Dr. T.V. Hymavathi, Nutritionist, ANGRAU
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Grains have been included in human diet ever since early man discovered that these are edible. Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad, has developed millet-based snacks for health and wellness. Time to add it to your shopping basket.
Health-conscious consumers are now looking for products with particular ingredients and nutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, and now even omega-3, as they offer significant health benefits. Such products are essential in a country like India, where malnutrition and infectious diseases remain a silent emergency.
The increasing numbers of cases relating to coronary heart diseases, cancer and diabetes are linked to diet. Health concerns in low income segments of the population are attributed largely to poor nutrition, whereas among affluent segments they are linked to changing lifestyles and food habits. In this scenario, millets offer great advantages. It is naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and nutraceuticals.
The term ‘millet’ is widely used to refer to a variety of grains that are popular for their culinary uses as well as their health-promoting qualities. The health and nutritive benefits associated with millets are crucial to tackle problems like anaemia, diabetes and several other degenerative diseases, apart from malnutrition.
Millet is nutritionally equivalent or superior to other cereals. It is believed that consumption of millets reduces the risks of coronary heart diseases, diabetes, cholesterol and cancers. It also helps in the treatment of other health conditions.
Basically millets are rich in minerals like calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron, which help in improving health in many ways. Magnesium and zinc are useful for diabetics and calcium for bone health etc. Protein contents in pearl, proso and foxtail millets are comparable with those in wheat, barley and maize.
Finger millet has slightly lower protein content, but is in fact nutritionally superior. Finger millet is also high in calcium and iron, and contains fairly high levels of methionine, a major limiting amino acid in many tropical cereals. Substances found in millets act against different types of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast cancer, and also help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Millets and millet products contain good amount of dietary fibre and resistant starch. Resistance starch is soluble type and when consumed it will get fermented by intestinal bacteria and produce short chain fatty acids which again provide health benefits by altering the intestinal environment and helps to enhance the mineral absorption etc.
Phytosterols and policosanols are cardio-protective compounds present in the waxy layers of the millet. If these millets are ground into flour without de-hulling, then one can have multiple benefits.
Millets have antioxidants, which are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals.
Free radicals (molecules produced when your body breaks down food or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation) can damage cells and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases. Some of the millets, especially ragi, foxtail and some coloured and tanned jowar varieties, are found to have good amounts of antioxidants.
Besides, millets are gluten free. That is, they are suitable for gluten-intolerant people with celiac disease. Gluten is a type of protein present in wheat and related grains.
Traditionally millets have been used mainly in the form of rice, porridge, roti, pops etc. Although not many products are made with this grain, de-hulling of the millets enables the processing and value addition.
Thanks to advances in processing technology, the department of foods and nutrition of Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad, has already developed many value-added products under the National Agricultural Innovative Project and other millet projects. The list of such products from ANGRAU Foods includes biscuits (four kinds), gluten-free rawa, vermicelli, pasta, ready-to-eat extruded snack, bread and noodles.
People who are looking for health and wellness through cost-effective foods can simply include millets in their food basket.