Cereal grains like rice and wheat are the major components of Indian diet. Diets based solely on wheat and rice lack many minerals, dietary fibres and antioxidants in adequate amount. Non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer are on the rise in the country. In spite of various efforts, undernutrition in the form of iron deficiency anaemia among women and children is also increasing. According to World Health Organization, 820 million people in the world suffer from chronic hunger. In 2021 Global Hunger Index, India has been ranked at 101st position out of the 116 countries with a score of 27.5, showing a serious level of hunger present in the country. Therefore, in order to overcome such serious type of condition, the agriculture production system is required to take important decisions to mainstream the production of crops that are marginally cultivated in regions with limited resources. Minor millets or small millets has the potential to rescue the poor and most vulnerable sections of the population and provide food and nutrition security to the nation especially during situations such as the current pandemic of COVID 19.

Millets, now referred to as nutricereals are a group of highly variable small-seeded grasses, widely grown globally for human and animal consumption. Millets have been reported to be nutritionally superior when compared to many cereals. They are good sources of proteins, carbohydrates, dietary fibre and essential amino acids. Millets have 65% carbohydrates, 9% proteins, 3% fat, and 2-7% crude fibre. They are rich in various vitamins such as vitamin A, C and B-complex vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and also iron. Millets are highly nutritious but lack gluten and hence it is a great option for people with Celiac disease. They are 60% higher in crude protein, 40% richer in lysine and methionine and 30% richer in threonine as compared to maize and barley.

Millets have balanced nutritional composition and its consumption has proven health benefits. They are a natural source of antioxidants and may serve as a nutraceutical and functional food ingredient in food applications, which helps in reducing the risk of developing various diseases and also treating various health problems. Millets are reported to have potential in preventing cancer by lowering tumour incidence and cardiovascular diseases, reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, decreasing rate of fat absorption, delaying gastric emptying and supplying gastrointestinal bulk and are gluten-free. The literature reports that the combination of bioactive substances such as resistant starch, oligosaccharides, lipids, antioxidants like phenolic acids and flavonoids, hormonally active compounds including lignans and phytosterols, antinutrients such as phytic acid and tannins present in millets contribute for these positive effects.

Like other cereals/ pulses, millets are also cultivated in different varieties. The nutritive value of different types of millets is mentioned below:

Nutritive value of diff types of millets

1. Finger Millet – It is a good source of all the nutrients but especially iron, calcium and phosphorous. It has great antioxidant properties like phytochemicals which makes it easily and slowly digestible. Finger millet provides many health benefits such as it helps in maintaining bone health, lowering blood cholesterol levels, helps in losing weight and reduces the risk of anaemia. It can be taken in the form of whole foods like roti, porridge, pancakes, etc. Some of the bakery products could also be easily developed by using this millet. Because of its excellent malting properties, the uniqueness of the grain has gained wider acceptability in the food processing.

2. Sorghum – Sorghum is an ancient cereal grain which is widely accepted as a staple cereal in various parts of India. It is also considered superior as compared to rice and wheat because of its higher nutrient content and is helpful to tackle various health conditions. It has been found that the Sorghum wax is rich in a particular nutrient called policosanols which is very helpful in reducing the levels of cholesterol.

3. Pearl Millet – Pearl millet is also a great source of all the nutrients and is comparable with majorly consumed cereals like wheat and rice and is accompanied by plenty of additional benefits. Because of its high fibre content; pearl millet aids in losing weight and maintains good digestion. It is rich in phosphorous which help in maintaining good bone health. Due to the presence of high magnesium content in this millet, it is very effective in reducing the severity of respiratory problems like asthma.

4. Proso Millet – Like all the other millets, proso millet is also rich in fibre, protein and minerals. Proso millet protein is helpful in increasing the HDL cholesterol levels and decreasing the LDL and bad cholesterol from the body. It has good amount of lecithin present which helps in maintaining and repairing of neural health system. Proso millet is fairly rich in B-complex vitamins, folic acid and niacin. Because of high antioxidant properties, it may serve as a rescue from various diseases like cardio vascular disease and cancer.

5. Foxtail millet – Foxtail millet also contains pertinent amount of all the nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. The grains of the foxtail millet are relatively coarse than other cereals which makes its digestibility up to 79% and the remaining is the indigestible portion which contains a high level of fibre content. Due to this property it may serve many health benefits, like it lowers the risk of various degenerative diseases. Because of its high magnesium content, it is now known as healthy heart food. Foxtail millet is very nutritious which made its place as an important ingredient in preparing various foods like cereal porridge, pancakes, noodles, soup and brewing alcoholic beverages.

6. Barnyard millet – The nutritional composition of barnyard millet is also considered superior or comparable with other major and minor cereals. The higher crude fibre content of barnyard millet ensures slowly and steady release of sugars in the blood which ultimately helps in the maintenance of blood sugar levels. With all the other nutrients present in adequate amounts, barnyard millet is relatively rich in iron levels i.e. around 15.6-18.6mg/100g. this makes the barnyard millet an ideal option for people with anaemia and other lifestyle disorders. This millet is also rich in polyphenols and carotenoids than other cereal grains which provide many health benefits.

7. Kodo Millet – Kodo millet is a nutrient rich grain which resembles more to rice and could be a great substitute to rice and aids in losing weight. It is a rich source of antioxidants and other bioactive compounds and is helpful to tackle various lifestyle disorders. It is also rich in lecithin which is beneficial for the adequate functioning of the nervous system.

Diff types of Millets

Nowadays, many health challenges have occurred because of bad eating habits. The increasing trend of high consumption of refined cereals worsens the health scenario. Highly refined cereals and sedentary lifestyle have increased the risk of non-communicable diseases like obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes among Indian population. Millets can be used for traditional as well as novel foods. They may contribute to sustainable agriculture, augmenting income of farmers, protecting environment and improving the health and nutritional status of population. Millets may also boost the food processing industry which is a focus area to uplift the economy of the state and the country. They possess sufficient potential to rescue us from various lifestyle disorders and adverse environmental disasters.

About the Authors:
Shenazdeep Kaur and Renuka Aggarwal
Department of Food and Nutrition,
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana.
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An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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