How to have millets the right way to keep diabetes and heart disease at bay? Which millet works for which age group?

By Dr Meenakshi Bajaj

This has taken a long time coming but millets, our traditional superfoods, are now being brought back to the table. However, like everything else, these should also be consumed in a right manner, something that we may not be aware of. The good part is that 99 per cent of millets are nutrient-dense. Only one per cent needs to be adjusted and that is easy enough to do. The high points going in favour of millets are that they are vegan, plant-based, hypoallergenic, gluten-free, organic, grown virtually without any pesticide and are a major repository of micronutrients, the major determinants of our overall health and well-being.

Given their many health benefits, know how to maximise their use with the right way of preparation and consumption rather than indiscriminately include them in your diet. First, millets have almost as much calories as rice and wheat but since they are high in fibres, they contribute to long-term satiety, kill hunger pangs, and slow down sugar release and food breakdown. But given their calorie value, you must watch your portion size. This is most important. Don’t go overboard.

Second, millets are best had unpolished. Unfortunately, most of the shop shelf variety is milled, processed and polished. Which means the purpose of having millets is lost and they become just like any other grain or cereal. So only have the unpolished variety that you can pick up from any farmers’ market.

Third, you must always soak, ferment or germinate millets before you have them. What this does is neutralise the phytates, which obstruct the absorption of other nutrients. Soaking millets enriches the bio-availability of calcium, zinc and iron, eases carbohydrate and protein digestibility. Meanwhile, fermentation increases flavour and taste.
Fourth, introduce millets gradually to your diet and begin with focussing on one meal featuring them, then increase the frequency and use them as substitutes for your old staples of rice or wheat. Begin with alternate days, then go daily. Start slow. The high fibre content may not sit easily with a sensitive stomach. In that case, begin with lighter millets like foxtail millets and ragi before moving on to heavier varieties like bajra and jowar.

Fifth, millets are goitrogenic, which means they can alter your thyroid profile and interfere with the process of iodine absorption. So, if you suffer from hypothyroidism, follow sprouting, roasting or fermenting before consumption. You can also neutralise the negative effects during the preparation phase, by not using it directly as flour.

Sixth, they can lead to constipation, so always have plenty of water.

How can you include millets in the diets of various age groups?

0-13: Let’s begin with infants. After six months of birth, a baby can be given millets as a weaning or complementary food, in very small quantities to begin with. Start with fluid-like preparations for babies. Sprouted ragis sit easy on the gut. Never forget to soak them. Use millets with cereals, pulses and sago after dry roasting and powdering them. Also do not mix millets but introduce your child to one millet at a time. You can give it as a khichdi. Till 10 months, the baby should not be given cow’s milk. Then you can graduate to millet kheer, milk-based porridge and so on.

13 to 18: Since teens have a thing for fast food, millets can be prepared imaginatively to satisfy their craving. For example, they can be given jowar popcorns. The pizza base, bread and burgers can be prepared from millet flour. You can have millet noodles, wraps and momos.

Ragi cookies and biscuits are not advised as they are high in sodium and sugar content or edible hydrogenated fat. In the name of millets, you would then be eating unhealthy.

18 to 49: This group can adjust better to millets especially when they are given in symbiotic food combinations. So, they can be used with onions which are prebiotic, fermented porridge and fermented buttermilk, which are probiotics. Together they improve gut health, which increasingly is being linked to the occurrence of non-communicable diseases. Symbiotic combinations reduce risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity.

50 and above: For this group we should go moderate with fibre. So, they can go with little millet and kodo millet. Bajra, rich in carotenoids, can be used to boost antioxidants and immunity. Bajra also has the richest source of iron. Barnyard millets are good for weight loss.

Millets change the pH of the stomach, so they are the perfect healing food for ulcers (kodo millets are the best for this purpose).

(The author is a dietician at the Tamil Nadu Government Multi-Super Speciality Hospital, Chennai).
Courtesy: Indian Express

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