Health Benefits Of Ragi And Nutritional Value

Ragi is a supergrain packed with nutrients and low in calories. We tell you some amazing health benefits of ragi, its uses and side effects. Also see ragi benefits for skin, weight loss and diabetes.

By Dr Shyam Kumar

Health Benefits Of Ragi And Nutritional Value

Have you ever consulted a nutritionist for weight loss or to manage your diabetes? In which case, chances are you have been advised to include ‘ragi’ in your diet. A ragi diet is also advised when you have side effects of consuming gluten, a family of proteins present in wheat, rye, barley and a few other grains. Read on to understand why the traditional grain is making a comeback as a much sought-after super grain.

What is ragi?

Ragi or finger millet (Eleusine coracana) is a variety of small millet packed with nutrients and low in calories. It is cultivated extensively in the southern states of India. It is also known as nachni in the northern parts of the country. Karnataka is the primary producer of ragi.

Ragi flour is known for its high nutritional value and multiple health benefits in skin care, diabetes management, obesity, pregnancy and skeletal health. It is specifically rich in calcium and easily digestible, because of which it is used as a weaning food for babies aged six months and older. Regardless of its many health benefits, it is not consumed often because of its bland taste. However, it tastes good after roasting or mixing with other ingredients.

Uses of ragi

  • Finger millet is a staple food for the rural population in South India.
  • Ragi flour is a gluten-free flour which is a useful ingredient in a variety of healthy breakfast recipes. Nachni flour is also used to prepare healthy sweets like ragi laddus and ragi halwa on various occasions.
  • Ragi malt is ground and mixed with hot water, milk or yogurt to prepare a health drink which is highly nutritious.
  • Ragi is baked to prepare multigrain bread, muffins and cakes.
  • According to a study by Rajiv et al (2011) published in the Journal of Texture Studies, replacing wheat flour with finger millet flour in bakery products enhances their nutritive value without affecting the quality, texture or taste.

Types of ragi

In India, there are two species of finger millet

  • Wild species, Eleusine indica
  • Cultivated species, Eleusine coracana

Ragi: nutritional value (per 100g)

  • Energy 320kcal
  • Dietary fibre 11.18g
  • Total carbohydrate 66.82g
  • Total fat 1.92g
  • Protein 7.16g
  • Total folates 34.66mcg
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.37mg
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.17mg
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) 1.34mg
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.05mg
  • Vitamin K 0.9mcg
  • Calcium 364mg
  • Iron 4.62mg
  • Magnesium 146mg
  • Phosphorus 210mg
  • Potassium 443mg
  • Manganese 3.19mg
  • Zinc 2.53mg

Data based on IFCT (Indian Food Composition Tables) - National Institute of Nutrition (2017)

Health benefits of ragi

  1. Ragi improves skin health: Ragi is rich in nutrients and minerals which are essential for maintaining skin vitality, preventing wrinkle formation and sagging, and minimising acne and scarring. Ragi's benefits for skin are due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which prevent hyperpigmentation and skin ageing. Methionine and lysine amino acids help in collagen formation which keeps the skin supple and firm. Having a ragi rich diet can prove beneficial in healing diabetic wounds faster. According to a study titled, ‘The effect of finger millet feeding on the early responses during the process of wound healing in diabetic rats’, by Rajasekaran et al (2004) published in the Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, feeding finger millet to diabetic rats hastened the wound healing process. This was attributed to improved antioxidant status, increased production of nerve growth factor (NGF), and faster rate of wound contraction.
  2. Ragi prevents obesity: Ragi is a mineral rich whole grain that has very low natural fat content and nutritionists usually suggest ragi for weight loss. Tryptophan, an amino acid present in ragi, helps to check weight gain by lowering the appetite. Since the digestion rate is slow, it keeps you from ingesting more calories. Also, the high fibre content present in the bran gives you a sensation of fullness thereby preventing you from eating more and gaining body weight.
  3. Ragi aids healthy pregnancy: Eating ragi during pregnancy aids in milk production, prevents gestational diabetes, relieves anxiety and stress, and prevents insomnia.
  4. Ragi is important for healthy bones and teeth: Ragi is loaded with calcium which is essential for healthy bones and dentition in growing children. For the elderly, consuming ragi is beneficial in countering the weakness in bones due to osteoporosis.
  5. Ragi controls diabetes: Eating foods prepared with ragi or nachni flour can help manage blood sugar levels. Fibre present in the bran of finger millet reduces the rate of digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates, and causes slower gastric emptying. This helps to prevent a spike in blood sugar levels. A study titled, ‘Composition and enzyme inhibitory properties of finger millet (Eleusine coracana L.) seed coat phenolics: Mode of inhibition of α-glucosidase and pancreatic amylase’, by Shobana et al, published in the scientific journal, Food Chemistry, in 2009, demonstrates that phenolic compounds present in the finger millet seed coat have a therapeutic effect in managing hyperglycemia.
  6. Ragi reduces cholesterol: Ragi husk is rich in fibre and studies have shown that dietary fibre has cholesterol-lowering properties. Finger millet also contains the amino acids lecithin and methionine which remove excess fat from the liver and stabilise cholesterol levels in the blood. This reduces the risk of stroke and hypertension by preventing plaque formation or clogging of arteries.
  7. Ragi is a natural remedy for iron deficiency anaemia: Finger millet is an important source of natural iron and vitamin B1 (thiamine). Studies show finger millet to have a positive effect on haemoglobin levels as well as in preventing iron deficiency anaemia in adolescents. This is due to its high protein and mineral content as well as anti-microbial properties.
  8. Ragi helps digestion: Whole grains like barley, amaranth and ragi are rich in dietary fibre and aid greatly in improving digestion and preventing constipation. Dietary fibre retains water in the intestines making your stool softer, larger and easier to pass. It also increases stool frequency in constipated individuals. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) recommends a daily intake of dietary fibre of about 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women each day.
  9. Ragi prevents malnutrition: Ragi flour has high protein content and is a good source of protein for vegetarians who lack methionine in their staple diet. The essential amino acids present in finger millet are valine, methionine, isoleucine, threonine and tryptophan.
  10. Ragi is safe for people with gluten allergy: Ragi flour is free of gluten and a good replacement diet for people with intolerance to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye).

