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Millets A Superfood Or A Diet Fad: A Compressive Guide

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Introduction

The discourse around millets has intensified in recent years, with conflicting views on whether they stand as a genuine superfood or are merely part of a passing diet fad. This comprehensive exploration aims to shed light on the nutritional value of millets, their historical significance, and the current trends that position them in the realm of health-conscious diets.

What is millet?

Millets are a group of small-seeded grasses that have been cultivated for thousands of years in different parts of the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. They are hardy crops that can grow in arid and marginal lands, requiring less water and fertilizers than other staple grains like rice and wheat. This makes them an ideal crop for small-scale farmers, especially in regions affected by climate change and land degradation.

Types of millets

According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), millets are classified into Major Millets and Minor Millets based on their grain size. Major millets include sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet. Barnyard, kodo, foxtail, little and proso are the minor millets. There is another class of millets—the pseudo millets—which are nutritionally similar and must be acknowledged as valuable in this context.

They are called so because they are not part of the Poaceae botanical family, to which the ‘true’ grains belong. Buckwheat and Amaranth, which do not scientifically belong to the millet family but contain many essential nutrients, are examples of pseudo millets. Each of them has unique nutritional properties and culinary uses, making them versatile and adaptable to different diets and cuisines.

International Year of Millets and why millets is a superfood

Millet as superfood 

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. Millets are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them an excellent addition to a healthy diet. They are naturally gluten-free, making them a great option for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

The Different Moods of Millets:

Millets are usually consumed in various forms like, flattened, beaten, popped, roasted, powdered, ground or fried. They are the perfect companion in every meal and can even be consumed as snacks.

Gourmet chefs are now creating world class recipes using millets. From fried snacks and biryani to risotto and brownies. In baking, they often replace regular flour with millet flour. Research shows that baking using millet flour significantly enhances their nutritional profile by increasing their antioxidant content.

In the traditional Khichdi, you can also replace rice with millets and even though it doesn’t make a big difference in taste, it does spike up the nutrition level. In South India, ragi grain is consumed in various forms and is given to children for its high calcium content.

Further, one should try to consume a cup of millet porridge every night as it helps you get a sound and peaceful sleep. The tryptophan in millet raises the serotonin level in the body which helps in reducing stress.

Step 1: Millets in Historical Context Ancient Grains Resurging: Millets have been a staple in many ancient cultures for centuries, contributing to the food security and nutritional well-being of communities across the globe. Understanding the historical context provides insights into the longevity of millets as a dietary choice.

Step 2: Nutritional Powerhouse or Hype?* Analyzing Nutritional Content: Delve into the nutritional profile of millets to determine their superfood status. Millets are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and they boast a low glycemic index. Comparing these nutritional benefits against contemporary dietary requirements is crucial in evaluating their efficacy.

Step 3: Health Benefits of Millets* Beyond Nutrition: Explore the diverse health benefits associated with millets. From aiding in digestion to managing diabetes and promoting heart health, millets offer a spectrum of advantages. This step involves understanding the scientific evidence supporting these claims.

Step 4: Millets in Modern Diets* Integration in Health-Conscious Lifestyles: Examine the role of millets in modern diets and health-conscious lifestyles. The surge in popularity can be attributed to their gluten-free nature, sustainable cultivation, and versatility in various culinary applications. Tracking this trend provides insights into whether millets are a passing fad or a sustained dietary choice.

Charting Millets’ Nutritional Impact: Visualizing the nutritional impact of millets can be represented through a chart:

  • Comparative Nutrient Analysis: Illustrating the nutritional content of millets compared to other grains.
  • Consumption Trends: Highlighting the increasing or decreasing trends in millet consumption over specific periods.
  • Popular Millet Varieties: Showcasing the varieties of millets gaining popularity in different regions.

