- What is millet
- Millet nutrition facts
- Millet health benefits
- Potential contribution of dietary fiber to the health effects of finger millets
- Foxtail Millet May Help Control Blood Sugar and Cholesterol
- Sprouting (Malting) Millet Makes Some Minerals More Bioavailable
- All Millet Varieties Show High Antioxidant Activity
- Naturally Gluten-Free Grains May Be Cross-Contaminated
- Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein
- Indian Diabetics Turn to Ragi (Finger Millet) and other Millets
- Finger Millet (Ragi) Tops in Antioxidant Activity Among Common Indian Foods
- Millets Macronutrients
What is millet
Millet is not just one grain, but the name given to a group of several diﬀerent small-seeded grains from several diﬀerent genera of the grass family Poaceae. Millets are commonly referred as “small seeded grasses” which include pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.], finger millet [Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn], foxtail millet [Setaria italica (L.) Beauv], proso millet (Panicum miliaceum L.), barnyard millet (Echinochloa spp.), kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum), and little millet (Panicum sumatrense) 1). Moreover, millets are drought tolerant crops 2), resistant to pests and diseases offering good insurance against crop failure in developing countries 3).
Millets are highly nutritious being rich source of proteins, vitamins, and minerals 4). About 80% of millet grains are used for food, while the rest is used as animal fodder and in brewing industry for alcoholic products 5). Millet grains are ground into flour and consumed as cakes or porridges. In Asian countries, street food vendors serve less expensive, ready-to-eat millet-based foods for poor consumers.
Millets are naturally gluten free 6) that’s high in antioxidant activity and also especially high in magnesium, a mineral that helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function. For many years, little research was done on the health beneﬁts of millets, but recently they have been “rediscovered” by researchers, who have found millets helpful in controlling diabetes and inﬂammation.
Four diﬀerent millets are mostly commonly cultivated worldwide, listed here starting with the most widely produced:
- Pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum]
- Foxtail millet [Setaria italica]
- Proso millet, also called hog, common or broom corn millet [Panicum miliaceum]
- Finger millet, also called ragi in India [Eleusine coracana]
- Fonio [Digitaria exilis]
AACC International recognizes seven genera of millets: Brachiaria spp.; Pennisetum spp.; Panicum spp.; Setaria spp.; Paspalum spp.; Eleusine spp.; Echinochloa spp. Teﬀ [Eragrostis tef], Fonio [Digitaria exilis] and Job’s Tears [Coix lacrima-jobi] are also sometimes classifed as millets, including by the USDA 7).
Among the millets, pearl millet occupies 95% of the production 8), 9). Foxtail millet [S. italica (L.) P. Beauv] is the second largest crop among the millets, cultivated for food in semi-arid tropics of Asia and as forage in Europe, North America, Australia, and North Africa 10). Finger millet is the sixth largest crop under cultivation serving as the primary food for rural populations of East and Central Africa and southern India 11). Proso millet is a short-season crop cultivated in drier regions of Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and North America 12). Barnyard millet is the fastest growing among the millets with a harvesting period of 6 weeks 13). It is predominantly cultivated in India, China, Japan, and Korea for food as well as fodder. Kodo millet is native to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of South America and domesticated in India 3,000 years ago 14). Little millet was domesticated in the Eastern Ghats of India occupying a major portion of diet amongst the tribal people and spread to Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Myanmar 15).
Millets are nutritionally superior to rice and wheat as they contain a high amount of proteins, dietary fibers, iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B, and essential amino acids 16). But the presence of antinutrients like phytates, polyphenols, and tannins reduce the mineral bioavailability by chelating multivalent cations like Fe2+, Zn2+, Ca2+, Mg2+, and K+ 17). In addition, high amounts of protease and amylase inhibitors affect the digestibility of millet grains 18). The predominance of the antinutritional factors has thus rendered the orphan status to millets in terms of global economic importance.
Today, millet is the world’s sixth most important grain. India is the world’s largest producer of millet, with eight African countries and China making up the rest of the top ten producers. Depending on variety, millets can grow anywhere from one to 15 feet tall, and usually have a an undigestible hull (ranging from papery-thin to hard) that must be removed before the grain can be eaten. Most millets do best in dry, warm climates.
Millets exhibit vast genetic variability for key mineral elements like, iron, zinc, and calcium when compared to other cereal crops 19). In spite of the superior quality of millets, only pearl millet has been prioritized as crop of choice for iron biofortification in India.
