Are Millets Healthy For Your Kids?

Do you know which millet is best for weight gain and loss? Read on to know more about millet health benefits for babies, and the nutritional value and side effects of commonly grown millets in India.

By Luke Coutinho

Are Millets Healthy For Your Kids?

Millets are traditionally known to be among the first grains consumed by early man. They are gluten free, alkaline and full of nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, tryptophan, phosphorus, B vitamins and antioxidants. Being easy to digest, millets are considered a good weaning food for babies and a healthy food for growing kids.

Also, millets are found to be beneficial in aiding weight gain and loss. They are complex carbohydrates that have a low glycaemic index (carbohydrates that are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore insulin levels). They provide dietary as well as pre-biotic fibre. This makes them an excellent food for people with diabetes, and for those trying to lose weight.

Regular consumption of a variety of millets decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein (the protein that measures the level of inflammation in your body).

When can children start eating millets?

Today, we top the charts in obese children because of wrong eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. Hence, it’s important to introduce the right foods in their diet at an early age. Starting young helps them develop a taste for millets, which fortunately, can replace grains like rice and wheat to make regular Indian dishes healthier. Millets are a highly nutritious and versatile food. They are also considered to be the least allergic of grains.

A child needs to be on mother’s milk till he is 6-8 months old at least. After that, he can be gradually introduced to millets when he is able to chew on semi-solid foods. Start with softer preparations like bajra khichdi or ragi porridge. It is best to begin with a spoonful, and then gradually increase the quantity. As he grows older, you can give your child jowar or ragi rotis, millet dosas, pancakes or mixed vegetable stews made with millets.

Also read: Healthy Millet Recipes For Your Child

Should you consult a doctor before including millet in your baby’s diet?

When it comes to introducing a new food to your child’s nutrition plan, you must practise two things:

1. Go slow and do it in moderation: It is important to observe how a child's stomach reacts to each food.

2. Get a heads up from the paediatrician: This is especially important if the child has a weak gut, is intolerant to certain foods or has an autoimmune condition.

Millets are supposed to have anti-nutrients that are linked to hypothyroidism. This theory is, however, not backed by research. Several countries including India have lived on a millet-based diet for centuries without health complications. In any case, it is advisable to limit millet consumption by children who are iodine deficient or have an underactive thyroid.

Can millets be introduced simultaneously with other foods?

Millets are nutritious but not the only thing your child should grow up on. A balance of grains, pulses, lentils, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and probiotics is essential for proper growth and development of your child. Also, millets like pearl and foxtail generate heat which harms the body. Reduce the heat by preparing fermented items such as idlis and dosa with these millets. Another option is to combine them with cooling foods like buttermilk, cucumber, green vegetables or barley water to balance the heat.

Also read: 10 Tasty Indian Millet Recipes 

What is the right quantity for your child?

As with everything, moderation is the key. A total switchover from wheat to millet is not recommended. It is advisable to start introducing millets slowly in a child’s diet as it takes time for the digestive system to accept a new food. Consumption of many millets at one go can cause stomach-ache, bloating and constipation. Also, millets may contain certain anti-nutrients. Hence it is best to cook it the right way – soak, roast, ferment or germinate.

Millets that are best for weight loss

  • Sorghum
  • Pearl millet
  • Finger millet
  • Little millet
  • Foxtail millet
  • Barnyard millet
  • Kodo millet 

Nutritional information of commonly used millets in India

There are 8 different millet varieties used regularly in India: jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), korra (foxtail millet), arke (kodo millet), sama (little millet), bajra (pearl millet), chena/barr (proso millet) and sanwa/ jhangora (barnyard millet).

1. Jowar: It is high in unsaturated fats, protein, fibre and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and iron (5.4 mg/100g). It also contains anti-oxidants. It is consumed in the form of flat bread or porridge.

2. Ragi: Also called nachni, it is high in calcium (344 mg/100g) and iron making it a perfect food for expectant mothers and children. It can be used as ragi malt to replace the commercially available cereals given to babies.

3. Korra: It has the highest mineral content amongst millets. It is rich in protein (12.3 g/100 g) and minerals. It increases kidney functionality and is best for muscle strength and hormone imbalance.

4. Arke: Its high fibre and energy content makes it an ideal food for diabetics. It can replace rice in preparations like khichdi and pongal.

5. Sama: It comes in the form of rice, semolina and flour. It has the highest fat content of all millets and a good deal of protein. It is commonly used to make bread, roti, dosa and rice.

6. Bajra: It is very high in protein and energy content and is six times more nutritious than wheat. It is used to make roti, as a replacement for rice and as porridge.

7. Chena: It is rich in protein content (12.5 g/100 g) and is very high in carbohydrates as well.

8. Sanwa: It has the highest fibre (10.1 g/100 g) and iron content of all millets.

About the expert:

Written by Luke Coutinho on 31 August 2017; updated on 31 October 2019

The author is a globally renowned Holistic Lifestyle Coach practising in the field of Integrative Medicine.

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