Millet Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Porridge with cinnamon, millet, backed plum, pomegranate and roasted almond slivers
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Millet is an ancient grain that is commonly consumed throughout Asia, South America, and parts of Europe. This gluten-free whole grain—which is technically a seed—is also gaining popularity in the US as a rice or quinoa alternative. According to the Whole Grains Council, millet is the sixth most important cereal grain in the world.

There are many different types of millet and all of them belong to the grass (Poaceae) family. The hardy crop is grown for animal feed and birdseed but is also a popular food for humans in many parts of the world because of its high nutritional value. It can also be milled into flour and used to make gluten-free bread and other products.

Hulled pearl millet is the kind that you are most likely to see in American grocery stores. It has a nutty, mild, flavor that makes it a great addition to salads, soups, and other savory dishes.

Millet Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for a one-cup serving (about 174 grams) of cooked millet.

  • Calories: 207
  • Fat: 1.7g
  • Sodium: 3.5mg
  • Carbs: 41.2g
  • Fiber: 2.3g
  • Sugars: 0.2g
  • Protein: 6.1g

Carbs

A one-cup serving of cooked millet provides about 207 calories. Most of the calories come from carbohydrates. You'll consume 41.2 grams of carbohydrates in a one-cup serving, along with 2.3 grams of fiber and 0.2 grams of naturally occurring sugar. The rest of the carbohydrates in millet are starch.

Millet flour is also available and is often used to make gluten-free foods. According to the USDA, a cup of millet flour provides 455 calories, about 5 grams of fat, 89.4 grams of carbohydrate, 4.2 grams of fiber, about 2 grams of naturally occurring sugar, and 12.8 grams of protein.

The University of Sydney reports a glycemic index of 71 for boiled millet, making it a high glycemic food. They also report that a 150-gram serving has a glycemic load of about 26. Glycemic load takes portion size into account when estimating a food's effect on blood sugar.

Fats

Millet is a naturally low-fat food. A one-cup serving contains only 1.7 grams of fat. Most of the fat is polyunsaturated (0.9 grams), with some coming from monounsaturated fat (0.3 grams) and some from saturated fat (0.3 grams).

Protein

Millet provides 6.1 grams of protein per cup serving. This is relatively high compared to some other types of grains and starches (like white rice), although quinoa provides more protein at 8 grams per one-cup serving.

Vitamins and Minerals

Millet is a good source of manganese, providing 0.3mg or about 13% of the daily value (DV). It also provides 44mg of magnesium or about 10% of the daily value. You'll get 100mg of phosphorus (8% DV) and 0.16mg of copper (17% DV).

Vitamins in millet include thiamin (0.11mg or about 9% of the daily value) and niacin (1.3mg or about 8% of the daily value). You'll also get smaller amounts of vitamin B6, folate, and riboflavin.

Health Benefits

Like many whole grains, millet can provide certain health benefits. However, more studies investigating the benefits of whole grains exist rather than studies specifically investigating the health benefits of millet.

It's important to note that studies involving millet may look at varieties of millet that are not commonly found in grocery stores. Also, many millet studies to date have been conducted on rodents, so it is unclear if there is a benefit in humans.

Safe for Gluten-Free Diet

Those who have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can safely choose millet to get dietary fiber, protein, and healthy carbs. Like quinoa, sorghum, and amaranth, millet is naturally gluten-free. Millet flour is also commonly combined with other wheat and gluten-free flours to make baked goods like bread. Always check labels carefully, however, as cross-contamination can be an issue.

May Help Lower Cholesterol

In a research review published in 2018, researchers examined 19 meta-analyses related to whole grain consumption. Study authors found that whole grains can help to lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by 1%-2% when compared to refined grains.

Helps Increase Daily Fiber Intake

Millet provides a modest amount of dietary fiber. It is lower in fiber than other grains such as barley (6 grams per cup) or quinoa (5 grams per cup) but higher in fiber than brown rice (3.5 grams per cup) or white rice. Since most Americans don't get enough fiber, choosing any whole grain that contains fiber is better for meeting your fiber goals than choosing a refined grain.

Both the American Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health recommend that we make better efforts to consume the recommended dietary intake of fiber.

The current recommended daily value for fiber intake provided by the FDA is 28 grams per day. Fiber can provide health benefits, including improved blood glucose, improved blood cholesterol, and even a reduced risk of certain cancers.

Improved Management of Constipation

The fiber in millet may also improve digestion and stool frequency. A study conducted in 2018 found that when older adults added fiber to their diets, stool frequency improved and laxative use decreased, thereby reducing the burden of constipation.

A review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2012 found that increasing dietary fiber intake can increase stool frequency in those who have constipation. That review, however, concluded that increased fiber intake did not improve stool consistency, constipation treatment success, laxative use, or painful defecation.

