Each member of this humble—but hardy family has touched your life in different ways. It is the delicious jowar bhakri that accompanies your lunch, the filling bajra khichdi that keeps you warm in the winter, the ragi idli that goes so well with mint chutney.
We are talking millets, this multi-faceted group of highly variable seeded grasses that are cultivated throughout the world, India included. Its resilience and sheer nutritional richness makes it an ideal member of your food basket. A closer look at some of the popular desi millets:
Bajra—The Heart Healthy Food
Prominently cultivated in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bhuj, bajra also grows in Arab and African countries and can grow up to 10 feet tall. According to nutritionist Supriya Singh: "The body takes time to break down the complex carbs present in millets, and so a Bajra roti keeps you feeling full longer. It is packed with the B vitamins, namely B6, responsible for metabolizing fatty acids, carbs and proteins. It also helps regulate your sleep, mood and appetite."
Apart from all this, Bajra, she says, is great news for heart health, as it regulates your BP. Similarly, several studies have shown that it can help prevent the onset of breast cancer in premenopausal women, and is also rich in magnesium that is essential for building bones. A key benefit is increasing insulin sensitivity, and is the ideal choice for diabetics.
Singh recommends jowar regularly to her clients for its simple strengths. "To begin with, it is a gluten-free whole grain and is perfect for those who suffer from gluten intolerance. Even to those who don't, I suggest jowar roti over wheat because it is high in protein and iron. Pairing it with a meat or a source of Vitamin C will yield maximum benefits. It is also richer in fibre as compared to rice or barley. Additionally, jowar contains magnesium, zinc, copper and antioxidants, making it the perfect partner for any health programme."
Ragi—For Bone Health
This finger millet has recently come under closer scrutiny for its undeniable benefits. Unfortunately, despite its proven advantages, it is mainly the South Indian community that seems to consume ragi regularly. A pity—because there's so much we are losing out on. Nutritionists point to the fact that it is loaded with calcium, apart from being the perfect breakfast choice.
Arti Sharma who has been consuming ragi for over a year now, swears by it. "You could have it as a porridge or a pancake, an idli or a laddoo. Ragi is perfect for bone health. The low glycemic index lessens food cravings and maintains the digestive pace, thereby regulating blood sugar. A natural source of iron, it is perfect for us ladies to build our hemoglobin. What's more, it keeps the stomach full for a long time—and is a great weight loss food,”she says.