Benefits Of Millet

Benefits Of Millet:

Description

While you will probably recognize millet as being one of the main ingredients in birdseed, this wonderful grain is anything but "for the birds." (Millet is technically a seed and not a grain but we classify it as a grain on our website since that is what it is categorized as from a culinary perspective.) It is a delicious grain whose consistency varies depending upon cooking method; it can be creamy like mashed potatoes or fluffy like rice. Additionally, since millet does not contain gluten, it is a wonderful grain alternative for people who are gluten-sensitive.

Millet is tiny in size and round in shape and can vary in color from white to gray to yellow to red. The most widely available form of millet found in stores is the hulled type, although oftentimes you may be able to find traditional couscous, which is made from cracked millet.

The term millet refers to a variety of grains, some of which do not belong to the same genus of plant. The types of millet consumed as food generally fall into the scientific categories Panicum miliaceuem or Setaria italica.

Nutritional Benefits

Millet is an excellent source of iron and magnesium. It is also high in calcium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc, and B vitamins. It has the highest iron content of any grain except amaranth and quinoa. The natural alkalinity of millet makes it easily digestible, so it is very beneficial for people with ulcers and digestive problems. It is believed to be one of the least allergenic of all grains.

Recognized as gluten free in Canada for many years, millet is becoming more widely accepted as a gluten-free grain in the United States. This slower acceptance is most often attributed to the fact that millet is not a commonly used grain in the United States and may carry a slight risk of gluten contamination because of possible cross contamination in processing and handling. Remember, if you are among those people who must live gluten free, it is always best to introduce a new grain into the diet slowly and cautiously to ensure that it will not cause problems. There is always the possibility that a gluten-free grain may cause an adverse reaction in some people because of an allergic response to some other substance in the grain.

Nutritional Profile
(based on ¼ cup dry grain)

  • Calories = 189
  • Total Fat = 2 g
  • Saturated Fat = 0.25 g
  • Cholesterol = 0 mg
  • Sodium = 2.5 mg
  • Carbohydrate = 36.5 g
  • Dietary Fiber = 4.25 g
  • Protein = 5.5 g
  • Gluten Free

Health Benefits

Millet is more than just an interesting alternative to the more common grains. Our food ranking system qualified it as a good source of some very important nutrients, including manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Heart-Protective Properties

Although oats have been widely publicized for their heart-protective properties, millet is a grain that should also be included on your list of heart-healthy choices because of its status as a good source of magnesium. Magnesium has been shown in studies to reduce the severity of asthma and to reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Magnesium has also been shown to lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack, especially in people with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. Niacin (vitamin B3) can be of help in lowering high cholesterol.

Development and Repair of Body Tissue

The phosphorus provided by millet plays a role in the structure of every cell in the body. In addition to its role in forming the mineral matrix of bone, phosphorus is an essential component of numerous other life-critical compounds including adenosine triphosphate or ATP, the molecule that is the energy currency of the body. Phosphorus is an important component of nucleic acids, the building blocks of the genetic code. In addition, the metabolism of lipids (fats) relies on phosphorus, and phosphorus is an essential component of lipid-containing structures such as cell membranes and nervous system structures. A cup of cooked millet will give you 17% of the daily value for phosphorus.

Millet and Other Whole Grains Substantially Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Millet and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body's use of glucose and insulin secretion.

The FDA permits foods that contain at least 51% whole grains by weight (and are also low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol) to display a health claim stating consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Now, research suggests regular consumption of whole grains also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. (van Dam RM, Hu FB, Diabetes Care).

In this 8-year trial, involving 41,186 particpants of the Black Women's Health Study, research data confirmed inverse associations between magnesium, calcium and major food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes that had already been reported in predominantly white populations.

Risk of type 2 diabetes was 31% lower in black women who frequently ate whole grains compared to those eating the least of these magnesium-rich foods. When the women's dietary intake of magnesium intake was considered by itself, a beneficial, but lesser 19% reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes was found, indicating that whole grains offer special benefits in promoting healthy blood sugar control. Daily consumption of low-fat dairy foods was also helpful, lowering risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%. Enjoy a hearty breakfast and get the benefits of both millet and dairy by serving a hot bowl of millet topped with low-fat milk and your favorite dried fruit, nuts or seeds.

Helps Prevent Gallstones

Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as millet, can help women avoid gallstones, shows a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Studying the overall fiber intake and types of fiber consumed over a 16 year period by over 69,000 women in the Nurses Health Study, researchers found that those consuming the most fiber overall (both soluble and insoluble) had a 13% lower risk of developing gallstones compared to women consuming the fewest fiber-rich foods.

Those eating the most foods rich in insoluble fiber gained even more protection against gallstones: a 17% lower risk compared to women eating the least. And the protection was dose-related; a 5-gram increase in insoluble fiber intake dropped risk dropped 10%.

How do foods rich in insoluble fiber help prevent gallstones? Researchers think insoluble fiber not only speeds intestinal transit time (how quickly food moves through the intestines), but reduces the secretion of bile acids (excessive amounts contribute to gallstone formation), increases insulin sensitivity and lowers triglycerides (blood fats). Abundant in all whole grains, insoluble fiber is also found in nuts and the edible skin of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, many squash, apples, berries, and pears. In addition, beans provide insoluble as well as soluble fiber.

