Why are Millets Superfoods for Diabetics?


What are millets?

Millets are a group of cereal grains that belong to the grass (Poaceae) family. It’s widely grown and consumed in developing countries throughout Africa and Asia and a few other developed nations. Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Ragi/Mandua) are major millets. Minor Millets include Foxtail Millet (Kangani/Kakun), Proso Millet (Cheena), Kodo Millet (Kodo), Barnyard Millet (Sawa/Sanwa/ Jhangora), Little Millet (Kutki) and two Pseudo Millets (Buck-wheat) (Kuttu) and Amaranthus (Chaulai).

Why Millets are gaining importance at the global level?

Millets are termed as ‘Nutri-Cereals’ due to their high nutritional value and has preventive and ameliorating effects on several chronic diseases, however, very few Indians are aware of their health benefits and nutritional importance. India is the world leader in the production of millets with a share of around 41% of total world production (2020). Climate-resilient millets are regarded as "Miracle Grains" because of their ability to adapt to a wide range of ecological conditions while using less water and can thrive even in low-nutrient soils. Millets have a lower carbon footprint than wheat and rice and hence have fewer consequences on climate change. United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets on 5th March 2021. The proposal of India was supported by 72 countries and the government of India has decided to celebrate IYOM, 2023 to make it a people’s movement so that the Indian millets, recipes, and value-added products are accepted globally.

Why Millets are beneficial for diabetics?

Depending on the variety, climatic conditions, growing conditions and type, millet contains 60–70% carbohydrates, 7–11% protein, 1.5–5% lipids, 2–7% fibre and an abundance of minerals and vitamins and is gluten-free Research shows that millet has medium to the low glycemic index (GI) than many other grains, which means it raises your blood sugar slowly and gradually instead of quick spikes as in rice. High-fiber, low-GI foods keep blood sugar steady, lower cholesterol, and help you lose weight. All of these qualities are beneficial for people with diabetes. 

The following unique qualities make Millet a superfood for diabetes.

Structure and size: Cooked cereals with larger sizes e.g. rice or wheat grain particles are broken into smaller pieces during both oral and gastric processing. Small-sized whole millet grains have intact cellular structures (outer bran layers as well as endosperm cell walls) that encapsulate or cover the starch and protein and mostly resist digestive enzymes thus reducing the rate and extent of digestion.  This passes to the large intestine where it is fermented by colonic microorganisms and this is associated with numerous physiological benefits.

Millet Starch: Millets contain about 55–60% of starch and 20–32% is amylose (which resists digestion) in some millets whereas in finger, pearl, foxtail, proso millet it ranges from 34–35%. It is reported that the glycemic index and amylose content of millets is inversely proportional to each other. The structure of millet starch also plays an important role in its hypoglycaemic effect. Polygonal or spherical starch granules, and the pores present on millets. The existence of these pores on starch eases the accessibility of the starch hydrolyzing enzyme. Finger millet lacks pores and has the least enzymatic activity.

Effect of lipid on millet starch digestion: Millets contain various essential fatty acids i.e. linoleic acid, palmitic acid, lauric acid, and oleic acid. Complex formation between starch and fatty acid reduces the rate of breakdown and hence slows digestion.

Effect of protein on millet starch digestion: The protein forms physical obstruction between starch and its degrading enzyme. Protein like globulin, albumin, and glutenins surrounds starch granules that act as hurdles to the digestive enzyme (amylase). 

Millet fiber, bioactive and minerals: Millet is high in dietary fibre such as lignans, glucan, and inulin imparting slow-digesting qualities. Phytochemicals such as polyphenols, phytic acids, sterols, vitamins, and minerals such as potassium and calcium are abundant all these impart a range of health benefits like anti-carcinogenic, enzyme inhibitory, and anti-oxidant activities. 

Millets and human clinical trials

As evidenced by substantial research, millets improve glycemic management, reduce insulin index, and insulin resistance, and lowers glycosylated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels in diabetic and prediabetic individuals who consumed millets over an extended period of time.

Overall, a diet that includes millet and high-fibre foods can help you manage diabetes better. You can also include a 100% natural, high-fiber supplement like ActiFiber Natural Sugar Control in your diet.  Add a sachet of ActiFiber to each of the 2 main meals that have the goodness of fiber and prebiotic which helps in regulating blood glucose levels and keeps us energized between meals too. It dissolves easily with no taste, odour or colour thus blending into your regular diet effortlessly.

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