Finger Millet: The Nutrient-Packed Ancient Grain

Finger Millet: The Nutrient-Packed Ancient Grain

The United Nations has declared 2023 as the International Year of Millets, shining a spotlight on these small but mighty grains. This global initiative is an acknowledgment of the tremendous potential of millets in addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges, from food security and nutrition to sustainable agriculture and climate resilience. Millets are a diverse group of small-seeded cereals that have been cultivated for thousands of years in various parts of the world. They include species such as finger millet, pearl millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, and more. Traditionally, millets have been a dietary staple in regions of Africa and Asia, including India, China, Nigeria, and Sudan. These grains are renowned for their resilience, adaptability, and nutritional value.

Among these, finger millet, also known as ragi, stands out as a nutritional powerhouse. This grain has been cultivated for thousands of years in Africa and Asia and offers a wide range of health benefits. In this blog, we will explore the history, nutritional value, culinary uses, and potential health advantages of finger millet. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana) is one of the oldest cultivated grains, dating back to ancient times. It is believed to have originated in Africa and was subsequently introduced to the Indian subcontinent. Due to its adaptability to diverse climates and high nutritional value, finger millet has remained a staple crop in many regions of the world, including Africa, India, and Nepal. Finger millet is celebrated for its remarkable nutritional profile. Finger millet is the most outstanding one with respect to its nutrition and other health benefits along with its suitability to various aberrations. It is a good source of calcium, other minerals, and fibre in terms of nutrition. Its carbohydrate content has been estimated to be between 72 and 79.5 % and starch is the primary component of carbohydrates, accounting for 59.4 to 70.2 %. The granules of finger millet starch have a polygonal rhombic form. Amylopectin makes up 80 to 85 % of its starch with amylose accounting for the remaining 15 to 20 %. It has a reducing sugar content of 1.5 % and a non-reducing sugar content of 0.03 %. The white cultivars of finger millet contain more protein than the brown varieties. It has 44.7 % essential amino acids, which is more than the 33.9 % essential amino acids found in other grains. Ragi is a great grain substitute for gluten-free folks because it does not contain gluten. 

Status area and production

The majority of finger millet is grown in semi-arid tropical regions of Asia and Africa. The southern states of India are where finger millet is primarily grown in Asia, and these regions have ideal growing conditions. Finger millet is the fourth most produced millet in the world after sorghum, pearl millet, and foxtail millet. India produces 1.70 million tonnes of finger millet, which is grown over 1.07 million hectares’ area. The states Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana are important producers of finger millet. In addition to being utilized for direct human consumption, finger millet has a wide range of other uses, including animal feed, distilleries, and food processing for value-added goods.

 

Nutritional importance of finger millet

Finger millet is high in amino acids like tryptophan, threonine, valine, isoleucine and methionine, which are necessary for the normal functioning of the body and the healing of bodily tissues. Compared to other millets, it has higher lysine, threonine and valine. In addition, black finger millet has a fatty acid content of 8.71 mg g-1 dry weight and a protein content of 8.47 g g-1 dry weight. In finger millet, the total dietary fibre (TDF), insoluble dietary fibre (IDF), and soluble dietary fibre (SDF) content was determined to be 12, 11 and 2%, respectively. It has 18.6% dietary fibre and 3.6 % crude fibre, according to research. The overall antioxidant capacity of finger millet was found to be higher with total carotenoid content ranging from 78 to 366 mg per 100 g. The calcium (344 mg) and potassium content of finger millet is higher (408 mg). Calcium is important for the health of your bones and teeth.  The finger millet, on the other hand, includes phytates (0.48 %), polyphenols, tannins (0.61 %), trypsin inhibitory factors and dietary fibre which were long thought to be “anti-nutrients” due to their metal chelating and enzyme inhibition properties. Brown finger millet has a phenolic acid concentration that is 96 % higher than white finger millet. 

Finger millet meets a number of health benefits due to its extreme nutritional quality they are as follows:

Finger millet for losing weight: It contains tryptophan that suppresses hunger and is absorbed at a slower rate, which stops one from consuming too many calories. Its fibers also offer you a feeling of fullness, which helps you, avoid overeating.

Finger millet for bone health: It is high in calcium, which aids in bone health particularly for developing kids and the elderly. It helps to prevent diseases like osteoporosis and may lower the risk of fractures.

Finger millet for diabetes: The photochemical in finger millet aid digestion by slowing it down. This aids in the regulation of blood sugar levels in diabetics. 

Finger millet for lowering blood cholesterol: The amino acids lecithin, methionine and threonine found in finger millet help to lower cholesterol levels by removing excess fat from the liver. 

Finger millet for anaemia: It is a very good source of natural iron and its consumption helps in condition of anemia.

Finger millet for relaxation: Its intake aids in natural body relaxation and for the treatment of anxiety, depression and sleeplessness.

Finger Millet for other health conditions: It can help prevent malnutrition, degenerative disorders and premature aging if consumed consistently. Green Ragi is used to treat high blood pressure, liver problems, asthma and heart failure and is recommended for nursing women who aren’t producing enough milk.

