The term millet is used for a collection of various grasses producing small, spherical seeds that are harvested for consumption. While all these grasses are collectively called millets, five varieties are produced commercially. These include brown top, barnyard, proso, pearl, and foxtail. Millets are native to Africa, where these plants are a vital staple for the locals. They have been in use since more than 4.000 years ago. Currently, millets are extensively cultivated throughout several regions of south Asia and they form a key grain crop in these areas.
Precisely speaking, millets are a collection of extremely inconsistent small-seeded grasses, extensively cultivated across the globe today in the form of cereal crops or grains for human food as well as fodder. These grains are considered to be wholesome and healthy foods.
Millets are enduring annual plants that possess the aptitude to grow in such conditions which would normally kill other crops. These plants flourish well when grown in extreme heat and very poor soil, making them an ideal crop choice in areas that are gradually turning into deserts. It has been observed that growing as well as harvesting millet is relatively easy compared to any other grains. The stalks of these plants can be utilized as fodder, fuel, and bedding, while the grains are threshed for human consumption or feeding livestock. In India, people usually pulverize the grains into a flour and use it to make chapattis. Alternately, they are steamed and consumed as whole grains.
Millet is extensively cultivated across the globe in the form of a cereal crop for human consumption. In some places, they are also grown for fodder. In the semi arid regions of tropical Asia and Africa, including India, Niger and Nigeria, millets are an important crop. These countries along with some other developing nations contribute about 97 percent of worldwide millet production. In many regions, this crop is a favourite of the farmers owing to its high productivity as well as the brief growing season in arid locations where the temperature is high.
Pearl millet is the most widely cultivated millet. Apart from being a vital crop in India as well as several regions of Africa, they also provide plenty of nutrition. This crop is not given much value. For instance, people in the United States only consider proso millet important and it is mostly cultivated for feeding birds.
Millets contain high levels of various vitamins, in addition to large concentrations of protein. The protein content of the grain is slightly over 10 percent. Moreover, this grain does not contain gluten. The advantage of millet is that the plants grow very rapidly and the grains can be harvested just three months after planting them. In other words, one can get two to three crops from the same field annually. Compared to some other plants, millets are not as vulnerable to pests and it is possible to grow these plants even without using costly pesticides. While millets are mostly free from pests, there is some concern about the plants being afflicted by fungus, especially in countries that have developed strains that are genetically uniform with a view to enhance yields.
In most developing countries, especially those lying in the tropics, millets are mainly used in the form of food, bedding for animals as well as forage fodder for animals. The grains, particularly pearl millet, have become a part of diet of people in many regions of India as well as Africa. In these regions, millet is considered to be one of the four most significant staple crops. On the other hand, in developing nations, people usually do not consume millets. Over the years its popularity in the first world has decreased considerably. Usually, the grains are used as commercial bird seed as well as other types of animal food.
The flavour of millet is somewhat mild that can be improved by toasting the seeds lightly prior to cooking. It has a slightly nutty taste that is comparatively unremarkable. Often people season the grain with different spices as well as herbs to improve its bland taste. Nevertheless, the blandness of the grains also makes them an appropriate food for consumption by people who are ailing and have problems in keeping the food down. Although millet is not popular in the West, with the explosion of ethnic restaurants whose menu includes foods prepared with these grains, people are slowly but steadily getting a taste of these grains and realizing their health benefits.
Across the world, people count on millets to supply the basic nutrients in several developing nations. Millet is very important owing to the fact that it is loaded with a variety of nutrients, counting a considerable amount of starch, elevated levels of B-vitamins in addition to adequate amounts of various essential minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Millet also contains sufficient amounts of essential fats, which are necessary for our overall good health. In addition, millets enclose considerable amounts of protein as well as dietary fiber. The last two nutrients are considered to offer the most important benefits of millets.
Millet contains significant amounts of phosphorus which plays a vital role in the construction of all the cells in our body. Moreover, this essential mineral also plays a vital role in developing the bones’ mineral matrix. Phosphorus is also a necessary element of several other compounds that are vital for our life, including adenosine triphosphate (ATP). In fact, adenosine triphosphate is the main molecule that serves as our body’s energy currency.
