, Diabetes, Cardiovascular diseases, and Nutritional Deficiencies. Growing millets is a sustainable agricultural practice as they require much less inputs in terms of soil fertility and water as compared to wheat and rice.
Millets are grasses that bear small seeds and can grow as rain fed crops that do not need much water. Millets are some of the oldest of cultivated crops and have been used as food or feed.
There are a variety of millets available in India that have been traditionally used as staples but their usage has been progressively decreasing over time. Large scale production and promotion of mainstream staples like wheat and rice has had an adverse effect on usage of millets in our diet.
According to the World Grain Council India is the world’s largest producer of millets followed by African countries.
The main types of millets available in India are:
• Barnyard Millet (Hindi: Jhangora)
• Finger Millet (Hindi: Ragi)
• Foxtail Millet (Hindi: Kangni)
• Pearl Millet (Hindi: Bajra)
• Proso Millet (Hindi: Barri)
• Sorghum (Hindi: Jowar)
Of these Ragi, Jowar, Bajra and Kangni are used in Indian household even today although the consumption is going down.
Millets have great health benefits, some of them being:
- Digestibility: Millets are gluten-free and non-allergenic. This makes it a great alternative for gluten sensitive people. Millet is alkaline and it digests easily making it a better choice for people with gastrointestinal disorders. Millets are rich in fibre and have the bran intact aiding peristalsis in the intestines and preventing constipation.
- Nutrition Dense: Millets like ragi, jowar , bajra and kangni have a high protein content making it a substantial addition to a vegetarian diet. Millets are rich in minerals and vitamins ike iron,calcium, magnesium, phosphorous ,potassium and vitamin B complex. Finger millet (Ragi) is the richest in calcium content, about 10 times that of rice or wheat.
- Sugar Control: Millets have lots of fiber and low simple sugars. As a result they have a relatively low glycemic index and help maintain blood sugar levels and can lower cholesterol levels. Millets release very little sugar compared to wheat and rice and can be a great alternative for Diabetics. Millets also decrease triglycerides and cholesterol because of the high fibre and niacin content making them cardio protective.
Millets can be cooked in various ways and can easily replace wheat and rice in many recipes.
- As Flat Bread: Ragi, Jowar, Bajra and jhangora can be kneaded to dough with water, some onions and coriander and rolled into a Roti.
- As porridge: Most millets can be cooked like broken wheat or oats into a sumptuous and healthy porridge ideal for breakfast.
- As a replacement for Rice: Many millets especially finger millet and sorghum can replace rice and suji in recipes like idli, dosa, upma, kneer or payasam.
Millets can be great baby food. Millets are easy to digest and do not produce allergies of gastric discomfort in babies. Millets are packed with proteins, vitamins and minerals making it a super food for babies who can eat only small portions. Porridge made with millet flour, milk, nuts and jaggery can be a complete food for infant and small children. In Karnataka and Tamilnadu, Ragi porridge is used as a weaning food for infants.