In India, ragi (ﬁnger millet) is used to make roti, a staple ﬂat bread. And in much of Africa, millet is commonly eaten as a porridge, and is also used for brewing millet beer. In the United States, millet is probably most familiar as the primary component of birdseed.
Figure 1. Millet grain
is millet gluten free
Millet nutrition facts
In a 100 gram serving, raw millet provides 378 calories and is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of protein, dietary fiber, several B vitamins and numerous dietary minerals, especially manganese at 76% DV. Raw millet is 9% water, 73% carbohydrates, 4% fat and 11% protein (Table 1).
Table 1. Millet (raw) nutrition facts
|Nutrient||Unit||Value per 100 g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||4.22|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||72.85|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||8.5|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||0|
|Vitamin A, RAE||µg||0|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||0|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||0.05|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||µg||0|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||0.9|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||g||0.723|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||g||0.773|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||g||2.134|
|Proanthocyanidin polymers (>10mers)||mg||0|
Table 2. Millet (cooked) nutrition facts
|Nutrient||Unit||Value per 100 g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||1|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||23.67|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||1.3|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||0|
|Vitamin A, RAE||µg||0|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||3|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||0.02|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||µg||0|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||0.3|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||g||0.172|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||g||0.184|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||g||0.508|
Table 3. Millet flour nutrition facts
|Nutrient||Unit||Value per 100 g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||4.25|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||75.12|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||3.5|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||0|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||0.11|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||0.8|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||g||0.536|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||g||0.924|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||g||2.618|
|Fatty acids, total trans||g||0.002|
Table 4. Millet puffed nutrition facts
|Nutrient||Unit||Value per 100 g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||3.4|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||80|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||2.7|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||0|
|Vitamin A, RAE||µg||0|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||0|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||0.66|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||µg||0|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||1.4|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||g||0.67|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||g||0.717|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||g||1.98|
Millet comparison with other major cereal grains
Nutritional potential of millets in terms of protein, carbohydrate and energy values are comparable to the popular cereals like rice, wheat, barley or bajra (Tables 5 and 6). Finger millet contains about 5–8% protein, 1–2% ether extractives, 65–75% carbohydrates, 15–20% dietary fiber and 2.5–3.5% minerals 24). Finger Millet has the highest calcium content among all cereals (344 mg/100 g) (see Table 6). However, the millet also contains phytates (0.48%), polyphenols, tannins (0.61%), trypsin inhibitory factors, and dietary fiber, which were once considered as “anti nutrients” due to their metal chelating and enzyme inhibition activities 25) but nowadays they are termed as neutraceuticals. The seed coat of the millet is an edible component of the kernel and is a rich source of phytochemicals, such as dietary fiber and polyphenols (0.2–3.0%) 26). It is now established that phytates, polyphenols and tannins can contribute to antioxidant activity of the millet foods, which is an important factor in health, aging and metabolic diseases 27).
Table 5. Nutrient composition of cereal grains
|Cereals||Protein (%)||Fat (%)||Crude fiber (%)||Ash (%)||Starch (%)||Total dietary fiber (%)||Total phenol (mg/100 g)|
Table 6. Mineral and vitamin composition of cereal grains
|Cereals||Ca (%)||P (%)||K (%)||Na (%)||Mg (%)||Fe (%)||Mn (%)||Zn (%)||Thiamin (mg/100gm)||Riboflavin (mg/100gm)||Nicotinic acid (mg/100gm)|
Millet health benefits
Millets are recommended for well-being of infants, lactating mothers, elderly, and convalescents. The grains release sugar slowly into the blood stream and thus considered “gluten-free” 30). With high fiber and protein content, millets are preferred as dietary foods for people with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases 31). In addition, they contain health promoting phenolic acids and flavonoids, that play a vital role in combating free-radical mediated oxidative stress and in lowering blood glucose levels 32). Pearl millet is rich in Fe (iron), Zn (zinc), and lysine (17–65 mg/g of protein) compared to other millets 33). Foxtail millet contains a high amount of protein (11%) and fat (4%). The protein fractions are represented by albumins and globulins (13%), prolamins (39.4%), and glutelins (9.9%). It is thus recommended as an ideal food for diabetics. It also contains significant amounts of potential antioxidants like phenols, phenolic acids, and carotenoids 34). Finger millet grains contain higher levels of minerals like Ca (calcium), Mg (magnesium), and K (potassium) 35). Positive calcium content maintains healthy bones 36), while potassium prevents the onset of diabetes, renal and cardiovascular diseases 37). It also has high levels of amino acids like methionine, lysine and tryptophan 38), and polyphenols 39). Proso millet contains the highest amount of proteins (12.5%) while barnyard millet is the richest source of crude fiber (13.6%) and Fe (186 mg/kg dry matter) 40). Barnyard millet grains possess other functional constituents’ viz. γ-amino butyric acid (GABA) and β-glucan, used as antioxidants and in reducing blood lipid levels 41). With lowest carbohydrate content among the millets, barnyard millet is recommended as an ideal food for type II diabetics 42). Kodo millet is bestowed with high magnesium content (1.1 g/kg dry matter). Millets are therefore consumed as multi-grains to reap the collective health benefits of nutrients.
