Millet and Ancient Grains

The Mighty Millet: Evidence for the health claims of the ancient grain.

As our Western palates ever-search for new foods, we seem to have gone full-circle as so-called “ancient grains”, such as farro, buckwheat, and barley have the limelight shone upon them once more. Ancient grains (which include seeds such as quinoa and millet) have not gone through the rounds of selective breeding in the same way as other grains such as rice and corn. Selective breeding is where certain strains of a plant are selected for, in order to ensure strains with certain qualities, such as higher yields, or resistance to drought, for example, are bred more.

All ancient grains are wholegrains, and so have a high fibre content: This has the benefit of helping us feel satiated, and being gut friendly. In the UK it is recommended that we eat 30g of fibre per day, and as a country we only reach two thirds of this guideline – wholegrains, especially the ancient variety can help us reach this!

But is there anything else these ancient grains can do?

OxBCNH researchers set to find out if Millet can help those with pre-diabetes. First, they conducted a literature review to see if they could establish a link between millet intake and type 2 diabetes. For their review, they looked at 19 papers, the majority of which were conducted in India, with Sudan, China, Sri Lanka and Kenya also contributing a study each. This fits with global consumption on millet, as India, China and Sudan being in the top 5 millet consuming countries. They found a positive effect of consuming millet on both fasting and post prandial blood glucose response (GR) in both healthy and type 2 diabetic individuals. 3 studies also assessed insulin response (IR), and two of these showed a beneficial impact of millet consumption. Additionally, not only can different types of millet subspecies lead to different results, but the level of gelatinisation and differences in processing can also impact GR within the Millet type.

Individuals with pre-diabetes have higher than healthy blood sugar readings, but not high enough for them to be diabetes, but this state does increase their risk for the condition. This doesn’t have any symptoms, but if an individual knows of their condition, they can put measures in place to stop the it progressing.

To see whether millet could be beneficial for those with pre-diabetes, our researchers conducted a randomised control trial (RCT – the gold standard), using a millet muffin and a control wheat muffin. They recruited two sets of participants, healthy individuals and those with pre-diabetics. After analysing the fibre and polyphenol content of both muffins, they investigated any potential effects of millet on GR & IR. They found that that the peak glucose was significantly lower for the millet muffin than the control muffin for the pre-diabetic group. Additionally, the pre-diabetic group had a significantly lower IR on the millet muffin compared to the control.

The study’s findings show that ancient grains such as millet have the potential to be a lot more than the hot new food item. Admittedly, the study was limited by only giving a single serving of millet: longer-term consumption may have a greater impact on GR. The millet muffin had four times the fibre content and twice the polyphenol content of the control muffins – analysing these is not something that has been done in previous studies, whose results were sometimes confounded by serving millet alongside other polyphenol and fibre containing foods. It also allowed the authors to attribute the beneficial effects of millet seen to the higher fibre and polyphenol content.

Yearly, 5-10% of those with prediabetes progress to diabetes. The lower glucose peak and improved IR in the pre-diabetics leads them to suggest that millet could be part of dietary methods to slow or prevent this progression.

Have you tried millet? Whether pre-diabetic or not, everyone can benefit from adding more fibre and polyphenols in their diet. From this study, we know that this grain isn’t just cool because its ancient, but because it can help our blood sugar and blood insulin!

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