Pearl Millet Health Benefits

Pearl millet is among the major millets grown in India alongside sorghum and ragi. It is locally referred to as “Bajra” and scientifically as Pennisetum glaucum. Down south, it is also known as kambu, sajjalu, sajja or sajje. This greenish grain is one of those millets that serves as a good income and nutritional crop for small scale farmers and has shown potential in maintaining nutritional security in the developing nations. Bajra is the 6th highest produced millet after maize, wheat, rice, barley, and sorghum. It is a temperature resilient crop grown in arid and cold regions requiring minimal water as compared to predominantly water dependent grains like rice. It is categorized under famine crops or tough crops as these withstand harsh climates with depleted soil nutrients, low soil fertility and unpredictable climate. Bajra is known to withstand low soil pH or high salinity in which regular cereal rains would not survive.

The major pearl millet producing states in India include Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana and Gujrat. Pearl millet is high energy crop consisting of high concentration of nutrients, minerals and trace elements. They are increasingly being recognized for their health benefits as nutraceuticals aiding gastrointestinal wellbeing, reduction of cholesterol levels and prevention of heart disease diabetes and increasing energy levels beneficial for the muscular health, pearl millet consumption is encouraged in adult diet for its high dietary fiber concentration. This is essential to maintain good heart health and control blood sugar levels in diabetic individuals. It requires a longer time to pass through the intestine accounting for better nutrient absorption and longer duration of fullness or satiety in the individual.

Nutritional composition of pearl millet per 100g (IFCT 2017)

Energy (kcals)347 kcals
Protein (g)11 g
Fat (g)5.4 g
Fiber11.5 g
Calcium (mg)27.3 mg
Iron (mg)6.4 mg

Energy: This millet scores high on energy values compared to the staple cereals but have a lower proportion of carbohydrates than the others. The high energy density in pearl millet is beneficial for providing energy in all age groups. It is high in amylose starch and this is being utilized in upcoming trends as a gelling or thickening agent in culinary to add to the textural properties of food. It has a dietary fibre of 11.5 %, which helps in exhibiting a lower glycaemic response. Hence, it is recommended that people with diabetes eat pearl millet.

Protein: Pearl millet contains 11 % proteins and is an excellent source of plant-based protein. The essential amino acids, present in bajra are also categorized as good quality protein that ensures better absorption.

Fat: Pearl millet is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutritional fatty acids good for our heart health and general well-being. The good fats aids in better fat digestibility and are also rich in unsaturated fatty acids.

Micronutrients: The rich micronutrient profile of bajra includes iron, calcium, zinc, copper, potassium, and trace elements like magnesium and copper, bought to the spotlight especially since they act as a therapeutic ingredient for combating two major nutritional deficiencies in children including severe acute malnutrition and iron deficiency anemia. It has the highest proportion of niacin in it among cereals. It is also high in antioxidants, polyphenols and phytochemicals that contribute to optimal health for humans.

It’s interesting to note that this gluten-free grain is low in calories that may aid in weight loss, improve blood sugar levels and help support healthy hair, skin and nails owing to their protein content and power packed nutrients. Bajra also helps overcome fatigue, improves digestion and is a natural detoxifier. It is said to boost bone health and may also help fight against PCOS. Utilization of bajra as a replacement for rice and wheat can diversify diets adding new flavors and essential nutrients. In recent times bajra based millet products are entering the Indian markets for being high in fiber and gluten-free, making it suitable for people with gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease. Soaking, fermenting and drying process are being employed to improve nutritional profile and utilize in a variety of traditional preparations. Common traditional recipes made using bajra flour include bajra roti or whole bajra khichdi, both traditionally consumed in northern states of India.