Millet. Americans know it as birdseed, but for a third of the world’s population, this super-grain serves as a dietary staple.
What makes this grain so common, and more critically, so healthy? And just why, exactly, should it be seated in the grain pantheon, amongst the other grain greats, like quinoa, barley and buckwheat?
What is Millet?
Millet is a hulled grain that, like many grains, is taken from seeded grasses. It is one of the world’s primary dietary staples, sustaining near a third of the world’s population, and it is especially prevalent in Eastern Europe, Asia and much of Africa.
Why is it so ubiquitous?
Millet is no diva—it doesn’t need constant watering, fertilization or good soil; and in fact, millet thrives on nutrient-poor, arid soils. Furthermore, the grain grows well both in hot, rain-deficient climates, and in cold climates with short cool summers.
The four most common types of millet are foxtail, proso, finger and pearl. Because pearl millet plants generate the largest seeds, pearl is the kind most frequently grown. This variety accounts for approximately 40% of world’s millet consumption.
When ground, millet provides a flour similar to rice flour, and suitable as a gluten-free, wheat flour substitute. Thus, those afflicted by celiac disease or a gluten allergy might be the Americans most familiar with millet as a human food source.
But Millet, like all grains, can be used in a multitude of ways, and in addition to its reserved, nutty taste, provides a number of health benefits for everyone. Here are a few:
- Millet is non allergenic, and is one of the only alkaline grains (which, at the very least, means millet is easy to digest).
- Millet is an excellent source of fiber. Fiber, as you likely know, is an essential nutrient, which promotes health in a variety of important ways, but is especially useful in facilitating digestion and protecting against cancers.
- Millet contains substantial levels of copper, phosphorous, manganese, vitamin B3 and, notably, magnesium (which is known to lower high blood pressure, and improve the symptoms of asthma and migraine).
There is one catch: millet is suspected to increase incidence of goiter. Goiter, a swelling of the throat (look up a few images), is caused by diminished thyroid function. This, in turn, is caused by iodine deficiency (which is why salt is often iodized).
Millet contains flavonoids, and goitrogens, substances, which are thought to hinder iodine metabolism and cause goiter, even in people who get sufficient iodine in their diets.
In 2000 the American Society for Clinical Nutrition conducted a study on abnormally high goiter frequency in the Blue Nile area of the Sudan. The study concluded that the “consumption of millet” was a possible cause of the area’s goiter problem.
Other substantiating research is scant, and it is generally accepted that the only risks (if there are any risks at all) are to people who eat enormous amounts of millet (that is, to people who consume millet three or more times daily).
CATEGORIES: Diet, Healthy Food, Gluten-Free , Superfood, Millet