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Are Millets Good For People With Diabetes?

Diabetes is one of the major public health concerns that is primarily caused by an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. Numerous studies on the association between whole grain and diabetes have been carried out and consistently, it has shown a reduced risk of diabetes, followed by reduced risk of diabetes-related complications such as heart diseases.

India is the world's largest producer of millets, a type of whole grain, with Rajasthan and Karnataka being the largest producing states. The nutritional benefits of millets are also recognised globally.

Photo Credit: timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/

Three years back, in 2018, millets were notified as 'Nutri-Cereals' by the Indian government, who also nationally declared the year as "The Year of Millets". However, understanding the vast benefits of millets and the effort to give this nutrient-rich crop international recognition, India has proposed the resolution to the U.N. General Assembly.

The UN then adopted the resolution which was supported by more than 70 countries worldwide, and declared 2023 as "The International Year of Millets".

In this article, we will discuss what exactly millets are and their amazing benefits for people with diabetes.

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What Are Millets?

Millets are a staple food with many health benefits. It is among the healthiest drought-resistant whole grain with excellent nutritive compounds and properties such as anti-tumour, anti-arteriosclerotic, antioxidant, including anti-diabetic. [1]

Millets are mostly found in arid and semiarid parts of Asia and Africa. Raw millets look like birdseed; they have a light and dry texture when cooked in small quantities of water and are thick and mushy when cooked in excess of water, making for an excellent dish from breakfast to dinner. Also, as millets are smaller in size, it is quick to cook in whatever texture you desire.

Some of the different types of millets include: [2]

  • Pearl (Bajra)
  • Foxtail (Kakum or kangni)
  • Finger (Ragi)
  • Sorghum (Jowar)
  • Little Millet (Moraiyo/Kutki)
  • Buckwheat Millet (Kuttu)
  • Proso (Chena/Barri)
  • Barnyard (Sanwa)
  • Among them, pearl millets occupy 95 per cent of the total millet production in India, followed by foxtail. Finger millets are the sixth-largest millet crop, proso millet is the short-season crop while barnyard is the fastest growing millet type. Kodo millet is dated back 3000 years ago while little millet is a major diet for tribal people of Eastern Ghats, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

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    Nutrients In Millets

    According to the USDA, 100 g of millets can provide around 1580 kJ of energy. Millets are packed with nutrients like fibre, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, zinc, selenium, sodium, manganese, folate, amino acids and vitamins like B1, B2, B3, B6, E and K. [3] Antioxidants in millets include phenols, carotenoids and phenolic acids.

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Millets For People With Diabetes

1. Nutrients superior to rice and wheat

Millets are considered to be superior to other rice and wheat and many other whole grains due to the presence of high amounts of proteins, iron, fibre, vitamin D, amino acids and potassium. As we know that brown rice and wheat are also potent whole grains with anti-diabetic properties, millets are considered the best among them due to their densely packed nutrients, especially dietary fibre and proteins. [4]

Also, millets are drought-tolerant crops and resistant to pests and many diseases, thus lowering the risk of crop failure in developing countries.

2. Gluten-free diet

Millets are gluten-free whole grains. Though gluten is not harmful to diabetics, it is potentially important in determining intestinal health or say, in maintaining good microbiota health.

A study has shown that gluten peptides may affect the gut microbiota negatively and trigger inflammation, which affects the pancreatic cells and increase insulin resistance, thus leading to diabetes. Millets may help reduce insulin resistance and lower the risk of diabetes or help manage the condition due to their gluten-free property. [5]

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3. Low glycemic index

In general, millets, especially foxtail, little, finger and pearl have a low glycemic index with values ranging from 54 to 68. According to a study, the low GI and ready-to-cook properties of millets, along with their low glycemic load of 9.24 and low carbs, make them one of the best staple foods for people with diabetes.

Millets, upon consumption, lead to high satiety or a feeling of fullness for longer hours and thus, reduce the intake of food. Also, it helps raise the glucose levels very slowly, thus leading to effective management of diabetes. [6]

4. High amount of proteins

As aforementioned, millets are high in proteins such as prolamons, albumins and globulins which makes them an ideal food for diabetics. Pearl millets contain around 14. 5 per cent of proteins, proso 11 per cent, foxtail 11.7 per cent and kodo 8.3 per cent.

A study says that foods high in dietary protein may or may manage diabetes, but is associated with decreased insulin resistance, weight loss, blood pressure and cholesterol, which ultimately, helps reduce glucose levels and helps manage diabetes. [7]

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5. High antioxidants

Diabetics are more susceptible to injuries or complications due to oxidative stress. Some of the health complications due to reactive oxygen species include retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy and vasculopathy.

The presence of antioxidant vitamins such as E and K, along with other phenolic compounds and low GI of millets can help restore the normal glucose levels and manage the condition. [8]

6. Wound-healing properties

Diabetes can deteriorate the process of wound healing due to increased oxidative stress and the weakening of nerve cells, leading to necrosis or deeper wounds. A study has shown that millets (especially finger millets) have great dermal wound healing properties due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

Millets consumption may lead to the healing of wounds by reducing the harmful free radicals and improving the nerve growth factor, followed by a production of new skin cells to fill the wounds. [9]

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7. Rich in dietary fibre

According to the USDA, millets contain 8.5 g of dietary fibre per 100 g. Millets are packed with dietary fibre, containing a good amount of both soluble and insoluble fractions. Soluble fibre helps lower cholesterol and after-meal glucose levels while insoluble fibre impacts gut health and improve the activity of gut microbiota. [10]

They are also a rich source of non-starchy polysaccharides which benefit diabetics by lowering cholesterol levels and normalising glucose levels. [11]

To Conclude

Millets are whole grain with potent anti-diabetic properties. Include this staple diet in your diabetes diet plan to get the maximum of their benefits. Though millets are advised to consume every day, it is best to be consumed in moderate amounts, as daily consumption of millets and also in larger quantities can lead to certain side effects like thyroid gland dysfunction and delayed digestion.