The Best Types of Millet for Blood Sugar Control
If you’ve ever asked, “what is the best millet for blood sugar control”’, this article is for you!
All types of millet can lower blood sugar if you eat them regularly. However, some varieties raise blood sugar slightly more than others.
But before we do so, let’s cover some basics.
What is millet?
Millet is the generic name for cereals with small seeds.1 It is an essential whole grain in Asia and Africa and is widely renowned for surviving in high temperatures with minimal water. Thirteen varieties exist worldwide, including
- Pearl millet
- Finger millet
- Little millet
- Proso millet
- Kodo millet
- Barnyard millet
- Brown top millet
- Foxtail millet
- Guinea millet
- Job’s tears,
All millets except Job’s tears, fonio and teff are widely available in India. Finger millet is available in China and some Eastern and Southern African countries. In contrast, fonio is limited to Western Africa and Job’s tears to northeast India, southern and eastern Asia and southern China. Teff is mainly found in Ethiopia.1
Pearl millet is the most common type eaten in Western countries.
Nutritional value of millet
The nutritional profile of millet varies depending on the type. Generally, all varieties are sources of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron and copper. Although some millet varieties are better sources of these minerals (primarily due to environmental factors that affect the soil), their energy value, carbohydrate, protein and fat content are similar.
On average, 100g of millet provides:2
Energy: 378 kcal
Carbohydrate: 72.8 g
Fibre: 8.5 g
Protein: 11 g
Fat: 4.22 g
Iron: 3.01 mg
Magnesium: 114 g
Potassium: 195 mg
Zinc: 1.68 mg
Millet is a good source of lignans, flavonoids, phenolics, beta-glucan, sterols, and inulin, biologically-active plant compounds that lower cholesterol, boost immunity, reduce inflammation and the risk of several diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.3,4
The Glycaemic Index of Millet
The glycaemic index (GI) measures how quickly carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar on a scale of 0 to 100. Foods that raise blood sugar slowly, moderately or quickly are called low-glycaemic (0-55), medium-glycaemic (56-69) and high-glycaemic index (70 or more) foods, respectively. Notably, the speed of a food’s digestion determines its glycaemic index.
Millet digests at a slow to medium pace compared to rice, wheat and potatoes, making it a low to medium glycaemic food. For example, a small study in Mali found that thick porridges and couscous made from millet took twice as long to digest than similar products made from rice, potato or pasta, leaving study participants more satisfied.5 Millet’s slow digestibility is attributed to its high resistant starch and fibre content.6
A recent meta-analysis of 65 studies investigated the GI of 11 types of millet. The average GI of millet was 52.7. Teff, fonio, Barnyard millet, foxtail millet and Job’s tears had low GIs. In contrast, finger millet, Kodo millet, little millet, pearl millet and sorghum had medium GIs.7
|Type of millet||Average glycaemic index|
Millet and Blood Sugar Control in Diabetes
Millet’s low-medium glycaemic index makes it valuable to reduce the risk of diabetes and to help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels. Several studies have assessed different varieties of millet and found that they lower blood sugar in people with pre and type 2 diabetes. However, some of these studies include few participants, making it challenging to conclude their benefits decisively.
In 2021, researchers analysed 65 studies to get a more precise answer to millet’s role in controlling blood sugar in pre and type 2 diabetes.7 They found that eating millet daily helped people with diabetes reduce their fasting and post-meal blood sugar levels by 12-15%, allowing them to revert from diabetes to prediabetes. In addition, people with prediabetes lowered their glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c or average blood sugar over two to three months) by 17% and went from prediabetes to normal blood sugar.7
“No one knew there were so many scientific studies undertaken millet’s 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 shown just how well these smart foods do it,” Seetha Anitha, PhD, a senior scientist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Patancheru, India and lead author of the study, said.
Gut health is crucial in preventing diabetes, and studies show that millet promotes gut health. Finger millet, in particular, contains prebiotics that feeds gut bacteria such as Faecalibacterium and Eubacterium, and probiotic Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, allowing them to generate short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) with anti-diabetic properties. Finger millet also produces various antioxidants that stop the growth of harmful bacteria, such as Shigella and Clostridium histolyticum, reducing gut inflammation and the risk of diabetes.8
Which millet is best for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes?
