One of the world’s oldest cultivated grains, Millet originated on the African savannah and has been grown since prehistoric times. It was an extremely important staple food in both Africa and Asia due to its adaptability to dry, arid climates and its wonderful ability to grow with only a little water. This hardy crop was especially popular with nomadic tribes, with some strains requiring only 70 days from plantation to harvest.
Millet is rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, both of which contribute to digestive health and help to regulate bowel movements. Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool which can relieve constipation, in the case of diarrhoea it will add form to loose stools. Soluble fibre turns into a gel in the intestines which can soothe inflammation and lubricate a dry digestive tract. Insoluble fibre can also protect against gallstones.
Millet is also loaded with prebiotics – indigestible fibres that stimulate the growth of probiotics (good bacteria), within the microbiome. A good balance of probiotics within the gut is of utmost importance to not only digestive health, but to the immune system and many other important bodily systems.
Alongside many other important nutrients, this ancient grain is high in heart healthy magnesium and vitamin B3 (niacin). Magnesium helps to regulate heart rhythm, co-ordinating the activity of the heart muscle and nerves that initiate heartbeat. Low magnesium levels can cause heart palpitations and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). It also helps to prevent the coronary arteries from having spasms that can cause the intense chest pains known as angina.
Much research has been conducted about niacin and heart health. It has been shown to reduce certain factors of heart disease such as high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. It is also effective in lowering oxidative stress and inflammation of the arteries which can lead to atherosclerosis. In a research study called "The Coronary Drug Project", it was established that niacin is a powerful agent in lowering heart attack risk. When more than 1,000 heart attack survivors were given 3000 mg of niacin daily for six years, the incidence of recurrent non-fatal heart attacks was reduced by 27%, and the number of strokes was reduced by 26%.
Unusually for a grain, millet is actually alkaline forming when consumed. The body’s blood Ph works within a very narrow range of acid/alkaline balance, being slightly alkaline at around 7.45. Whilst acid forming foods are not inherently bad, it is the overconsumption of these foods and the under-consumption of alkaline foods that can lead to an imbalance, causing the body to pull alkaline forming minerals from wherever it can to correct the balance. Disease and sickness find it much easier to take a firm foothold in an acidic body. Therefore including millet as part of a healthy, whole food diet will help to tip the balance in the favour of alkalinity.
Due to its high concentration of the amino acid tryptophan, millet can actually improve your mood. Tryptophan is a precursor for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter serotonin, with research showing that a diet rich in tryptophan can reduce irritability in women with pre-menstrual tension, older adults and in people with depression and anxiety.
Millet can be used to bake bread, make porridge, to make an alternative to potato mash or used in place of rice or quinoa.
Cultivated since ancient times, Millet was ranked amongst the five most sacred grains in China where it was used as a part of their religious ceremonies. They believed it was brought from the heavens by Hou Ji (Lord of Millet), a cultural hero who was worshipped as the founder or farming.
Millet also has a long history of being brewed into various types of alcohol. In Africa it was brewed into a beer known as "kaffir beer" or "bantu beer". A traditional liqueur known as "raski" is still distilled from Millet in Nepal and Tibet, whilst in America it has been distilled into whisky.
Millet contains; Amino acids, soluble and insoluble fibre, vitamins B1, B2, B3 & B6, folate, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper & manganese.
If you have thyroid problems, please consult your healthcare practitioner before consuming millet.