Ragi – Benefits & Nutrition

Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn) is the scientific name of finger millet, what is locally known in India as “ragi”. It is the highest yielded millet in India next to sorghum. Ragalu, madhuka, keppai, nagli and marwa are some of the common names of Finger millet. Extensively grown for its opulent nutritional benefits in India and sub Saharan Africa, ragi is an ancient traditional food in many parts of the world. With widespread famine and malnutrition, finger millet has been proven to be potential solution to aid in sustaining the nutritional needs of growing populations worldwide.

Production of finger millet is favorable in various agro-climatic conditions. It’s an ideal seed crop for dry land farming since it requires less input and is largely unaffected by pests. These crops have early maturing in only 90 to 120 days implying multiple harvests annually. Finger millet is the most common millet consumed in the state of Karnataka. Popular in Karnataka as ragi and in Maharashtra as nachni, it is mostly grown in the southern parts of India. Besides Karnataka and Maharashtra, the other major finger millet producing states in India are Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, and Jharkhand.

In resource poor countries with arid regions and low agricultural land, finger millet crops thrive in highest elevations. These crops tolerate water salinity better than most cereals making them an easy yet profiting crop for farmers. Ragi seeds are sources of an array of macronutrients, micronutrients and multiple phytochemicals. This A-lister millet has been titled as “famine crop” for its ability to withstand harsh climates and can be stored under proper conditions up to 10 years, for utilization during crop failures.

Finger millet has been recorded in ancient times being used as a folk remedy for the treatment of leprosy, liver disease, measles, pleurisy, pneumonia, and small pox. In recent years, dusting out traditional uses of finger millet as weaning foods for infants and high energy gruels for elderly using this millet is gaining attention. This red-colored grain is also a very healthy substitute for rice and wheat. The nutritional significance of finger millet is well known traditionally as a nutrient dense meal for growing children, adolescents and pregnant and lactating women.

Nutritional composition of finger millet (IFCT 2017)

Energy320 kcals
Protein7 g
Fat1.9 g
Fiber11 g
Calcium364 mg
Iron4.6 mg

Energy: This seed crop is especially known for its energy dense nutritional composition. The slow energy release throughout the day on consumption of ragi in the diet is accounted by its high fiber content, slowly digestible starch, and resistant starch. Thus, ragi has a low glycaemic index compared to most common cereals such as rice and wheat and is ideal for those watching their blood sugar or individuals with constipation, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.

Protein: finger millet contains around 7% protein, and essential amino acids like methionine, tryptophan, lysine and valine that are lacking in other refined cereals. These proteins are known to help to lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of obesity. Absence of gluten protein in finger millet categorizes it has a hypoallergenic food choice for persons with gluten intolerances.

Fats: essential fatty acids present in finger millet include linolenic and palmitic acid that are essential sources for brain and neural tube developments in children. The high percentage of unsaturated fatty acids in finger millet are helpful in reducing plasma triglyceride levels and prevention of cardiovascular diseases.

Vitamins and minerals: Finger millet are rich in amino acids, vitamin A, vitamin B especially niacin, B6, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, folic acid and phosphorous. It is exclusively known for its high calcium content as compared to other millets. The calcium content in ragi (364 mg/100 g)—is almost 10 times higher than that of wheat or rice—making it particularly useful for bone growth and development and ideal for infants and children. It also restores optimum bone density in older people and is known to relieve osteoporosis symptoms. It is excellent for pregnancy and lactation as it increases the production of milk. It also maintains skin health, with a good supply of vitamin E. It is especially known to boost the health of infants and children. An array of beneficial phytochemicals presents in finger millet have been popularized to for their health benefits like antidiabetic, antioxidant, hypocholesterolemia, antimicrobial effects, and protection from diet related chronic diseases. The vitamin density of ragi is efficiently utilized as catalysts for mineral absorption like iron and zinc and aid in metabolism. This millet is indeed a gift for children and adults.

Food preparations using finger millets commonly employ use of different processing methods like malting, fermentation and soaking which has been researched to improve nutrient absorption from these seeds. Ragi is too small to be polished and can be ingested in the purest form possible, without refining. Ragi balls or mudde are very popular in Karnataka and are said to be highly nutritious. is Being the richest source of calcium, it can also be made into cookies and halwa and shall be ideal for growing kids. Traditional ragi preparations include ragi malt, ragi mudde and ragi laddus often introduced to infants as weaning foods exploiting their gut friendly nature.