From a humble crop that once satiated the poor to the base of a gourmet meal for the health conscious, millets have made a comeback.
While flavours of the grain may vary to suit modern palates, a doctor’s ideal recipe is still traditional.
A research paper has documented this formula and tracked its impact on people with diabetes. The study, undertaken by M V Hospital for Diabetes, found that replacing rice based dosas with ones made of foxtail millet (Thinai) can significantly bring down sugar levels in those suffering from type-2 diabetes.
The research, published recently in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, is based on a survey undertaken on 105 patients in Chennai diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. “We wanted to estimate the effect of a single change in the diet in one of the meals and check the rise in their sugar levels,” said Dr Vijay Viswanathan, who was part of the study team. A WHO-ICMR study based on non-communicable diseases’ risk factor surveillance showed that the prevalence of diabetes is 10.4% of the population. In summers, diabetes-related emergencies spike by 25%, with many reporting exhaustion and dehydration.
The participants surveyed, aged between 35 and 55, were divided into two groups. While one group was given rice dosa for breakfast on one day, the others ate dosas made of millets. Two days later, the plates were swapped be tween the groups.
On both days, researchers first measured their fasting blood glucose levels and one and a half hours after breakfast, their levels again.While the glycaemic index – the number associated with a food’s effect on a person’s blood sugar level – was 59.25 for those who had millet dosa, it was 77.96 for people who ate the ones made of rice. “This shows millets don’t just help manage diabetes but also cardiovascular diseases as postprandial hyperglycemia (high blood sugar following a meal) is a major risk factor,” said Dr Viswanathan, who has done a similar study on milletbased burfi.
The paper attributes the low glycaemic index of foxtail millet dosa to high levels of soluble dietary fibre in the millet. The high viscosity of the soluble fibre delays digestion and absorption.
The recipe is easy on the palate too: 89% of the subjects said they liked the millet-based dosa.
The Tamil Nadu government too has been rolling out initiatives to encourage farmers who grow millets, especially because they grow well in dry zones.
In the last five years as a result of a policy-driven initiative by the state government, millet production has more than doubled.
“We conducted a series of workshops on millets for farmers and their role in diabetes prevention and their overall nutritional value,” said a senior official in the state planning commission.
While a decade ago, millets would be available only in one store in Adyar, they are now available in any street corner. The official said the government is now trying to introduce millets in PDS shops and noon meal schemes.