It is worth mentioning here that phosphorus is a vital element of nucleic acids, which are considered to be our genetic codes’ building blocks. Moreover, phosphorus is also responsible for the metabolism of lipids (fats) in our body. At the same time, phosphorus is an essential element of all body structures that contain lipids, including the cell membranes as well as the structures of our nervous system.
People who are keen to protect their heart will find millet among the best possible grains for adding to their diet. In fact, adding this grain to your diet is easy. This grain is a wonderful source of the essential mineral magnesium, which is vital for lowering high blood pressure and, at the same time, diminishes the chances of suffering from heart attacks and strokes, especially among people who are already enduring atherosclerosis. In addition, millet also provides us with significant amounts of potassium, which works to maintain the normal blood pressure of the body by serving as a vasodilator (dilating the blood vessels).
Our heart can be protected best by lowering the blood pressure as well as by optimizing the blood circulatory system. In addition to protecting the health of our cardiovascular system, the micro-flora in our digestive system is able to convert the plant lignans present in millet to animal lignans, which have proven to be heart protective in specific chronic conditions, such as heart diseases and even cancer.
The cholesterol levels in our blood stream are directly associated with the health of our heart and, hence, the elevated levels of dietary fiber present in millets make these grains just perfect for lowering the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol in our blood stream. In fact, dietary fiber helps to get rid of the harmful “bad cholesterol” (LDL cholesterol) from our system. At the same time, it promotes the actions of high density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good cholesterol”.
Currently, several million people across the world are suffering from diabetes. Interestingly, it has been found that in many countries where millet is a staple food, incidences of diabetes are less frequent. This is possibly because consumption of these grains is responsible for reducing the chances of developing type-2 diabetes. This effect of millet is attributed to presence of considerable amounts of the essential mineral magnesium in the grains.
It is believed that magnesium is among the most vital minerals that help in augmenting insulin efficiency as well as those of glucose receptors in our body. In this way, magnesium helps to put off the chances of developing type-2 diabetes. It has been noticed that people who incorporate millets/ magnesium in their diet have 30 percent less chances of having type-2 diabetes compared to those who don’t.
Similar to the claims made by people regarding other foods rich in dietary fiber content, even millets can be useful in promoting the health of your gastrointestinal (GI) system, while getting rid of various problems such as excessive gas formation, constipation, bloating as well as cramping. As consumption of foods rich in dietary fiber helps to regulate the digestive system as well as the process, people incorporating this grain in their diet help to enhance the retention of nutrients by the body. At the same time, it also lessens the risks of developing very serious conditions related to the gastrointestinal system, such as gastric ulcers and/ or colon cancer. It has been established that normal digestion as well as elimination of waste from our system on a regular basis not only helps to optimize the functioning of the liver, and kidneys, but also improves the health of your immune system. This effect of dietary fiber is vital because all these organs are intimately associated with our body’s metabolic functioning.
Findings of a number of studies undertaken recently to examine the health benefits of dietary fiber have shown that consumption of foods rich in dietary fiber is among the easiest as well as best means to put off development of breast cancer. Actually, women can lessen the risks of developing breast cancer by over 50 percent if they consume a little over 30 grams of millets daily. Considering the fact that breast cancer is among the most widespread as well as fatal types of cancer, every woman needs to pay attention to this particular advice.
Millets enclose several antioxidants. Aside from neutralizing the detrimental free radicals, which are responsible for onset of cancer, these antioxidants also cleanse the body of toxic and waste materials – especially those that have accumulated in the liver and kidneys. Several compounds like curcumin, quercetin, ellagic acid and a variety of other helpful catechins are useful for eliminating toxins and other harmful foreign agents from the body, as they promote normal excretion and, at the same time, neutralize these organs’ enzymatic activities.
Findings of latest researches have shown that consumption of millet can enhance the quality of life significantly, especially among people who have been suffering from asthma since their childhood. In addition, millets are also useful in preventing onset of asthma. While a number of evidences in this regard are somewhat controversial, it has been observed that consumption of millet leads to less wheezing as well as bouts of asthma – at least less by 15 percent. This was particularly evident in children who consumed large amounts of grains, such as millet. Nevertheless, it needs to be mentioned here that while wheat is a common allergen, which is related to asthma as well as wheezing, millet does not contain the same elements. As a result, millet does not cause wheezing or any other negative effects related to asthma.