Additional Information

  • Culinary Diversity: Explore the diverse culinary uses of millets. From traditional recipes to modern adaptations, understanding their versatility contributes to their sustained appeal.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Assess the environmental sustainability of millet cultivation. Their resistance to drought and low water requirements make them an eco-friendly option, adding to their overall value.
  • Global Perspectives: Consider global perspectives on millets. Their consumption patterns and nutritional significance vary across regions, providing a holistic understanding of their impact.
  • Cautions and Considerations: Acknowledge any cautions or considerations associated with millet consumption. This may include potential allergens, anti-nutritional factors, or interactions with certain medical conditions.

The importance of millet

  • In 2016–17, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare reported a 60% drop in millet cultivation area (14.72 million hectares) owing to changes in consumption patterns, the conversion of irrigated land to wheat and rice production, the unavailability of millets, poor yields, dietary preferences, and demand. This causes malnutrition in mothers and children by lowering vitamin A, protein, iron, and iodine levels.
  • Millets are abundant in minerals, including calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Other nutrients are also present, including folic acid, vitamin B6, beta-carotenniacin, and niacin. The presence of abundant lecithin is beneficial for boosting the neurological system. As a result, malnutrition may be overcome by regularly consuming millet.
  • Millets have a high concentration of phytochemicals such as tannins, phytosterols, polyphenols, and antioxidants, but they also have certain anti-nutritional effects.
  • Millets are very adaptable since they can thrive in a variety of environments. This includes the lowlands of Andhra Pradesh’s coast, the relatively high elevations of the Northeastern states, and the hills of Uttarakhand. Millets can thrive in many climates and soil types, including rich and barren environments.

Millet is one of the oldest cereals people know about and may have been the first grain used in the home. It is sometimes called a “super-grain,” “wonder-grain,” and other similar names. An initiative to designate 2023 as the Worldwide YMilletMillets was proposed by India and endorsed by more than 70 countries; the resolution was unanimously passed by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), demonstrating international support for recognizing the relevance and advantages of these grains for the global food chain. Ambassador TS Tirumurti, India’s permanent representative to the UN, stated, “There is an urgent need to promote the nutritional and ecological advantage of millets to consumers, producers, and decision-makers, to increase production efficiency, research and development investments, and food sector linkages.”

Benefits of Millet Production:

  • Once known as coarse grains, millets are now more often known as “nutria-millets or nutria-cereals” due to their nutritional benefits. Millet is termed the “wonder grain” or “crop of the future” since it can thrive in tough conditions and requires less effort.
  • Millets give millions of families a stable source of food and income and help make farming more profitable because they can be used for human and animal feed.
  • Millets help lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the air, which is a factor in slowing global warming. On the other hand, wheat is a crop that suffers greatly from heat, and paddy is the main contributor to climate change due to methane emissions.
  • It is not necessary to use synthetic fertilizers while growing millets. The millet harvest is pest-free and will hold up well in storage.
  • All around, the nutritional content of millet is extraordinary. Its nutritional value is around three to five times that of wheat or rice. Polyphenols, antioxidants, and cholesterol-lowering waxes may all be found in significant amounts in sorghum (Jowar).
  • Millets’ high dietary fiber and low glycemic index aid in reducing constipation, obesity, hypertension, and cancer.

How can you incorporate millet into your daily routine?

  • Bajara is a great source of protein and long-lasting energy. To make a pre-workout drink, combine 1 tablespoon of bajara with 500 milliliters of water and 1 teaspoon of jaggery.
  • Millet may be substituted for refined grains like rice and wheat because it acts as an internal cleanser, removing toxic substances from the body.
  • Buttermilk made from ragi is a tasty beverage. High in calcium, it’s also a great choice for young children. For a spicy kick, adults may add some chili powder.
  • Instead of gluten-based snacks, make millet khakhra, millet cookies, energy bars, chakli, and different Namkeen.

Conclusion

Millets, with their rich history and nutritional benefits, appear to transcend the realm of a mere diet fad. While their popularity has surged in modern health-conscious diets, their sustained relevance depends on continued research, culinary innovation, and global awareness of their merits. As consumers increasingly seek wholesome and sustainable food options, millets may indeed establish themselves as a lasting superfood.

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