India’s big millets push, and why it makes sense to have these grains

Two years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted India’s resolution to declare 2023 as the International Year of Millets.

The Union Budget has accorded high priority to millets — grains such as jowar, bajra, ragi — citing their health benefits. “We are the largest producer and second largest exporter of ‘Sree Anna’ (millets) in the world… The Indian Institute of Millet Research-Hyderabad will be supported as the Centre of Excellence for sharing best practices, research and technologies at the international level,” the Finance Minister said.

India’s millets push
Two years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted India’s resolution to declare 2023 as the International Year of Millets. Through the year, several central ministries and government organisations will work towards promoting this “nutri cereal”. Delegates at G20 meetings will be given a “millet experience” through tasting, meeting farmers, and interactive sessions.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya has said that food regulator Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) will formulate guidelines to include millets in the food menu of schools, hospitals, and government canteens. Hospitals such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences are working to set up a “millets canteen” to produce millets-based foods from March onward.

The Youth Affairs Ministry has done webinars and conferences with leading athletes, nutritionists, and dieticians on millets through the Fit India app.

The Ministry of Food Processing Industries has organised millet fair-cum-exhibitions in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Madhya Pradesh; the diversity of Indian millets will be showcased at international trade shows.

Indian embassies in more than 140 countries will organise exhibitions, seminars, and cooked millet dish competitions.

The government also intends to increase procurement of these grains under the public distribution system. Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said last year that it was time for public distribution programmes to focus on a more diverse food basket to improve nutritional status.

What are the benefits of millets?
Millets are both eco-friendly and healthier than more commonly consumed grains. They require much less water than rice or wheat, and can be grown in rain-fed areas without irrigation. Belonging to the grass family, millets tend to be more tolerant to drought and extreme weather, and can grow in poor soil and in hilly areas.

Millets can be a healthier option to keep lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes at bay. Switching out the regular grains can be especially beneficial in India, which is considered to be the diabetes capital of the world. It is projected that the country will have 69.9 million diabetics by 2025. Indians are also at a high risk of cardiovascular diseases at a young age.

Millets have a much lower glycaemic index — a measure of how much blood sugar levels spike after consuming a food item — than processed rice or wheat. A low glycaemic diet can help in controlling weight and blood sugar levels, consequently reducing the risk of heart disease or even cancers.

Millets are also high in fibre content that is known to improve gut microbiota. They result in satiety faster and keeps people fuller for longer, thereby reducing the amount of food consumed.

They are rich in micronutrients such as iron and zinc, which can help reduce the country’s burden of anaemia. The incidence of anaemia increased from 58.6% to 67.1% in children ages 6-9 between the two rounds of the National Family Health Survey in 2015-16 and 2020-21. In women ages 15-49, it increased to 57% from 53.1%.

Millets also contain niacin, which is linked to lowering triglycerides and increasing HDL or good cholesterol. Millets contain no gluten and suit people with gluten allergy and irritable bowel syndrome.

Could you overdo millets?

Although millets have a low glycaemic index, they are not a low-calorie option. Dr Ambrish Mithal, Chairman and Head, Endocrinology and Diabetes, Max Healthcare wrote in The Indian Express that portion control remains just as important with millets as well.

“If you are going to consume millets in unrestricted amounts, you will lose out on any nutritional gains,” Dr Mithal said. Also, the grains should not be polished or processed like rice or wheat — doing so will raise their glycaemic index, and benefits will be lost.

Sources :The Indian Express

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