 

Some popular ways to incorporate finger millet into your diet:

Finger millet, also known as Ragi, is a highly nutritious and gluten-free grain that can be easily incorporated into your diet in various ways. Here are some popular ways to enjoy finger millet:

Ragi Porridge: Ragi porridge is a simple and nutritious breakfast option. To make it, cook finger millet flour with water or milk, and sweeten it with honey or jaggery. You can also add fruits and nuts for added flavor and texture.

Ragi Roti: Ragi can be used to make roti, a type of Indian flatbread. Mix finger millet flour with water, salt, and sometimes other flour like wheat or chickpea to make the dough. Roll it out and cook it on a hot griddle. It’s a healthy and gluten-free alternative to regular wheat roti.

Ragi Idli and Dosa: You can blend ragi flour with rice and urad dal to make idli and dosa batter. This adds a nutty flavor and a nutritional boost to these traditional South Indian dishes.

Ragi Upma: Replace semolina with ragi flour in your upma recipe for a healthier twist. Cook ragi upma with vegetables and spices for a savory and wholesome breakfast or snack.

Ragi Laddu: Ragi laddu is a sweet treat made by mixing finger millet flour, jaggery, ghee, and nuts. These energy-packed bites are perfect as a snack or dessert.

Ragi Soup: Incorporate ragi into soups for added thickness and nutrition. You can blend ragi flour into vegetable or chicken broth for a hearty and wholesome soup.

Ragi Pudding: Make a creamy ragi pudding by cooking ragi flour with milk, sweeteners, and flavorings. It’s a healthy dessert option.

Ragi Smoothie: Blend ragi flour with fruits, yogurt, or milk to create a nutritious and filling smoothie.

Ragi Cookies or Biscuits: Use ragi flour as an ingredient in homemade cookies or biscuits for a wholesome and tasty snack.

Ragi in Curries and Gravies: You can use ragi flour as a thickening agent in curries and gravies, adding a unique flavor and nutritional value.

Ragi Flakes: Some companies produce ragi flakes that can be used as a cereal, similar to oats. You can eat them with milk or yogurt, or use them as a topping for salads and desserts.

Incorporating finger millet into your diet is a great way to increase your intake of essential nutrients like calcium, iron, and fiber while enjoying a variety of tasty dishes. It’s also an excellent choice for those looking for gluten-free and low-glycemic index options in their meals.

 

Health benefits of incorporating finger millet into your diet:

Rich in Nutrients: Finger millet is a good source of essential nutrients, including calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. It is also a good source of B vitamins, especially niacin (B3) and riboflavin (B2).

High in Dietary Fiber: It is rich in dietary fiber, which can help improve digestion and prevent constipation. Fiber also aids in weight management by promoting a feeling of fullness.

Gluten-Free: Finger millet is naturally gluten-free, making it a suitable grain for individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.

Antioxidant Properties: It contains antioxidants such as phenolic compounds, which can help protect the body from oxidative stress and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Control of Blood Sugar: Finger millet has a low glycemic index, which means it can help regulate blood sugar levels. This makes it a good choice for individuals with diabetes.

Aid in Weight Management: The high fiber content of finger millet can help with weight management by promoting satiety and reducing overall calorie intake.

Good for Bone Health: It is a good source of calcium and other minerals, which can contribute to maintaining strong bones and teeth.

Rich in Protein: Finger millet is relatively high in protein compared to other cereals, making it a valuable source of plant-based protein.

Cardiovascular Health: Consuming finger millet may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases due to its high fiber content and potential to lower cholesterol levels.

Management of Anemia: Its iron content can be beneficial for individuals with iron-deficiency anemia.

Digestive Health: The dietary fiber in finger millet can promote a healthy gut and may reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues.

Asthma Relief: Some studies suggest that finger millet may help alleviate the symptoms of asthma due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Skin Health: The antioxidants and vitamins in finger millet can contribute to healthy skin and may help prevent skin disorders.

This crop is perfect for dry land farming because of its strong ability for regeneration after the relief of stressful circumstances. The major states in India where finger millet is grown include Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra. Furthermore, finger millet is a crucial component of dietary and nutritionally balanced diets since it is equally rich in carbohydrates, energy, and nutrients. Therefore, it is advised to cultivate finger millet in order to reap the benefits as it is a significant source of nutrients for a larger population, especially pregnant women and children, and to diversify people’s eating patterns as opposed to only rice and wheat. Despite the fact that finger millet is a very healthy grain with a high nutritional value, a high consumption may cause the body to produce more oxalic acid. Compared to other cereals, millets are nutritionally dense, and processing and employing millets in the production of products has undeniable potential in terms of health benefits, nutrition, and quality. Although it is not yet widely accepted by the population, it may also serve as an alternative to other cereals like rice and wheat. Finger millet is less expensive but less easy to utilize since they are not as widely used and are only used in meals by poor and traditional people. The preparation of products made only of millet and the mixing of millet with other ingredients can be done using a variety of techniques. These techniques can be similar to those used to prepare products from wheat and rice or they can differ because finger millets have different physical-chemical characteristics than the other cereal grains. By increasing the digestibility of the protein and the bioavailability of the minerals, simple processing methods like soaking, germination/malting, and fermentation may assist address the issue of protein-energy deficiency.

 
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