5 Health Benefits Of Millets, Nutrition, & How To Add To Diet

Reviewed by Kristen Arnold, RDN, CSSD
Written by Swathi Handoo, MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health

The benefits of millet are gaining the attention of many health enthusiasts as they are being popularized as a gluten-free substitute for other rice variants. These are very good sources of fiber, essential carbohydrates, and many other vital micronutrients. Millets are native to the eastern side of the world and are now being consumed in many countries for their important benefits.

Want to know more about them? Continue reading the article.

In This Article

What Are Millets?

Millets are whole grains that have been around for thousands of years and are found in many diets around the world. Millets are the leading staple grains in India and are commonly eaten in China, South America, Russia, and the Himalayas (1).

As gluten-free whole grains, millets are an excellent grain option for those in need of alternatives. They are super easy to prepare (you’ll know!) and more accessible across the globe.

Millets are incredibly versatile – they can be used in everything from flatbreads to porridges, side dishes, and desserts. Their delicate flavor is enhanced by toasting the dry grains before cooking. In some places, they’re even fermented and consumed as an alcoholic beverage.

Millets can be found in white, gray, yellow, or red colors. They look beautiful when arranged on a plate. Millets are also grown as high-fiber feed for cattle, livestock, and birds.

Scroll down to get a glance of the commonly grown millets around the world.

What Are The Commonly Found Types Of Millets?

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Millets are a group of grains that include pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum ), foxtail millet (Setaria italica ), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum ), finger millet or ragi (Eleusine coracana ), barnyard millet (Echinochloa crus-galli ), little millet (Panicum sumatrense ), kodo millet (Paspalum scrobiculatum ), fonio millet (Digitaria exilis ), and adlay millet or Job’s tears (Coix lachryma-jobi ) (2).

Here’s some more information about the different types of millets:

NameLocal nameGrown in
Pearl milletBulrush millet (Australia), cat tail millet, bajra (Hindi), milheto (Brazil), gero (Africa), sajje (Telugu)Africa, India, Pakistan, and the Arabian peninsula
Finger milletRagi (Telugu, Kannada), keppai (Tamil), mandwa (Urdu), kurakkan (Sinhala), nachani (Marathi), susu (Japanese),Africa, Nepal, India, and China
Proso milletcommon millet, broomtail, kashfi, hog milletUkraine, Kazakhstan, Argentina, U.S, and Australia
Foxtail milletKaon dana (Bengali), navane (Kannda), korralu (Telugu), kangni (Hindi), kavalai (Tamil), awa (Japanese),China, India, Indonesia, the Korean peninsula, and Europe
Fonio milletWestern Africa
Barnyard milletCockspur grassIndia
Little milletKutki (Hindi), sama (Bengali), gajro (Gujarati), samalu (Telugu), sava (Marathi), suan (Oriya)India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Myanmar
Kodo milletArikelu (Telugu), varagu (Tamil), kodra (Hindi)Western Africa, and India
Adlay milletJob’s tears, YiYi (Chinese), coixseed, tear grassSoutheast Asia

Let me share some more details about the heroes behind millets’ superpowers. Scroll down to know the nutritional and phytochemical profiles of millets.

Nutritional Profile Of Raw Millets

Calorie Information
Amounts Per Cup (200g) Serving%DV
Calories756(3165 kJ)38%
From Carbohydrate600(2512 kJ)
From Fat70.6(296 kJ)
From Protein85.3(357 kJ)
From Alcohol~(0.0 kJ)
Carbohydrates
Amounts Per Cup (200g) Serving%DV
Total Carbohydrate146 g49%
Dietary Fiber17.0 g68%
Starch~
Sugars~
Fats & Fatty Acids
Amounts Per Cup (200g) Serving%DV
Total Fat8.4 g13%
Saturated Fat1.4 g7%
Monounsaturated Fat1.5 g
Polyunsaturated Fat4.3 g
Total trans fatty acids~
Total trans-monoenoic fatty acids~
Total trans-polyenoic fatty acids~
Total Omega-3 fatty acids236 mg
Total Omega-6 fatty acids4030 mg
Protein & Amino Acids
Amounts Per Cup (200g) Serving%DV
Protein22.0 g44%
Vitamins
Amounts Per Cup (200g) Serving%DV
Vitamin A0.0 IU0%
Vitamin C0.0 mg0%
Vitamin D~~
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)0.1 mg1%
Vitamin K1.8 mcg2%
Thiamin0.8 mg56%
Riboflavin0.6 mg34%
Niacin9.4 mg47%
Vitamin B60.8 mg38%
Folate170 mcg43%
Vitamin B120.0 mcg0%
Pantothenic Acid1.7 mg17%
Choline~
Betaine~
Minerals
Amounts Per Cup (200g) Serving%DV
Calcium16.0 mg2%
Iron6.0 mg33%
Magnesium228 mg57%
Phosphorus570 mg57%
Potassium390 mg11%
Sodium10.0 mg0%
Zinc3.4 mg22%
Copper1.5 mg75%
Manganese3.3 mg163%
Selenium5.4 mcg8%
Fluoride~

