Millets Nutrition: Content, Calories and Value

Millets have earned the reputation of being ‘nutri-cereals’ as they provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of the human body. The energy, proteins, good fats, minerals and vitamins that millets provide makes them a superfood. High in fibre, naturally glutenfree and known to induce a low-glycaemic response, they help mitigate different lifestyle conditions. They are also recommended for the well-being of infants, pregnant and lactating mothers, the elderly and convalescents in various suitable forms.

Millets can grow without the need for too much attention and care and thrive without fertilizers and pesticides. In that sense, they are a great choice for clean and organic food enthusiasts—eating millets allow us to minimize chemicals and pesticides from our diets.

Genuine nutritional powerhouses, millets are rich in carbohydrates—but not simple carbohydrates. Instead, millets contain complex carbohydrates, resistant starch and slowly digestible starch that release sugar in the body over a longer time. This also makes them high energy foods which keep you full for longer.

Millets pack in the power of protein – they mostly contain amino acids in a balanced proportion that is beneficial for the body. Protein is essential in all life stages to sustain and develop a healthy body. Naturally, millets have become the cereal of choice for those who prefer a gluten-free, vegan diet.

The fats in millets are mostly unsaturated and thus good fats such as PUFA (Poly Unsaturated Fatty Acids), with a slew of health benefits: they help in lowering bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol, which can potentially mitigate the risks of heart disease or stroke. They also work to maintain your body’s cells and fight inflammation, owing to their anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties.

Millets are high-fibre foods with water absorbing and bulking properties. They are a source of slow digestive fibre, which are good for the gut. They increase the transit time of food in the gut, which reduces the chances of inflammatory bowel disease and improve gut health in general. Millets bind bile acid and steroids, which make them a fighter against bad cholesterol as well. Some millets are also an excellent source of prebiotic fibre.

All small millets show excellent anti-hyperglycaemic activity. Hence millet-based foods are considered an excellent choice for diabetics. Being a source of plant-based protein and fibre, millets can be excellent weight-loss foods when consumed as part of a diversified balanced diet, in the right portion sizes. They are a good source of antioxidants too, which may help support the body’s ability to resist oxidative stress, a factor in illness and ageing.

Wheat and rice are staple cereals in most parts of India. Recently the country has seen an upsurge in demands for unconventional and underutilized millets and other health food as an attempt to incorporate healthy ingredients in meals. India’s ever-growing demand for food and nutritional security has introduced the concept of multigrain flours utilized for a variety of food preparations. These multigrain flours are generally a mix of two or more flours combined together to improve the nutritional value of the food preparation. Multigrain flours consist of wheat, rice and inclusion of some millets. Millets are genuine nutritional powerhouses, that increases the nutrient value of the multigrain flours.

Multigrain flours generally incorporate a mix of millets including sorghum, pearl millet or finger millet. They have varied rheological properties and display palatable sensory attributes making them acceptable by the general population. Apart from being tasty, multigrain foods also possess a superior nutritional profile being sources of protein and certain phytochemicals. Multigrain food products have decreased carbohydrate content and increased micronutrient profiles. They contain an array of vitamins and minerals including significant amounts of B vitamins and essential minerals like zinc, phosphorous and iron. They are also significantly rich in good quality proteins that are easy to digest and are better absorbed in the body.

Introduction of a multigrain diet is especially beneficial for developing counties due to the high economic sustainability of production of millets. Millets can grow without the need for too much attention and care and thrive without fertilizers and pesticides. In that sense, they are a great choice for clean and organic food enthusiasts. The ever-increasing nutritional demands of the vulnerable populations including women and children can be met by inclusion of nutrient dense multigrain diets. These multigrain foods serve as a vehicle for provision of increased calories and essential nutrients like proteins and a multitude of micronutrients including iron, zinc and phosphorous. This adaptation to a multigrain diet also reduces the burden on staple foods like wheat and rice for delivery of nutrients.

Health benefits of multigrain foods

Every grain contains different health benefits including a variety of specific nutrients that are available for adsorption through different foods. Consumption of multigrain foods is scientifically proven to imply certain health benefits in the general population. Multigrain diets contain more whole grains as compared to everyday staple cereals. These whole grains-based food products contain antioxidant, good fats, and high content of phytochemicals. These nutrients are especially beneficial for maintaining a good fatty acid profile and prevention of dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases.

Wholegrains including millets are excellent sources of fiber that has a positive effect on delaying stomach emptying and increasing absorption time for nutrients. Fiber also aids in the slow increase in blood sugar levels after consumption and thereby improving blood sugar parameters for individuals with diabetes. Thus, multigrain foods are labeled as low GI foods due to their ability to avoid rapid increase in blood sugars.

Whole grains and millets contain increased amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids also known as good fats in comparison to refined cereals. These fatty acids help regulate the lipid profile by improving high density lipoproteins and decreasing low density lipoproteins also known as bad fats.

Increased consumption of foods that rapidly increase blood sugar levels and contain a harmful chain of fatty acids cause oxidative stress in the body with an increased production of by products that include free radicals. These free radicals cause damage to the cells in the body. The antioxidant properties of multigrain diets, specially millets are loaded phyto-chemicals and antioxidants that can help prevent and mitigate emerging lifestyle conditions, address multiple nutritional deficiencies and help alleviate oxidative stressors by binding to the free radicals and reducing their harmful effects. A multigrain diet including Millets, indeed are a powerful tool in building better public health today.

Commonly available multigrain products that are exclusively made with millets are naturally gluten free, this ensures adequate food choices for individuals with gluten sensitivities like individuals with irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease.

Multigrain foods are also high in soluble fibers, these are advantageous to maintain gut health and a series of disease conditions including constipation, diabetes and also aids in weight loss. High fiber foods like millets, with water absorbing and bulking properties, delays stomach emptying and adds to a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time. This could positively impact a healthy weight loss.

Multigrain foods in the Indian market

Demand for multigrain foods is on the rise in the Indian markets due to their increasing awareness of health benefits. An array of ready to eat multigrain products like cookies, biscuits and other bakery items are popularizing among masses. Ready to use multigrain flour mixes are available in the market that can be used in place of refined flours to prepare healthier foods like multigrain porridges, parathas and cookies. Ready made multigrain varieties of commonly consumed snacks like khakra and biscuits have also successfully emerged in the Indian markets for their health benefits for individuals with lifestyle disorders like obesity, diabetes and heart health. Due to their increased micronutrient contents multigrain diets are also encouraged for children to meet nutritional deficiencies like iron deficiency anemia. Multigrain products have been incorporated in government run mid day meal programs for delivery of these essential nutrients.