Teff, fonio and Barnyard millet are the varieties that raise blood sugar the least, suggesting they may be the best types to prevent and manage diabetes. However, research shows that all kinds of millet can lower blood sugar if you eat them daily. Therefore, you can eat all types, but pair them with vegetables and a source of protein and fat to minimise blood sugar spikes.
Is millet better than rice and quinoa for type 2 diabetes?
Millet has a lower glycaemic index than white or brown rice and a similar glycaemic index to quinoa. White and brown rice have a glycaemic index of 87 and 75, respectively, while quinoa has a glycaemic index of 50.9
A study comparing the impact of millet-based dosa and rice-based dosa on blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes found that post-meal blood sugar levels were significantly lower after eating the millet-based dosa.10 Of note, dosa is a traditional Indian crepe made from fermented rice or millet and lentils.
To our knowledge, no study has directly compared millet and quinoa, but a recent study showed that quinoa-rich diets could reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes and prevent type 2 diabetes.11 Since millet and quinoa have similar glycaemic indices, we can infer that they are as good as each other for managing blood sugar in pre- and type 2 diabetes.
- Millet is rich in several minerals, with a higher protein and fibre content than other popular cereals, including rice.
- Millet has a medium GI on average, but teff, fonio, and Barnyard millet have low GIs.
- All types of millet can lower blood sugar if you eat them daily, but it is important to pair them with vegetables, protein and fat to prevent blood sugar spikes.
- Vetriventhan, M., Vania, C., Azevdo, R., Upadhyaya, H.D., Nirmalakumari, A., Kane-Potaka, J., et al. (2020) Genetic and genomic resources, and breeding for accelerating improvement of small millets: current status and future interventions. Nucleus, 63: 217-39.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture (2019) Millet, raw. Available: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169702/nutrients. Accessed: 21 January 2023.
- Hassan, Z.M., Sebola, N.A., & Mabelebele, M. (2021) The nutritional use of millet grain for food and feed: a review. Agriculture & Food Security, 10:16
- Nithiyanantham, S., Kalaiselvi, P., Mahomoodally, M.F., Zengin, G., Abirami, A., & Srinivasan, G. (2018) Nutritional and functional roles of millets – a review. Journal of Food Biochemistry, e12859.
- Cisse, F., Erickson, D.P., Hayes, A.M.R., Opekun, A.R., Nichols, B.L., & Hamaker, B.R. (2018) Traditional Malian solid foods made from sorghum and millet have markedly slower gastric emptying than rice, potato, or pasta. Nutrients, 10: 124.
- Urooj, A., Rupashri, K., Puttraraj, S. (2006). Glycaemic responses to finger millet-based Indian preparations in non-insulin-dependent diabetic and healthy subjects. Journal of Food science and Technology, 43: 620-5.
- Anitha, S., Kane-Potaka, J., Tsusaka, T.W., Botha, R., Rajendran, A., Givens, D.I., Parasannanavar, D.J., Subramaniam, K., Prasad, K.D.V., Vetriventhan, M., & Bhandari, R.K. (2021) A systematic review and meta-analysis of the potential of millets for managing and reducing the risk of developing diabetes mellitus. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8: 687428.
- Singh, V., Lee, G., Son, H., Amani, S., Baunthiyal, M., & Sin, J-H. (2022) Anti-diabetic prospects of dietary bio-actives of millets and the significance of the gut microbiota: A case of finger millet. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9:1056445.
- Atkinson, F.S., Brand-Miller, J.C., Foster-Powell, K., Buyken, A.E., Goletzke, J. (2021) International tables of glycaemic index and glycaemic load values 2021. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 114(5): 1625-1632.
- Narayanan, J., Sanjeevi, V., Rohini, U., Trueman, P., & Viswanathan, V. (2016) Postprandial glycaemic response of foxtail millet dosa in comparison to a rice dosa in patients with type 2 diabetes. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 144(5): 712-717.
- Díaz-Rizzolo, D., Acar-Denizli, N., Kostov, B., Roura, E., Sisó-Almirall, A., Delicado, P., & Gomis, R. (2022) Glycaemia fluctuations improvement in old-age prediabetic subjects consuming a quinoa-based diet: a pilot study. Nutrients, 14(11): 2331.
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