Millets are small-seeded grasses that are hardy and grow well in dry zones as rain-fed crops, under marginal conditions of soil fertility and moisture. Millets are one of the oldest foods known to humans and possibly the first cereal grain to be used for domestic purposes.
Millets are also unique due to their short growing season. They can develop from planted seeds to mature, ready to harvest plants in as little as 65 days. This is important in heavily populated areas. When properly stored, whole millets will keep for two or more years.
Why eat Millets?
They are highly nutritious, non-glutinous and not acid forming foods. Hence they are soothing and easy to digest. They are considered to be the least allergenic and most digestible grains available. Compared to rice, especially polished rice, millets release lesser percentage of glucose and over a longer period of time. This lowers the risk of diabetes (More here).
Millets are particularly high in minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium. Finger millet (Ragi) is the richest in calcium content, about 10 times that of rice or wheat. Click here for the nutrient composition of millets as compared to wheat and rice.
Unlike rice and wheat that require many inputs in terms of soil fertility and water, millets grow well in dry regions as rainfed crops. By eating millets, we will be encouraging farmers in dryland areas to grow crops that are best suited for those regions. This is a step towards sustainable cropping practices where by introducing diversity in our diets, we respect the biodiversity in nature rather than forcefully changing cropping patterns to grow wheat and rice everywhere.
There are many co-operatives of small farmers that are working on providing livelihoods to farmers while at the same time focusing on ecological preservation. In dryland regions, these groups encourage the farmers to produce crops that are local to those regions, that thrive best there – millets. By incorporating millets into our diets, we will be supporting these groups. Learn more about these groups here.
Hidden Hunger :
Deficiency of micronutrients or micronutrient malnutrition, also known as “hidden hunger”, is a serious health risk. Access to safe and nutritious food is a must and sometimes due to lack of consumption of a balanced diet, lack variety in the diet or unavailability of food one does not get adequate micronutrients. Often, there is considerable loss of nutrients during the processing of food as well. One of the strategies to address this problem is to replace our regular diet with millets diet. This method complements other ways to improve nutrition such as such as diversification of diet and supplementation of food.
India has a very high burden of micronutrient deficiencies caused by Vitamin A, Iodine, Iron and Folic Acid leading to Night Blindness, Goitre, Anaemia and various birth defects. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)
58.4 % of children (6-59 months) are anaemic
53.1 % women in the reproductive age group are anaemic
35.7 % of children under 5 are underweight
Fortification is a globally proven intervention to address the much prevalent micronutrient deficiencies in the population.