Studies On Millet Nutrition: Is It A Healthy Grain?

“Studies on Millet Nutrition:
Is It a Healthy Grain?” Millets are highly nutritious
but vastly ignored as a main source of food, primarily
due to lack of awareness. You’ve heard of “ancient grains”?
Millets ain’t messin’ around, arguably the first grains
cultivated by humankind, not just dating back 5,000 years,
but maybe 10,000 years. Why the plural, millets?
Talk about lack of awareness! I had no idea that millet wasn’t
the name of a specific grain. Millet is just a generic term
that doesn’t just apply to a bunch of different species but to a
bunch of totally different plants. There are so-called major
and minor millets. There’s pearl millet, which is what
I think most people think of as millet, but then there are proso,
foxtail, and finger millets which are all completely different grains. They look similar,
but they’re not the same. Fiber is one of the main things we’re
looking for in a whole grain, and kodo millet is like off the charts. But compared to other grains,
finger and foxtail millet also beat out the bunch, though note
that what most people think of as millet is really on the low side. But looking at the polyphenol
content, even plain millet beats out the other grains,
including sorghum, which I previously hyped
for its polyphenol content. But again, kodo millet
seems to win the day. Total antioxidant-wise, though, kodo
and finger millet are comparably high. Nutrition-wise, finger millet is said
to have eight times more calcium than other grains, but it looks
to me more like ten times more, just off the charts, and three
times as much calcium as milk. Some of the millets are
exceptionally high in iron as well. Regular millet is high, but barnyard millet has like five times more iron than steak. Okay, so it’s nutritious, but what
about specific potential health benefits? In the medical literature,
you’ll read things like this: Millets may prevent cardiovascular
disease by reducing triglycerides in hyperlipidemic rats. Who cares (other than
perhaps pet owners) whether a food reduces
cardiovascular disease in rodents? There was that epidemiological
study in China that found lower esophageal cancer mortality
rates in areas that ate more millet and sorghum,
compared to corn and wheat, but that may have been more
due to avoiding a contaminating carcinogenic fungus than from
benefit in the millet itself. Studies show millets may be effective
against cancer cell proliferation, in a petri dish, with kodo and
proso millet rapidly inhibiting cancer cell growth compared to
pearl or foxtail millet, knocking down the growth of cancer
cells, but leaving normal cells alone, reducing the growth of
colon cancer cells as well as human breast cancer,
and human liver cancer cells, potentially also helping
to prevent metastases by inhibiting cancer cell migration. My patients are neither pets nor
petri dishes, though, and to date, there have been no clinical
cancer trials with millet. Are there any unique
health-promoting attributes? Finger millet is supposedly known
for its health benefits, such as blood sugar-lowering,
cholesterol-lowering, and anti-ulcer characteristics.
But the anti-ulcer study they cite just noted that some of the areas
with a low incidence of ulcers also happened to be eating millet, but that’s far from establishing
cause-and-effect. And the cholesterol-
lowering study they cite? It explored what happens when
you take tail tendons from rats and soak them in sugar
and millet. What?! But the blood-sugar lowering
benefits are legit. Apart from the fact that
millets don’t contain gluten, which is good for the 1% or 2%
of people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity,
millets can also be exploited in the management of type 2
diabetes due to their blood sugar lowering properties, as reported
by several studies on millets and millet-based foods in actual
people, which we’ll cover next.
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