May Prevent Chronic Disease

Certain cereal grains, including millet (along with wheat, corn, rice, sorghum, rye, oat, and barley), contain phenolic compounds (phenolics, flavonoids, and anthocyanins) with antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help prevent oxidative stress that can occur when cells are exposed to free radicals. We are exposed to free radicals in the environment (although they also occur naturally in the body).

There has been at least one study that specifically investigated the antioxidant activity in different millet varieties. Kodo millet, finger, foxtail, proso, pearl millet, and little millets were studied. All varieties showed high antioxidant activity, with Kodo millet showing the highest activity.

Oxidative stress is thought to play a role in various diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Researchers have concluded that natural antioxidants, such as those found in millet, can play a role in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Provides Important Source of Nutrition in Developing Countries

Millet is a hearty crop and is easily grown in areas where poor nutrition is a concern. One of the primary areas of study regarding millet is its use in developing countries where protein-energy malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies are a concern, especially among children.

According to at least one report, millet cereal grains are nutritionally superior to major non-millet cereal grains because they are "especially rich in dietary fibers, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and polyphenols, which contribute broad-spectrum positive impacts to human health." Researchers encourage the further investigation of the grain and its nutritional properties.

Allergies

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says that it is possible to get an allergic reaction from millet consumption. Even though millet does not contain gluten, one study showed that there was cross-reactivity with rice and wheat. However, note that the patients' primary sensitization occurred through respiration and was related to bird-keeping and exposure to millet-containing birdseed.

Other reports of a millet allergy are rare. There is one case study dating back to 1981 that reported anaphylaxis after the ingestion of millet seeds. Additional current reports are lacking.

If you are concerned about cross-reactivity and have a wheat allergy, look for symptoms such as hives or skin rash, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, sneezing, headaches, and asthma. In rare cases, anaphylaxis can occur. If you are concerned that you may have a millet allergy, visit your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

Adverse Effects

There have been some (limited) media reports about the potential dangers of a millet-only diet. Following any diet that includes only one type of food is never recommended unless you are under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

Some people experience digestive disturbances when they begin to consume more whole grains or other foods with fiber. It's always best to slowly add fiber to your diet to avoid side effects such as gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. And be sure to consume adequate water intake to help move fiber along and reduce bloating and gas.

Varieties

There are at least 100 different types of millet grasses. According to the Whole Grains Council, pearl millet is grown in the southern part of the U.S., although it originated in Africa. This type of millet, also called bajra, is commonly consumed in India and also in the United States.

Other common types grown commercially include proso millet, foxtail millet, Japanese barnyard millet, and browntop millet. Sorghum is a type of millet, as is finger millet, broomcorn millet, and buckwheat.

When you buy millet in your local market, the package is usually just labeled as “millet” rather than a specific type, but it is likely to be proso millet or pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum). It can be sold hulled (with the hard outer shell removed and ready to eat) or unhulled (in its whole form).

When It's Best

Millet is found year-round in grocery stores around the country. You are likely to find it in the rice or pasta aisles. You might also find millet in the bulk section of the market. Millet flour is likely to be found in the baking aisle.

Storage and Food Safety

Millet should be stored like you store all of your grains. Keep millet in an airtight container away from heat and light for up to six months. You can also freeze it for up to a year. Once it is cooked, keep millet in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three days.

Millet flour should also be stored in an air-tight container and kept in a cool dark place. Millet flour should keep for about three to six months from the date of purchase when kept in the pantry. But if you keep it in the refrigerator after opening, it should stay fresh for up to eight months.

How to Prepare

To cook hulled millet, bring two cups of water to a boil in a small pot on high heat. Add a dash of salt and one cup of millet. Once the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat and cook for about 20 minutes until tender (or at your desired consistency). It should be light and fluffy. If you prefer a creamier texture, add more water at the beginning of the cooking process and cook it for a slightly longer period of time.

Millet can also be prepared in a slow cooker. You'll want to use about 3 1/2 cups of water per cup of millet. Add a dash of salt and cook for 4–5 hours on low heat, 1 1/2–2 1/2 hours on high heat.

Use millet in sweet or savory dishes. You can use millet instead of rice as a side dish or in a stir fry, salad, or soup recipe. You can also drizzle cooked millet with olive oil and serve it as a side dish. Cook millet instead of oatmeal in the morning and serve with berries or with maple syrup.

If you have millet flour on hand, you can use it in your baking recipes to make your baked goods lighter and fluffier. Use it alone for your gluten-free goods or swap about 25% of a different flour for millet flour. For best results when baking gluten-free recipes, it's usually best to combine a few gluten-free flours.

Recipes

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