Also, take a look at how the nutrients are distributed across various millet species and whole grains:

FoodProtein (g)Fat (g)Ash (g)Crude fibre (g)Carbohydrate (g)Energy (kcal)Ca (mg)Fe (mg)Thiamin (mg)Riboflavin (mg)Niacin (mg)
Rice (brown)7.92.71.31.076.0362331.80.410.044.3
Wheat11.62.01.62.071.0348303.50.410.105.1
Maize9.24.61.22.873.0358262.70.380.203.6
Sorghum10.43.11.62.070.7329255.40.380.154.3
Pearl millet11.84.82.22.367.03634211.00.380.212.8
Finger millet7.71.52.63.672.63363503.90.420.191.1
Foxtail millet11.24.03,36.763.2351312.80.590.113.2
Common millet12.53.53.15.263.836482.90.410.284.5
Little millet9.75.25.47.660.9329179.30.300.093.2
Barnyard millet11.03.94.513.655.03002218.60.330.104.2
Kodo millet9.03.63.35.266.6353351.70.150.092.0
Oats17.06.02.611.066.0390544.70.220.123.2

Coming to the phytochemical composition, millets are packed with phenolic acids, polyphenols, anthocyanins, flavonoids, saponins, and lignans that give you all the protective benefits.

Millets and their seed coats have gallic acid, ferulic acid, protocatechuic acid, coumaric acid, cinnamic acid, caffeic acid, sinapic acid, quercetin, kaempferol, luteolin glycoside, phloroglucinol, apigenin, catechin, epicatechin, glucosylvitexin, glycovitexin, vitexin, and several other phytochemicals (5).

Woah! That’s a lot of nutrition in one grain! What do high-value foods like millets do to your body? What parts of your body do they help? Read on to find the answers.

Five Fundamental Benefits Of Adding Millets To Your Diet

1. Ideal For Individuals Who Have Diabetes

Compared to other cereal crops, such as wheat and maize, millets are high in nutrition, gluten-free, and have a glycemic index between 54 to 68.

They provide high energy, high dietary fiber, proteins with a balanced amino acid profile, many essential minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants – all of which play a substantial role in lowering diabetes.

Foxtail millets improve glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in such individuals. They also can reduce HbA1c antigen levels, fasting glucose, insulin, total cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL concentrations.

These signs show that millets have a positive dietary impact on diabetes when supported with right medication (3).

2. Help In Weight Management

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Obesity is a major cause of a variety of metabolic disorders. And diet plays a critical role in controlling obesity. Following a low-carb and high-fiber diet, along with regular physical activity, can reduce body weight to some extent.

Including whole grains like millets, brown rice, whole wheat, oats, barley, sorghum, etc. can have an incredible effect on the BMI (body mass index) of obese individuals.

Consuming about 3 servings of whole grains per day can also reduce fat accumulation, improve gut microbiota (good gut bacteria), and help you feel lighter and physically active (4).

3. Lower Cholesterol And Protect Heart

Pearl, finger, kodo, and other varieties of millets are all rich in micronutrients like iron, zinc, phosphorus, and calcium, and amino acids such as leucine and valine.

Millets have polyphenolic acids, β-glucans, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, condensed tannins, lignans, and policosanols that are potent antioxidants. They also reduce the plasma LDL levels and total cholesterol and keep the blood vessels dilated and healthy.

This way, consuming millets can prevent lipid peroxidation and associated cardiovascular diseases and ischemic strokes (5).

4. Healthy For Children And Pregnant Women

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As millets contain fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals like calcium and iron, they can be given to children and pregnant women.

Many traditional Asian and African dishes given to pregnant women prior to delivery contain millets. Kenyan women consume ugali, which is made from a mixture of sorghum and finger millet flour. It is cooked to a dough-like consistency and eaten with local vegetables, meat stew, or fermented milk (6).