The dietary fiber and polyphenols in finger millet are known to offer several health benefits such as antidiabetic, antioxidant, hypocholesterolaemic, antimicrobial effects and protection from diet related chronic diseases. The millet polyphenols is a complex mixture of benzoic acid and cinnamic acid derivatives and exhibit enzyme inhibitory and anti-cataractogenic activities also. The non starchy polysaccharides of the millet form bulk of its dietary fiber constituents and offer several health benefits including delayed nutrient absorption, increased faecal bulk and lowering of blood lipids. Regular consumption of finger millet as a food or even as snacks helps in managing diabetes and its complications by regulation of glucose homeostasis and prevention of dyslipideamia.
Potential contribution of dietary fiber to the health effects of finger millets
Finger millet like any other cereal is a source of dietary carbohydrates but the proportion of dietary fiber in finger millet is relatively higher than many other cereals. Finger millet carbohydrates (72%) comprises of starch as the main constituent and the non starchy polysaccharides which amounts to 15–20% of the seed matter as an unavailable carbohydrate. Dietary fiber, principally the non starchy polysaccharides and lignin of the plant origin, is not digested by endogenous enzymes within the human intestinal tract, but is an important component of our diet 43). Dietary fiber can be divided into two categories according to their water solubility. Each category provides different therapeutic effects. Water-soluble fiber consists of non starchy polysaccharides, mainly β-glucan and arabinoxylan. Water-insoluble fiber contains lignin, cellulose, hemicelluloses 44), and non starchy polysaccharides such as water-unextractable arabinoxylan. In millets, non starchy polysaccharides form the quantitatively most important source of both soluble and insoluble dietary fibers 45). In cereal botanical components, the majority of dietary fibres generally occur in decreasing amounts from the outer pericarp to the endosperm, except arabinoxylan, which is also a major component of endosperm cell wall materials.
The health benefits associated with high fiber foods are delayed nutrient absorption, increased fecal bulk, lowering of blood lipids, prevention of colon cancer, barrier to digestion, mobility of intestinal contents, increased faecal transit time and fermentability characteristics 46). Water-soluble fiber fractions are important in foods because they trap fatty substances in the gastro-intestinal tract and therefore, reduce cholesterol level in the blood and lower the risk of heart disease. Water-soluble fiber in general has a wide range of functionality due to its ability to absorb water and form gel like structure, and is almost fully fermented in the large intestine microflora, bringing about many desired metabolic effects of fiber 47). The ability of water-soluble fiber to retard absorption of glucose in the small intestine is also a desirable characteristic in the development of foods for diabetic individuals 48). The increase in the soluble fibre content of the product has special nutritional significance because of its physiological advantages in terms of hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolemic characteristics 49). Soluble fibre also decreases serum cholesterol, postprandial blood glucose, and insulin contents in the human body. Insoluble fiber has a major impact on gastrointestinal transit times, binds water, speeds up intestinal transit, faecal bulk and binds some carcinogens. It reduces contact time for faecal mutagens to interact with the intestinal epithelium and also modifies the activity of digestive microflora and leads to modification or reduction in the production of mutagens. Some fibers can adsorb mutagenic agents and are eliminated in the faeces 50).
Formation of the resistant starch also contributes towards dietary fibre content and complements the health benefits of the millet 51). This residual starch can be quantified in the soluble dietary fiber residue and is highly susceptible to fermentation in the large intestine. Resistant starch, a functional fiber fraction is also present in ragi, which escapes the enzymatic digestion imparts beneficial effects by preventing several intestinal disorders 52). Similar to oligosaccharides, especially fructooligosaccharides, it escapes digestion and provides fermentable carbohydrates for colonic bacteria. It has also been shown to provide benefits such as the production of desirable metabolites, including short-chain fatty acids in the colon, especially butyrate, which seems to stabilize colonic cell proliferation as a preventive mechanism for colon cancer 53). In addition to its therapeutic effects, resistant starch provides better appearance, texture, and mouth feel than conventional fibres 54).
