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Millet diet controls blood sugar, lowers cholesterol

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By Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

United States Department of Agriculture states that millet is a cereal grain that belongs to the Poaceae family, commonly known as the grass family.  In its origin, Nithiyanantham et al. (2019) found that millet is highly eaten in developing countries throughout Africa and Asia.  Though it resembles a seed, millet’s nutritional content is akin to that of sorghum and other cereals.  Another study by Muthamilarasan et al. (2015) also reports that the popularity of millet has advanced in the West because it contains high protein, fiber, and antioxidants.

Ugare et al. (2015) also found that millet is a low glycemic index diet. Their study found dehulled (50.0) and heat treated (41.7) barnyard millet beneficial for type-II diabetics. It’s also an alkaline food, which means that it can digest easily, a good option for those with sensitive stomachs.

Nutritional composition

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Sarita, E (2016) study found that as pertains to most cereals, millet is a starchy grain — meaning that it’s rich in carbs. Additionally, millet is loaded with several vitamins and minerals.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, one cup (174 grams) of cooked millet packs has the following:

o          Calories: 207

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o          Carbs: 41 grams

o          Fiber: 2.2 grams

o          Protein: 6 grams

o          Fat: 1.7 grams

o          Phosphorus: 25% of the Daily Value (DV)

o          Magnesium: 19% of the DV

o          Folate: 8% of the DV

o          Iron: 6% of the DV

Also, three studies (Singh, 2,016; Dias-Martins et al.2018; Wu, 2009) found that millet gives more essential amino acids as compared to other cereals and they are the building blocks of protein.

Another interesting thing is that finger millet can take the bragging right as cereal with the abundant calcium content giving the body 13% of the daily value per 1 cooked cup (100 grams) (Singh, 2016; Devi et al. 2014; Shobana et al. 2013). As you are aware, the human body needs calcium for good bone health, blood vessel and muscular contractions, and proper nerve function.

Millet, science

Antioxidants loaded

Six studies (Devi et al. 2016; Kumari et al. 2017; Pizino et al. 2017; Xiang et al. 2019; Chandrasekara and Shahidi, 2010) confirmed that millet is loaded with phenolic compounds, specifically ferulic acid and catechins.  They work as antioxidants to guard the body against harmful oxidative stress.

Other studies in mice (Zdu?ska et al. 2017 Liu et al. 2017) correlate ferulic acid to fast wound healing, skin protection, and anti-inflammatory properties.  It has been established that these catechins bind to heavy metals, and avert poisoning our bloodstream (Chandrasekara and  Shahidi, 2010; Bernatoniene and  Kopustinskiene, 2018).

Kumari et al. (2017) explained that though all millet types are loaded with antioxidants, the specific ones with a darker color such as proso, and foxtail millet are superior juxtaposed to those with white or yellow counterparts.

Control blood sugar levels

Two studies (Devi et al. 2016; Kam et al.2016) found that millet is loaded with fiber and non-starchy polysaccharides, two types of undigestible carbs that are likely to control blood sugar levels.

Another newsworthy is that two studies for instance (Dias-Martins et al. 2018; Narayanan et al. 2016) found that millet is capable of controlling blood sugar due to its low glycemic index (GI), which means that when you eat a millet diet, there is no worry of blood sugar rising. Hence, diabetics can eat a millet- diet once the other combined ingredients are diabetics friendly.

This was demonstrated in one human study by Narayanan et al. (2016) where 105 people with type 2 diabetes took part. The researchers found that using a millet-based diet to replace a rice-based breakfast reduced blood sugar levels after the meal.

Another human study in 64 people for a 12-week duration with prediabetes also reported the same findings. After eating 1/3 cup (50 grams) of foxtail millet per day, the participants’ blood sugar was reduced in both fasting and random blood sugar levels, and decrease in insulin resistance.

Brown et al. (2016) explained that insulin resistance is a marker for type 2 diabetes. This normally happens when you decide to yield to the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar. Finally, Shobana et al. (2010) 6-week study in rats with diabetes found that when the animals were given, a diet that contains 20% finger millet resulted in lowering fasting blood sugar and a drop in triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

The glycemic index?

