Finger millet
Over the years, investments in a few crops such as rice, wheat and maize, have edged nutritious and climate-smart crops like millets out of the plate.

Eating millet-based diet can reduce the risk of developing type two diabetes and help manage blood glucose levels, a new study has shown.

The study now points out to the preventive approach for diabetic, pre-diabetic as well as non-diabetic people meals with millet can offer.

Researchers, drawing on studies conducted from 11 countries, note that diabetic people who consumed millet as part of their daily diet saw their blood glucose levels drop 12-15 per cent (fasting and post-meal) and blood glucose levels went from diabetic to pre-diabetic levels.

The study also found out that blood glucose bound to hemoglobin or HbA1c levels lowered on average 17 per cent for pre-diabetic individuals, and the levels went from pre-diabetic to normal status. These findings now affirm that eating millets can lead to a better glycemic response.

The findings published in Frontiers in Nutrition reviewed 80 published studies on humans of which 65 were eligible for a meta-analysis involving about 1,000 human subjects, making this analysis the largest systematic review on the topic to date.

“No one knew there were so many scientific studies undertaken on millets’ effect on diabetes and these benefits were often contested. This systematic review of the studies published in scientific journals has proven that millets can keep blood glucose levels in check and reduce the risk of diabetes. It has also shown just how well these smart foods do it,” said Dr S Anitha, the study’s lead author and a Senior Nutrition Scientist at ICRISAT.

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Millets, including sorghum, were consumed as staple cereals in many parts of the world until half a century ago. Investments in a few crops such as rice, wheat and maize, have edged nutritious and climate-smart crops like millets out of the plate.

“Awareness of this ancient grain is just starting to spread globally, and our review shows millets having a promising role in managing and preventing type two diabetes, said Professor Ian Givens, a co-author of the study and Director at University of Reading’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH) in the UK.

According to the International Diabetes Association, diabetes is increasing in all regions of the world. India, China and the USA have the highest numbers of people with diabetes.

Africa has the largest forecasted increase of 143 per cent from 2019 to 2045, the Middle East and North Africa 96 per cent and South East Asia 74 per cent. The authors urge the diversification of staples with millets to keep diabetes in check, especially across Asia and Africa.

Strengthening the case for reintroducing millets as staples, the study found that millets have a low average glycemic index (GI) of 52.7, about 36 per cent lower GI than milled rice and refined wheat, and about 14-37 GI points lower compared to maize.

“Millets are grown on all inhabited continents, yet they remain a ‘forgotten food’. We hope this will change from 2023, when the world observes the United Nations declared International Year of Millets, and with studies like this that show that millets outperform white rice, maize and wheat,” said Ms Rosemary Botha, a co-author of the study based in Malawi with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

“The global health crisis of undernutrition and over-nutrition coexisting is a sign that our food systems need fixing. Greater diversity both on-farm and on-plate is the key to transforming food systems. On-farm diversity is a risk mitigating strategy for farmers in the face of climate change while on-plate diversity helps counter lifestyle diseases such as diabetes. Millets are part of the solution to mitigate the challenges associated with malnutrition, human health, natural resource degradation, and climate change. Trans-disciplinary research involving multiple stakeholders is required to create resilient, sustainable and nutritious food systems,” said Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT.

The study also identified information gaps and highlighted a need for collaborations to have one major diabetes study covering all types of millets and all major ways of processing with consistent testing methodologies. Structured comprehensive information will be highly valuable globally, taking the scientific knowledge in this area to the highest level.

“This study is first in a series of studies that has been worked on for the last four years as a part of the Smart Food initiative led by ICRISAT that will be progressively released in 2021. As part of this, ICRISAT and the Institute for Food Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading have formed a strategic partnership to research and promote the Smart Food vision of making our diets healthier, more sustainable on the environment and good for those who produce it,” explained Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, a co-author from ICRISAT and Executive Director of the Smart Food initiative.

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