Popped millets can be served as healthy snacks to children, especially if they are malnourished. Carbs, essential fatty acids, and calcium give children the strength and immunity they need while growing up (5).

5. Could Have Anti-Cancer Effects

Apart from antioxidant and antidiabetic effects, millets might possess anticancer effects too. Recent research points out that few millet proteins (from foxtail and proso varieties) could inhibit the growth of cancerous cells in various tissues.

Millet phytochemicals showed antiproliferative effects against cancer cells of the colon, breast, and liver without damaging the surrounding normal cells. The antioxidant phenolic acids and anthocyanidins make a promising remedy for many cancers. Further research in these areas can reveal more about the anticancer properties of millets (7), (8).

Millets are such miraculous grains, don’t you agree?

How can you absorb all this goodness of millets? The simplest way is to add them to your food. Find out how!

Two Ways To Make Millets Tasty

Barring the boring porridge, you can try out these super simple, tasty, and quick ways of cooking millets. These dishes can make a great brunch or dinner. Check them out!

1. Vegan Millets – Curry Style!

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What You Need
  • Millets: 1 cup
  • Olive oil: 2 tablespoons
  • Onion: 1, diced
  • Garlic: 2 cloves, diced
  • Water: 2½ cups
  • Cumin: ½ teaspoon, ground
  • Curry powder: 2 teaspoons
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon or as required
  • Skillet: medium-large sized
Let’s Make It!
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, add the millets and pour enough water over them to cover by at least 2 inches.
  2. Leave them open to soak the millets for 8 hours to overnight. Drain the water.
  3. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  4. Add the onion and garlic in the hot oil, and stir and cook them until onion is lightly browned (for 10 to 15 minutes).
  5. Mix the millets, two and a half cups of water, salt, and cumin into the onion mixture. Give them a slight stir.
  6. Cover and simmer until millets are tender and the water is absorbed. This might take about 20 minutes.
  7. Add the curry powder to cooked millets and stir well until they get thoroughly mixed.
  8. Squeeze a lemon wedge and sprinkle some chopped coriander.
  9. Serve hot with a cup of strong ginger tea!

2. Yummy Millet Muffins

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What You Need
  • Whole wheat flour: 2¼ cups
  • Millets: ⅓ cup
  • Baking soda: 1 teaspoon
  • Baking powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon
  • Buttermilk: 1 cup
  • Egg: 1, lightly beaten
  • Vegetable oil: ½ cup
  • Honey: ½ cup to 1 cup
  • Mixing bowl: 2, medium-large sized
Let’s Make It!
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Grease 16 muffin cups.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, millets, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, vegetable oil, and honey.
  4. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture just until it is evenly moist. Whisk thoroughly.
  5. Transfer the batter to the greased muffin cups.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  7. Serve warm with some cranberry crush or piping hot black coffee!

The benefits of millets are numerous. They are loaded with various beneficial nutrients that exhibit health-promoting effects. In addition, they are gluten-free. They are beneficial for people with diabetes as they have a low glycemic index. Millets aid in weight management by reducing fat accumulation and improving gut microbiota. They also help promote cardiovascular health because of the presence of flavonoids, β-glucan, lignins, and tannins. They lower cholesterol levels too. Millets reduce the risk of cancer thanks to their antioxidant-rich profile. They are beneficial to pregnant women and children as they are rich in fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. They are versatile, easy to cook, and taste good. You can include millets as a part of your diet to reap the benefits they offer. Try any of the above-mentioned recipes to cook and enjoy millets in a healthy and tasty way.

References:

  1. Whole Grains A to Z” Oldways Whole Grains Council
  2. Millets” Alternative Field Crops Manual, University of Wisconsin-Extension,
  3. Dietary Interventions for Type 2…” Frontiers in Plant Science, US National Library of Medicine
  4. The Role of Whole Grains in Body Weight…” Advances in Nutrition, US National Library of Medicine
  5. Significance of coarse cereals in…” Journal of Food Science and Technology, US National Library of Medicine
  6. Food beliefs and practices among the Kalenjin…” Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, US National Library of Medicine
  7. Phytochemical and Antiproliferative Activity of…” PLoS One, US National Library of Medicine
  8. A novel protein extracted from foxtail millet bran…” Toxicology letters, US National Library of Medicine

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Kristen Arnold

(MS, RDN, CSSD)
Kristen is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a board-certified specialist in Sports Dietetics. She also has a Master’s in Human... more

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