Why millets are better than rice, wheat or your breakfast cereal for diabetes, heart and weight loss

Millets are frequently referred to as the newest superfoods. Experts explain what makes them the ideal recipe for preparing our lives for the future.

You may control your blood sugar levels, shed pounds, and protect your heart by swapping your white rice for bajra rotis and your breakfast cereal for ragi uttapam. Considering that they were traditionally employed in our diet very liberally during the bronze age, they can also easily agree with our systems.

Millets were reduced to being an animal meal when our culture shifted to an agricultural one. There are around 300 different kinds of millets in our country, and in today’s water-conscious world they are heat-resistant, nutrient-dense, and consume less water. Additionally, they have a high capacity to absorb and release carbon dioxide from the environment. They therefore grow abundantly and are ecologically hardy, making them a superfood for all. They are a super-mixture of nutrients that are good for the body, claims Dr. Anuja Agarwala, a former senior dietician in the department of paediatrics at AIIMS. Let’s examine our superfood in light of the government’s promotion of millets’ use and documentation of their history, as well as the United Nations’ proclamation of 2023 as the International Year of Millets.

Why are millets better for diabetics than all our carb staples?

  • Low Glycaemic Index: When compared to rice and wheat flour, millets like jowar, bajra, and ragi have a substantially lower glycaemic index, which is a measurement of how much a diet raises your blood sugar levels. “We consider a food’s glycemic index before recommending it to diabetics. This is an extremely high 90 for bread, and a 30 to 40 for dalia. All millets have a glycaemic index below 50, making them a preferred food, according to Ritika Samaddar, regional head of the Max Super Speciality Hospital’s department of clinical nutrition and dietetics.
  • High-fibre ensures there is never hyper or hypoglycaemia: Millets have a higher content of fibre than rice, wheat flour, maida, or cornflakes, in addition to having a low glycaemic index. Due to their high fibre content, they facilitate satiety more quickly, which helps people consume less overall. Since the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream gradually, they reduce sugar spikes. Blood sugar levels are stabilised by this. They never reach high or low levels, according to Dr. Agarwala. Millets outperform grains in this regard, which can occasionally be found in refined and processed forms. Millets require longer to break down since they are coarse and complicated. The chief dietician of Jupiter Hospital in Pune, Dr. Swatee Sandhan, explains, “The indigestible component (insoluble fibres) of millets also helps to control and slow down the absorption of fats and carbohydrates, keeping blood sugar levels stable. Additionally, for diabetics, a rise in adiponectin levels may enhance insulin sensitivity.

How are millets good for heart health?

Millets have healthy fats and can dramatically lower triglycerides and cholesterol, claims Dr. Agarwala. What causes this to occur? Niacin, or vitamin B3, which is present in millets, is useful in reducing oxidative stress and high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart ailments, according to Dr. Sandhan.

According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition and conducted by Hyderabad’s International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), millets can reduce the chance of acquiring cardiovascular disorders. For roughly four months, participants received 50 to 200 g of millets daily. They decreased triglyceride levels by 20%, LDL or “bad” cholesterol by 10%, and total cholesterol by 8%. These factors helped the participants’ body mass index (BMI) fall by about 7%. Additionally, millets reduced diastolic blood pressure measurements by 5%.

How do millets improve gut health?

Replacing your white rice with bajra rotis and switching your breakfast bread and cereal with a ragi uttapam can help you keep your blood sugar levels in check, lose weight and prevent heart damage. And come to think of it, they can easily agree with our systems, considering that they were traditionally used in our diet quite liberally during the bronze age.

“As we became an agricultural society, millets became relegated to being an animal food. We have about 300 varieties of millets in our country and in climate-conscious times, these use less water, are heat-resistant and still nutrient-dense. Besides, they can soak up maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen. So, they are environmentally-resilient and grow abundantly to be everybody’s superfood. They are a super cocktail of body-friendly nutrients,” says Dr Anuja Agarwala, former senior dietitian, Department of Paediatrics, AIIMS. With the government promoting the use of millets and documenting their heritage, and the United Nations declaring 2023 as the International Year of Millets, let’s look at our superfood.