Dietary fiber has gained importance during the last two decades due to its role in decreasing the risk diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, colon cancer, constipation and diverticulosis. Physical attributes of the fiber causes change in morphology of the intestine and these changes could be associated with functional changes in the gastrointestinal tract through different mechanisms. Consumption of dietary fiber that are viscous lowers blood glucose levels and helps to maintain it and also helps to treat cardiovascular and type II diabetes. Fibers are incompletely or slowly fermented by microflora in the colon promotes normal laxation which prevents constipation, diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Daily intake of fiber is 20–35 g/day for healthy individuals and age plus 5 g/day for children is recommended.
Dietary fiber has major effects on the rate of gastrointestinal absorption; sterol metabolism; ceacal fermentation and stool weight. Rate of intestinal absorption in the upper gastrointestinal tract dietary fiber prolongs gastric emptying time and retards the absorption of nutrients. Both processes are dependent on the physical form of the fiber, and particularly on viscosity. The physiological effects of dietary fiber in relation to functions of intestines are given in Table 7. An important function of insoluble fibers is to increase luminal viscosity in the intestine. The inclusion of viscous polysaccharides in carbohydrate meals reduces the postprandial blood glucose level concentrations in humans. The direct effect of fiber on sterol metabolism may be through one of several mechanisms: altered lipid absorption; altered bile acid metabolism in the cecum; reduced bile acid absorption in the cecum; indirectly via short chain fatty acids, especially propionic acid, resulting from fiber fermentation. Fermentation in colon involves nutrient salvage so that dietary fiber, resistant starch, fat, and protein are utilized by bacteria and the end products are absorbed and used by the body. The functions of dietary fiber in the colon are susceptible to bacterial fermentation, ability to increase bacterial mass and saccharolytic enzyme activity and water holding capacity of the fiber residue after fermentation. The most important mechanism whereby dietary fiber increases stool weight is through the water-holding capacity of unfermented fiber 55). Potential negative effects of dietary fiber are reduced absorption of vitamins, minerals and proteins. Fermentation of dietary fiber by anaerobic bacteria in the large intestine produces gas such as hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide, which causes flatulence problems.
Table 7. Physiological effects of dietary fiber in relation to intestinal functions
|Dietary fiber and small intestinal functions|
|Dispersibility in water||Increases volume, dilution of metabolites formed||Slower digestion, promotes nutrient absorption with reduction of plasma cholesterol|
|Bulk||Increases bulk, alters mixing of contents||Alters transit time|
|Viscosity||Slows gastric emptying||Alters mixing and diffusion|
|Adsorption-binding||Increases bile acid excretion||Reduction in plasma cholesterol|
|Dietary fiber and large intestinal functions|
|Dispersibility in water||Provides an aqueous phase for penetration of microbes||Increased polysaccharide break down by microflora|
|Bulk||Increases bulk/volume||Aids laxation|
|Adsorption-binding||Increases bile acid concentration||Bile acid excretion increased|
|Fermentability||Growth of microflora, microbial adaptation to polysaccharide structures||Increased microbial mass and products of metabolism|
Foxtail Millet May Help Control Blood Sugar and Cholesterol
Foxtail millet (Setaria italica) is a common food in parts of India. Scientists at Sri Venkateswara University 57) studied its health beneﬁts in diabetic rats, and concluded that the millet produced a “signiﬁcant fall (70%) in blood glucose” while having no such eﬀect in normal rats. Diabetic rats fed millet also showed signiﬁcantly lower levels of triglycerides, and total/LDL/VLDLcholesterol, while exhibiting an increase in HDL cholesterol.
Sprouting (Malting) Millet Makes Some Minerals More Bioavailable
In India and some other countries, sprouted (malted) grains are commonly used as weaning foods for infants and as easily-digested foods for the elderly and inﬁrm. A study at the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, India 58), measured the changes caused by malting ﬁnger millet, wheat and barley. They found that malting millet increased the bioaccessibility of iron (> 300%) and manganese (17%), and calcium (“marginally”), while reducing bioaccessibility of zinc and making no diﬀerence in copper. The eﬀects of malting on diﬀerent minerals varied widely by grain.
All Millet Varieties Show High Antioxidant Activity
At the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada 59), a team of biochemists analyzed the antioxidant activity and phenolic content of several varieties of millet: kodo, ﬁnger, foxtail, proso, pearl, and little millets. Kodo millet showed the highest phenolic content, and proso millet the least. All varieties showed high antioxidant activity, in both soluble and bound fractions.
