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Millet types and their abundant benefits
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Millet types and their abundant benefits

Millets are versatile enough to be cooked in a variety of ways, offering taste and nutrition in equal measure
millet types
Representational Image | Shutterstock

Say healthy food options, and millets are one group of foods that will pop up in our mind. They come in different types, each one boasting unique characteristics. Generally, they have a low to medium glycaemic index and are rich in iron, making them a fit choice for the health conscious.

“When compared to rice and wheat, millets are substantially rich in a plethora of essential vitamins and minerals, offering a great nutritional boost,” says Ramya Mahesh, dietitian, Sathwaa Nutrition, Bengaluru.

We took the help of two dietitians to enlighten us on the various types of millets, their health benefits, and culinary uses.

Types of millets 

Finger millet or ragi millet

The calcium in ragi makes our bones strong and prevents bone conditions like osteoporosis. This millet also has an ample amount of iron to stem anaemia. “Ragi is an ideal choice for weaning in children. Usually, people sprout, powder, and make it into a porridge to feed infants.,” says Mahesh. Sprouting substantially increases its calcium content and reduces antinutrient properties.

“Although ragi is eaten throughout India, it is more popular in Karnataka,” says Rutuja Joshi, a dietitian from Bengaluru. Ragi mudde or ragi ball is a simple dish that is paired with lentils. Other options include ragi roti, ragi sweet balls, ragi idli, ragi dumplings, ragi puttu (a popular dish in Tamil Nadu made with jaggery and coconut), and ragi porridge. In winters, one can also enjoy ragi soup.

Pearl millet or bajra 

A 2021 study published in Agriculture & Food Security indicates that bajra is rich in phosphorus, essential for the growth, development and repair of bones. In addition, it is also a good source of vitamin A and E, which help boost immunity and prevent chronic health conditions.

Bajra is a popular millet in Rajasthan. It is made into a roti and enjoyed with pickle. Bajra khichdi is also a dish loved by many. Joshi says that we can also make ladoos with bajra flour, which is very satiating. A popular drink in Rajasthan, bajre ki rabdi is made by fermenting a mixture of buttermilk and bajra flour. This summer drink is rich in probiotics, which helps maintain gut health.

Proso or chena millet 

A 2019 study published in Agriculture suggests that proso millet is rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc, which support our overall health. In addition, it is also rich in lecithin, a group of fatty substances that play an important role in repairing and regenerating the myelin fibre responsible for transferring information in the brain.

We can use Proso millet to make a variety of breakfast foods such as upma, pongal, and dosa. Proso pulao recipes are also making the rounds on the internet among the health conscious.

Foxtail millet or kangni 

Foxtail millet is rich in fibre, which helps in the digestive process. It is abundant in antioxidants, making it an ideal choice to prevent chronic health conditions. “Foxtail millet is an excellent replacement for rice and is commonly used in making idli and dosa batter,” says Joshi. It is a versatile millet that can be used to make the popular breakfast dish, dhokla, a lunch-friendly delicious pulao or even an evening snack item like the cutlet.

Kodo millet

This millet is easily digestible and is a good choice for infants and older adults. Its protein content can help build muscles for gymgoers. Like proso millet, it is rich in lecithin, which supports the nervous system. You can make upma or pudding using this millet.

Sorghum millet or jowar

This millet type is commonly enjoyed by people in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Karnataka. Ayurvedic physicians use this millet to make a porridge that enhances digestion. Jowar flour can also be used to make rotis. Boiling and adding it to salads, gives a nice twist to the dish, says Joshi. One can also make jowar khichdi using whole jowar and pulses.

Barnyard millet or sanwa

According to a 2023 study, barnyard millet is abundant in iron, which helps haemoglobin production. It is a great option for salads.

Little millet or kutki 

As the name implies, it is the smallest of the millets. This one is high in magnesium, which supports heart health. In addition, it can also help boost your immunity as it is rich in many micronutrients. People usually consume little millet in the form of rice.

Millet options for people with diabetes

Joshi says that people with diabetes must eat only those varieties that have a low glycaemic index. Because millets facilitate a slower digestion and absorption process, they contribute to a steadier increase in blood sugar levels. “Go for a millet that has a glycaemic index of less than 55 for every 100 grams,” suggests Joshi. Pearl, foxtail, and finger millets are the best choices for people with diabetes, she adds.

Avoid antinutrients

Mahesh says that while these types of millets are abundant in protein, vitamins, and minerals, they also contain antinutrients that can prevent their absorption. Traditional methods such as pressure cooking, boiling, and steaming can reduce the amounts of antinutrients in millets. Soak, ferment, or germinate millets to reduce the phytic acid content in these foods, she adds.

If you want to have something quick and effective in delivering those nutrients, go for ragi and jowar, which contain lower levels of nutrient blockers, concludes Mahesh.

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