Ragi health benefits for babies

Ragi is a healthy first food for babies and can be introduced as early as six months of age. It has amazing health benefits for infants and toddlers because of its rich calcium, iron and fibre content. In kids with lactose intolerance, there is a high risk for calcium deficiency. A diet rich in ragi can compensate as a non-dairy source of calcium in such cases. Methionine, an amino acid present in ragi, promotes skin and hair growth.

Side effects of ragi

Having ragi in excess can result in side effects, hence it is important to ensure moderate eating. Here are some disadvantages of consuming ragi:

  1. A study titled, ‘Impact of flavonoids on thyroid function’, by Goncalves et al published in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal (2011) has demonstrated that flavonoids can cause goitrogenic activity and impair iodine metabolism. Since flavonoids are present in millets, people with thyroid problems should seek advice from a dietician prior to starting a ragi diet.
  2. Ragi is rich in calcium and its excessive consumption can increase the risk of kidney stone formation.
  3. Allergic reaction to ragi flour can result in digestive problems, weight gain or loss, constipation and diarrhoea.

Interesting ragi facts

  • Ragi is a crop widely grown in Africa and Asia with its origin in Ethiopia.
  • Ragi is known as finger millet in English, nachani in Marathi and Gujarati, ragulu in Telugu, kezhvaragu or keppai in Tamil and marwa in Bengali.
  • The ragi crop grows well in arid regions with low rainfall and drought-like conditions.
  • The amino acid, methionine, in ragi is a key protein component that is a cost-effective supplement for the world’s poor who survive predominantly on a starchy diet.
  • Research shows that the iron content in ragi went up significantly on germination and popping.

Ragi recipe ideas for healthy living

1. Ragi breakfast ideas

Health Benefits Of Ragi And Nutritional Value
  • Sprouted ragi dosa (nachni dosa)
  • Ragi idli
  • Ragi pancakes
  • Ragi roti (nachni roti)
  • Ragi mudde (ragi balls)
  • Ragi rava upma
  • Ragi puttu
  • Ragi aloo paratha
  • Ragi wheat phulka
  • Ragi vermicelli/semiya
  • Ragi khichdi

2. Ragi snack ideas

Health Benefits Of Ragi And Nutritional Value
  • Ragi murukku
  • Ragi flakes (finger millet noodles)
  • Ragi ladoo
  • Ragi halwa
  • Ragi burfi
  • Ragi pakoda
  • Ragi cookies
  • Ragi dark chocolate cake
  • Ragi, wheat and oat waffles
  • Vegetable ragi momo
  • Nachni soya puri

3. Ragi health drinks

Health Benefits Of Ragi And Nutritional Value
  • Ragi malt (salt and sweet)
  • Ragi porridge for babies (ragi kanji)
  • Ragi oatmeal kanji
  • Ragi badam soup
  • Ragi juice / ragi milkshake

With increased nutritional awareness among people, more and more families are using ragi-containing food products for the management of diabetes and obesity, and as a healthy food substitute in general.

About the author:

Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 17 October 2019; updated on 10 November 2019

The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.

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