Naturally Gluten-Free Grains May Be Cross-Contaminated
A Polish team from the Instytut Zywnosci in Warsaw 60) analyzed 22 gluten-free products and 19 naturally gluten-free grains and ﬂours, for gluten content. Gluten content in the products ranged from 5.19 to 57.16 mg/kg. In the inherently gluten-free grains and ﬂours, no gluten was detected in rice and buckwheat samples, but was detected in rice ﬂakes (7.05 mg/kg) in pearl millet (27.51 mg/kg) and in oats (>100 mg/kg).
Meanwhile, in the U.S., Tricia Thompson 61), a nutrition consultant specializing in gluten-free diets, arranged for gluten-testing of 22 retail samples of inherently gluten-free grains, seeds, and ﬂours. She found contamination of 20 to 2925 ppm in seven of 22 samples, putting them over the proposed FDA limit of 20 ppm, with lower levels in some others. Both articles point to the importance of gluten-free certiﬁcation even on foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as millet.
Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein
Scientists in Seoul, South Korea 62), fed a high-fat diet to rats for 8 weeks to induce hyperlipidemia, then randomly divided into four diet groups: white rice, sorghum, foxtail millet and proso millet for the next 4 weeks. At the end of the study, triglycerides were signiﬁcantly lower in the two groups consuming foxtail or proso millet, and levels of C-reactive protein were lowest in the foxtail millet group. The researchers concluded that millet may be useful in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Indian Diabetics Turn to Ragi (Finger Millet) and other Millets
Diabetes is rising rapidly in India, as it is in many nations. Researchers at Sri Devaraj Urs Medical College in Tamaka, Kola, India 63) decided to study the prevalence and awareness of diabetes in rural areas, in order to inform health policy. While there was widespread lack of awareness of the longterm eﬀects of diabetes and diabetic care, common perception favored consumption of ragi, millet and whole wheat chapatis instead of rice, sweets and fruit.
Finger Millet (Ragi) Tops in Antioxidant Activity Among Common Indian Foods
The National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, India 64), carried out a study of the total phenolic content and antioxidant activity of various pulses, legumes and cereals, including millets. Finger millet and Rajmah (a type of bean) were highest in antioxidant activity, while ﬁnger millet and black gram dhal (a type of lentil) had the highest total phenolic content.
Millets are the primary source of carbohydrates in tropics and semi-arid tropics of India and sub-Saharan Africa 65). Grain starch typically comprises of two polymers, amylose (15–30%) and amylopectin (70–85%). Based on the amylose content, millet are classified into two major phenotypes, waxy and non-waxy. Waxy grains containing 0% amylose and nearly 100% amylopectin are glutinous in nature, easily digestible and therefore recommended as food for infants under 6 years of age 66). Waxy mutants in staple crops have evolved during the domestication of landraces by human selection. They have been identified in cereals and millets including rice (Oryza sativa), barley (Hordeum vulgare), sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), maize (Zea mays), foxtail millet (S. italica), proso millet (P. miliaceum), and barnyard millet (Echinochloa sp.) 67). Amylose synthesis in millets is controlled by a single dominant waxy allele (Wx), while the recessive loss-of-function allele (wx) leads to the waxy phenotype with near 0% amylose content. In polyploid crops, mutations in different alleles of Wx loci produce low amylose, non-waxy and waxy phenotypes. Low amylose lines contain <3% amylose content due to the residual activity of non-mutant alleles. Precise identification of mutations in low amylose and waxy mutants have led to the development of waxy starch foods. Traditional breeding in millets for waxy trait is a labor intensive and time consuming process. It took nearly 15 years to transform waxy trait into non-waxy elite foxtail millet cultivar Yugu1 through cross breeding 68). With recent advancements in genome editing, application of programmable site-specific nucleases is a straightforward approach to induce genetic mutations in non-waxy elite cultivars for transforming them into waxy phenotypes. Thus genomics approaches will speed up the genetic improvement in millets in a cost effective manner to produce biofortified varieties.
Proteins and Amino Acids
High quality proteins are essential for physical and mental well-being of humans, especially children 69). Cereal proteins deficient in essential amino acids like methionine, lysine, and tryptophan lead to malnutrition in developing countries 70). Cereal proteins contain 1.5–2% lysine and 0.25–0.5% tryptophan while estimated average requirement is 5% and 1.1% for lysine and tryptophan 71)). Finger millet on the other hand is high in essential amino acids than cereals 72).
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