Millet connection

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Inclusion of millets as one of the ingredients in daily food may help manage glucose levels to normal. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Inclusion of millets as one of the ingredients in daily food may help manage glucose levels to normal. Photo: G. Ramakrishna

Millets in one’s diet can help prevent diabetes, says Dr. Vijay Viswanathan.

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder in which a person has high blood glucose (sugar), either because of inadequate insulin production, or because the body’s cells do not respond properly to insulin, or both.

Prolonged exposure to diabetes damages important organs like the eye, the kidney, the heart and nerves, as the result of damage to small blood vessels. Heredity, obesity, stress, rich diet, and lack of physical activity are some of the causes for diabetes.

Can diabetes be prevented? The answer is yes, but with lifestyle and dietary modification. Dietary modification, physical activity and keeping an ideal body weight may help to take care of diabetes and prevent associated problems. Physical activity/exercise helps the muscles convert glucose to energy. But there is a risk of developing hypoglycemia. Shifting to a healthy diet and a brisk walk of more than five hours a week helps keep blood glucose level normal.

As far as diet is concerned, millets have an important role in helping control diabetes. Millets are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown as cereal crops or grains. Millets are important crops in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa. Kodo millet (Hindi: Kodra; Tamil: Varagu), foxtail millet (Hindi: Kangni; Tamil: Thinai), pearl millet (Hindi: Bajra, Tamil: Kambu), barnyard millet (Hindi: Jhangora; Tamil: Kuthiravaali), little millet (Hindi: Kutki; Tamil: Samai), proso millet (Hindi:Barri; Tamil: Panivaragu), finger millet (Hindi: Mandua; Tamil: Raagi) and sorghum (Hindi: Jowar; Tamil: Cholam) are some types available in India.

Millets like sorghum are predominantly starchy and the protein content is comparable to that of wheat and maize. Millets are non-gluten, non-acid forming foods and are high in proteins, fibre, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. They not only help prevent diabetes but also other complications like heart disease and cancer. Millets are also relatively rich in B vitamins (especially niacin, B6 and folic acid) and phosphorus. Among the millets, pearl millet (Bajra) has the highest content of macronutrients and micronutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, folic acid and riboflavin. Finger millet (Ragi) is an extraordinary source of calcium. Though low in fat content, it is high in PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids). It is also rich in essential amino acids, like lysine, threonine, valine, sulphur containing amino acids.

Studies have shown that millets are also rich in health-promoting phytochemicals like polyphenols, lignans, phytosterols, phyto-oestrogens and phytocyanins. These function as antioxidants, immune modulators, detoxifying agents, etc. and hence protect against age-related degenerative diseases like cardiovascular diseases (CVD), diabetes, cancer, etc. Studies have reported that the consumption of millet-based food items produced the lowest post-prandial glucose levels i.e. after a meal. Millet’s high fibre content slows digestion and releases sugar into the bloodstream at a more even pace. This helps avoid the abnormal spikes in blood sugar of diabetes patients. Thus, a healthy diet that provides the highest quality of nutrients and is low in fat and moderate in calories benefits diabetics and help manage blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol.

The writer is a Chennai-based Diabetologist.

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