Whole Grains and Fish Highly Protective against Childhood Asthma

According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is reported to be responsible for over 14 million lost school days in children, and an annual economic cost of more than $16.1 billion.

Increasing consumption of whole grains and fish could reduce the risk of childhood asthma by about 50%, suggests the International Study on Allergy and Asthma in Childhood (Tabak C, Wijga AH, Thorax).

The researchers, from the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Utrecht University, University Medical Center Groningen, used food frequency questionnaires completed by the parents of 598 Dutch children aged 8-13 years. They assessed the children's consumption of a range of foods including fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grain products. Data on asthma and wheezing were also assessed using medical tests as well as questionnaires.

While no association between asthma and intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products was found (a result at odds with other studies that have supported a link between antioxidant intake, particularly vitamins C and E, and asthma), the children's intake of both whole grains and fish was significantly linked to incidence of wheezing and current asthma.

In children with a low intake of fish and whole grains, the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low intake of fish and whole grains also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma (16.7%). compared to only a 2.8% incidence of current asthma among children with a high intake of both foods.

After adjusting results for possible confounding factors, such as the educational level of the mother, and total energy intake, high intakes of whole grains and fish were found to be associated with a 54 and 66% reduction in the probability of being asthmatic, respectively.

The probability of having asthma with bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), defined as having an increased sensitivity to factors that cause narrowing of the airways, was reduced by 72 and 88% when children had a high-intake of whole grains and fish, respectively. Lead researcher, CoraTabak commented, "The rise in the prevalence of asthma in western societies may be related to changed dietary habits." We agree. The Standard American Diet is sorely deficient in the numerous anti-inflammatory compounds found in fish and whole grains, notably, the omega-3 fats supplied by cold water fish and the magnesium and vitamin E provided by whole grains. One caution: wheat may need to be avoided as it is a common food allergen associated with asthma.

Health-Promoting Activity Equal to or Even Higher than that of Vegetables and Fruits

Research reported at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University shows that whole grains, such as millet, contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.

Despite the fact that for years researchers have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients, they have typically measured only the "free" forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. They have not looked at the "bound" forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed.

Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, catechins, and many others that appear frequently in the health news.

When Dr. Liu and his colleagues measured the relative amounts of phenolics, and whether they were present in bound or free form, in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the "free" form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics in these foods. In whole grains, however, "free" phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in "bound" form.

In his presentation, Dr. Liu explained that because researchers have examined whole grains with the same process used to measure antioxidants in vegetables and fruits—looking for their content of "free" phenolics"—the amount and activity of antioxidants in whole grains has been vastly underestimated.

Despite the differences in fruits', vegetables' and whole grains' content of "free" and "bound" phenolics, the total antioxidant activity in all three types of whole foods is similar, according to Dr. Liu's research. His team measured the antioxidant activity of various foods, assigning each a rating based on a formula (micromoles of vitamin C equivalent per gram). Broccoli and spinach measured 80 and 81, respectively; apple and banana measured 98 and 65; and of the whole grains tested, corn measured 181, whole wheat 77, oats 75, and brown rice 56.

Dr. Liu's findings may help explain why studies have shown that populations eating diets high in fiber-rich whole grains consistently have lower risk for colon cancer, yet short-term clinical trials that have focused on fiber alone in lowering colon cancer risk, often to the point of giving subjects isolated fiber supplements, yield inconsistent results. The explanation is most likely that these studies have not taken into account the interactive effects of all the nutrients in whole grains—not just their fiber, but also their many phytonutrients. As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential is precisely their wholeness. A grain of whole wheat consists of three parts—its endosperm (starch), bran and germ.

When wheat—or any whole grain—is refined, its bran and germ are removed. Although these two parts make up only 15-17% of the grain's weight, they contain 83% of its phenolics. Dr. Liu says his recent findings on the antioxidant content of whole grains reinforce the message that a variety of foods should be eaten good health. "Different plant foods have different phytochemicals," he said. "These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effect—this teamwork—that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains."

Lignans Protect against Heart Disease

One type of phytonutrient especially abundant in whole grains including millet are plant lignans, which are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. In addition to whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries are rich sources of plant lignans, and vegetables, fruits, and beverages such as coffee, tea and wine also contain some. When blood levels of enterolactone were measured in over 800 postmenopausal women in a Danish study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women eating the most whole grains were found to have significantly higher blood levels of this protective lignan. Women who ate more cabbage and leafy vegetables also had higher enterolactone levels.

Consumption Tips

  • Similar to the other types of whole grains, millet should be cleaned properly and thoroughly, prior to cooking. This can be done by rinsing it under cool running water and removing any grime or debris present in the grains.
  • For the purpose of cooking, add one part of the grain to two and a half parts of boiling water or broth. Allow the liquid to boil once and then turn the heat to low and cover the pan. After this, allow the pot to simmer for around 20 to 25 minutes, until you get a smooth and fluffy texture.
  • If you looking for a creamy texture, stir the grains frequently while in the pot and add some water every now and then.
  • To get a crispy and a nutty flavor, you can roast the grains prior to cooking.

Caution

Millet is not a commonly allergenic food and is not known to contain measurable amounts of oxalates or purines.

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