People living with diabetes also need to be familiar with the glycemic index (GI) and know the GI value of the foods they eat. The glycemic index ranks carbohydrates by how fast they increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a lower GI value are slowly digested and raise blood sugar at a slower pace.

On the other hand, foods with a higher GI value digest faster and can thus quickly raise blood sugar.  The GI scale is from 0 to 100. One benefit of millet is that many types have a low to medium GI value, so you can eat them more often without affecting your blood sugar too much.

Patil et al.(2015) study found that though, the GI value of millet differs depending on the type. For this reason, some types of millet are better than others if you have diabetes. Foxtail, little, finger, and pearl millet have a GI value ranging from 54 to 68. Jowar millet, however, has a GI value of 70. It shouldn’t be eaten as often as the others.

It’s also important to know where other whole grains fall on the GI scale since you’ll likely incorporate these foods into your diet, too. Whole grains with a low GI (55 or less) include:

o          quinoa

o          barley

o          oat bran

o          all-bran cereal

o          sourdough bread

o          whole grain tortilla

Whole grains with a medium GI (56 to 69) include:

o          flaxseed bread

o          whole wheat or white pita bread

o          rye bread

o          basmati rice

o          brown rice

o          rice noodles

o          couscous

o          white rice

Whole grains with a high GI (70 or more) include:

o          jasmine rice

o          instant white rice

o          pretzels

o          rice cakes

o          naan

o          white or whole wheat bread

Lower cholesterol

Devi et al. (2016) study found that millet is loaded with soluble fiber, and this in turn produces a sticky material in the gut.  This helps bind fats and lowered cholesterol levels. This was confirmed in one rat study by Lee et al. (2010) which states that rats fed foxtail and proso millet triglyceride levels decreased drastically juxtaposed with the control group.

Also, millet protein could lower cholesterol. This was also demonstrated in one mice study by Nishizawa et al. (2009) with type 2 diabetes. The mice were fed a high-fat diet with millet protein concentrate.  Their result found a decrease in triglyceride levels and a drastic improvement in adiponectin and HDL (good) cholesterol levels, juxtaposed with the control group.

Two studies (Lihn et al. 2005; Fang et al. 2018) found that the hormone adiponectin with an anti-inflammatory effect aids heart health and inspires fatty acid oxidation. The levels are normally decreased in those with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Millet, gluten-free diet

Three studies (Dias-Martins et al. 2018; Devi et al. 2014; Niro et al. 2019) confirmed that millet is a gluten-free grain, hence, it is a good option for those with celiac disease or those following a gluten-free diet.

Gurja et al. (2012) found that gluten is a protein that is found naturally in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. However, those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity must stay away as it causes harmful digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea and nutrient malabsorption.  Hence, it is advisable that in purchasing millet read the product label and search for those certified gluten-free.

Millet, warning

One study by Boncompagni et al. (2018)found that millet contains antinutrients — compounds that block or lower your body’s absorption of other nutrients and may lead to deficiencies. Phytic acid is one such compound that interferes with potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium uptake. This notwithstanding, once your diet is balanced, there is no problem. Goitrogenic polyphenols are another compound that is likely to damage thyroid function, causing goiter — an enlargement of the thyroid gland that results in neck swelling.

However, this effect is related only to excess polyphenol intake. Two studies (Boncompagni et al. 2018; Gonçalves et al. 2017) for instance, found that goiter was found when millet provided 74% of a person’s daily calories, compared with only 37% of their daily calories.  This concern can be addressed by soaking it overnight at room temperature, then draining and rinsing it before cooking (Singh, 2016). Additionally, sprouting reduces antinutrient content.


Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups.  My articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as Medical advice for Treatment. I aim to educate the public about evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.

The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, a Medical Journalist, and a science writer. President, Nyarkotey University College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation, Ashaiman, Ghana. Currently BL Candidate at the Gambia Law School, Banjul. E. mail: [email protected]. + 2207452652(for more information)

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