Why are millets better for diabetics than all our carb staples?

  • Low Glycaemic Index: Millets like jowar, bajra and ragi have a much lower glycaemic index – a measure of how much a food increases your blood glucose levels – as compared to rice and wheat flour. “When we suggest any food item to diabetics, we look at its glycaemic index. For bread, this is a very high 90, for dalia it is around 30 or 40. The glycaemic index of all millets is below 50, making them a food of choice,” says Ritika Samaddar, Regional
  • High-fibre ensures there is never hyper or hypoglycaemia: Not only are millets low in glycaemic index, the amount of fibre they contain is also higher than what is found in rice, wheat flour, maida or cornflakes. The high fibre content means they help in achieving satiety faster, thereby reducing the amount that people consume. “They slow down sugar spikes as the glucose gets released very gradually into the bloodstream. This stabilises blood sugar levels. They are never high, nor do they fall below desired levels,” says Dr Agarwala. “In this respect, millets are better than cereals, which are sometimes available in refined and processed forms. Millets are coarse and complex, taking time to be broken down,” she adds. Dr Swatee Sandhan, senior dietician at Jupiter Hospital, Pune, says, “The indigestible portion (insoluble fibres) of millets further works to slow down and regulate the absorption of carbohydrates and fats, thus maintaining blood sugar levels. Further, an increase in adiponectin concentration may improve insulin sensitivity for diabetics.”

How are millets good for heart health?

According to Dr Agarwala, millets contain good fats and can significantly control triglycerides and cholesterol. How does this happen? As Dr Sandhan says, “The Niacin or vitamin B3 content in millets is effective in lowering oxidative stress and high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides that are risk factors for heart diseases.”

The risk of developing cardiovascular diseases can be diminished by a regular consumption of millets, according to a study led by Hyderabad’s International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition. Participants were given 50 to 200 g of millets per day for about four months. They reduced cholesterol by eight per cent, LDL or bad cholesterol by 10 per cent and lessened the load of triglycerides. These contributed to almost seven per cent decrease in body mass index (BMI) of the participants. Moreover, millets pushed down diastolic blood pressure readings by 5 per cent.

How do millets improve gut health?

  • Gluten-Free: One of the many benefits of millets is that they are gluten free and ideally suited for people with gluten allergy and irritable bowel syndrome, says Samaddar. Dr Sandhan adds, “Besides, millets stimulate the growth of probiotics within the microbiome which play a role in gut health and micro nutrient absorption.” This greatly helps those with celiac diseases, according to Dr Agarwala.

“The fibre content in millets contributes to digestive health and helps regulate bowel movements, flushing out toxins,” says Dr Sandhan.

Good for proteins, vitamins and minerals: Dr Agarwala says that millets are repositories of “high proteins, vitamin A, C (helps in the absorption of iron) vitamin B complex, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus.” Samaddar says ragi is high in calcium content, while bajra and jowar have a high iron content that can improve their deficiencies.

So, how do millets help in managing weight loss?

One of the main risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension is obesity. Millets aid in weight loss because their high protein content and dense fibre provide sustained satiety. A healthy metabolism is also ensured by the Little millet’s 5.2 grammes of mainly unsaturated fat. This ultimately aids in body fat loss.

How can you integrate millets in your diet?

The nicest thing about millets, according to Samaddar, is that you can have them for breakfast, a big meal, and snacks. Ragi porridge or uttapam can easily take the place of the morning bowl of cornflakes or bread. Bajra can be used to make khichdi for the main meal or jowar can be used to make rotis. Makhanas are a preferable alternative to biscuits or fried foods for snacks. The nicest thing about millets is that, because they are farmed nearby, they are widely accessible and reasonably priced. So they are hassle-free and secure,” she continues.

However, she does warn that despite their benefits, millets still contain calories, much like rice and rotis. “Portion control is still crucial even when using millets. Because they are healthier, we cannot overdo anything.

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