Switching from rice to millets? Do it right

Millets are now getting attention among the diabetic, obese and health conscious population for their health benefits and lower glycemic index than the staple rice

Sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet, foxtail millet, barnyard millet, proso millet, kodo millet and little millet are common millets and India is the largest producer

Rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc, millets are gluten-free and are suitable for people with allergies/intolerance to wheat

Millet based pastas, noodles, idli-dosa-adai mixes, khichdi mix, savoury snacks like millet murukku, and sweets like laddu and baked goods are easily available

Making porridge, puttu and rotis are traditional ways of consuming millets. A common infant food is ragi malt which serves as the first food for weaning babies

Ragi malt is nutritionally comparable to breast milk in some ways because of the micronutrients it possesses

In the past, ragi porridge was made by first soaking, germinating and then fermenting the grains by adding curd to it before consumption

These pre-processing techniques reduce the anti-nutritional factors (they interfere with absorption of nutrients by the body) and improve bioavailability of nutrients

But now, millets are cooked and consumed straight away. It gives only minimum nutrition. Moreover, polished millets do little good to the body just like polished rice

Pre-processing techniques like soaking, sprouting, drying and roasting will help reduce the anti-nutritional factors of millets and improve absorption of nutrients

The various anti-nutritional factors present in millets are saponins, phytates, tannins, goitrogens and oxalate

Oxalates in millets can form kidney stones. Blanching millets helps minimise oxalates. Similarly, soaking helps reduce saponin

Soaking and germination helps reduce phytate activity in millets, improving calcium availability and increasing the percentage of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc

Sprouting and fermenting millets decreases their anti-nutritional factors and helps the body absorb the nutrients better by making them more bioavailable

Goitrogens present in millets interfere with iodine absorption, thereby causing goitre. Around 11% of Indians have hypothyroidism, says a Lancet report

Choosing the right millet in the right season helps keep away side effects such as heat, digestive disorders, headache or nausea

Similarly, combinations are important. For eg, some people can have ragi and bajra with butter milk/curd but a few others can only have it with gingelly oil and jaggery

Consuming millets in a suitable manner makes them friendly to the gastro-intestinal tract. Each type of millet has some specific health benefits

People who are moderate or heavy workers can easily include millet-based foods frequently in their diet without any issues

If goitrogens are a concern, then the government can insist that it be marked in labels. Those with Iodine Deficiency Disorders can avoid such millet-based foods