From the table on Nutrition Facts, it is clear that some millets have protein content similar to wheat and others similar to rice. The key differences however are in the type of protein (non-gluten), fibre and higher mineral content (iron, zinc). Fibre and iron are much needed in the diets of children as today, with a high consumption of refined foods and anaemia can be a concern even in urban, well-to do households. Millets are also a good source of B vitamins and other minerals like potassium and magnesium. Finger millet is also extraordinarily high in calcium.
- Gluten-free: This is a blessing for children who have allergy to wheat gluten or have celiac disease. Making bread out of millets involves trial and error but rotis and dosas from millets are not that difficult. But do watch out – to make dough without gluten, which can be rolled out easily, you need to use oil a bit liberally. So choose the right oil.
- Digestion and Satiety: Millets are easier on the digestive system as they are gluten-free. At the same time, whole millets can keep hunger pangs away longer as they are digested more slowly, for they have more fibre and are less processed. Children, especially those who are overweight and obese, will benefit from the more sustained release of energy that millets provide.
- ‘Warming’ and ‘cooling’ foods: Munna Devi Gangwal, an 80-year- old lady from Jaipur says, “We ate rotis made of pearl millet flour mixed with corn flour in winters as they are considered helpful to keep the body warm.” In Tamil Nadu, the same millet cooked like rice to make a thin porridge with butter milk (Cambu Koozhu) is supposed to be cooling in summer. “As kids we were made to drink a thin porridge called ‘Ragi Ambli’ if we got heat boils or burning sensation in the feet,” says Sandhya Govindaraj, from Mysore.
- Variety: Millets can provide the much-needed variety in children’s diets (See Box for some ideas. “We made many dishes”, recalls Gangawal, “Roti, khichdi, daliya, choorma, laddoo dhokla, and raabdi (drink)”.
- Lowering Cholesterol: Exploratory studies indicate that millets may help in lowering triglycerides and cholesterol.
Note: Millets, like cereals, have an incomplete protein profi le and they need to be combined with pulses to make a complete protein. This is easily done as most Indian recipes require pulse/lentil to make them!
The Multi-Grain Game – What you should know
- ‘Multi-grain’ does not necessarily mean the product will contain millets — multi- grain aata usually has wheat, soya, channa, oats and corn.
- Multi-grain products predominantly contain wheat — as high as 90% and in some cases we are not sure if it is whole wheat or maida! So read the ingredient list carefully (The pictures on the pack do not necessarily correlate to the amount used in the product).
- Multi-grain does not necessarily mean whole grain.