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Finger millet- Immunity boosting food ingredient to combat Covid pandemic
Wednesday, 13 October, 2021, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
Dr Shamshad Begum.S
Immunity is the state of being immune especially a condition of being able to resist a particular disease especially through preventing development of a pathogenic microorganism or by counteracting the effects of its products.

Nutritional immunity is a process by which a host organism sequesters trace minerals in an effort to limit pathogenicity during infection. Circulating concentrations of minerals, such as iron and zinc, decline rapidly and dramatically with the inflammation associated with infection. The decline in iron and zinc is thought to starve invading pathogens of these essential elements, limiting disease progression and severity.

The immune system protects our body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins. Many cells and organs work together to protect the body. White blood cells, or leukocytes, play an important role in the immune system.Some types of white blood cells, called phagocytes, chew up invading organisms.

Others, called lymphocytes, help the body remember the invaders and destroy them.One type of phagocyte is the neutrophil, which fights bacteria. When someone might have bacterial infection, doctors can order a blood test to see if it caused the body to have lots of neutrophils.

Other types of phagocytes do their own jobs to make sure that the body responds to invaders.When the body senses foreign substances (antigens), the immune system works to recognise the antigens and get rid of them.B lymphocytes are triggered to make antibodies (Immunoglobulins).

These proteins lock onto specific antigens. After they're made, antibodies usually stay in our bodies in case we have to fight the same germ again. That's why someone who gets sick with a disease,usually won't get sick from it again.

Therefore,Immunity provides protection to life, mediated through cellular response, and humoral immune response. And the body promotes systematic immune processes by regulating the formation of T lymphocytes, antibodies, and cytokines and of course now due to Covid-19 the words, immunity, and  immunity boosting foods is the word used in everyone and it is talk of the town.

Ancient grains like jowar, ragi, foxtail, bajra and other minor millets are promising cereals which are nutritionally superior to major cereals and serve as a good source of protein, high dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and micronutrients. Millets seem to be in demand again as it is known to be a promising immunity booster. First up in our list of foods to help boost your immune system is the finger millet - Ragi or Nachni.

We can use finger millet in various forms like Ragi malt,dosa. fryums, chakli, murukku. It can be startermain course or  dessert. There is nothing that ragi cannot do. This versatile superfood brings with it the powers of calcium, gluten-free protein, a whole lot of fiber, and lots of amino acids. All this helps boost your immune system. Once a staple diet in South India for a long time, ragi is now all the rage and it’s easy to see why. You can get your ragi fix easily in our delicious Fruit and Nut Millet Muesli, Ragi Bites Cereal, Namkeens, and Smoothie Shakes.

Yes Covid-19 pandemic has made everyone conscious about selection of foods in the diet so as to boost immunity to combat the dare consequences of the disease. Every one is cautious about their choice of foods for their good, health and  vigour so as to increase the index of QOL(Quality of life). Remaining healthy is just not be free from disease but to have good QOL is very mandatory now. Of course one such food ingredient that is the household name of  most of the  people and that is millet and we are addressing them as nutricereals now.

Nutricerealsare a group of small-grained cereal food crops that are highly tolerant to drought and other extreme weather conditions and are grown with low chemical inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. Most of the nutricereals or millets  are native to India and are popularly known to provide most of the nutrients required for normal functioning of the human body. They are classified into Major Millets and Minor Millets based on their grain size. Millets are gluten free and non-allergenic. Millet consumption decreases triglycerides and C-reactive protein, thereby preventing cardiovascular diseases.

All nutricereals are rich in dietary fibre  that  has water absorbing and bulking properties. It increases transit time of food in the gut, which helps in reducing risk of inflammatory bowel disease, and acts as a detoxifying agent in the body. However, with the talk of Covid-19 and the need to raise our immunity comes the mention of millets.

Finger millet or Ragi or naachini is one such humble grain that is a common ingredient in each and every household. The procurement of Ragi is increased after Covid has shown its various forms of versatility. Finger millet (Eleusinecoracana L. Gaertn), is a crop with potentially tremendous but under-explored source of nutraceutical properties as compared to other regularly consumed cereals. These characteristics must be harnessed to develop finger millet as a novel functional food. In addition, introgression of these traits into other staple crops can improve the well-being of the general population on a global scale.

Finger millet or Ragi displays an impressive nutritional profile, encompassing all the essential macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, proteins, along with noteworthy levels of key micronutrients especially vitamins and minerals. It has negligible levels of cholesterol and sodium, to promote heart wellness. In addition, it contains considerable quantities of vitamins C and E, to boost immune, skin and hair health.The B complex vitamins - thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid as well as calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus are also found in ample amounts in ragi flour, truly justifying its status as a wholesome breakfast cereal and a superfood.

Finger millet grains are powerhouse of  essential minerals such as calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P). The grains contain the highest amount of Ca, ranging from 162-358 mg/100 g when compared to other millet species. Calcium which is predominantly present plays an essential role in growing children, pregnant women, the elderly as well as in people suffering from obesity, diabetes and malnutrition. Deficiency of Calcium in the body can be mitigated by consuming fingermillet based food products in the daily diet of both young and elderly people.

Phosphorus, another mineral present in Finger millet (130-283mg/100g)  contributes to the development of body tissue and energy metabolism. Other minerals include iron with a concentration of 3-20% and magnesium implicated for the reduction of high blood pressure, severity of asthma, frequency of migraines and the risk of heart attack.

In comparison with other millet species, Finger millet is more nutritious with higher mineral content and proximate composition and in fact, a favourable fibre rich food, that serves as an alternative to other routine cereal and grain crops in the Indian diet regime such as rice, wheat or barley. It has the crucial essential amino acids namely isoleucine, tryptophan, valine, methionine and threonine, thus complementing both vegetarian and vegan diets. Hence, finger millet can be a versatile  portion in our diet so that it meets the nutritional requirements and also aids in boosting immunity in (above six months), Children, adolescents, adults as well as geriatrics too.

(The author is associate professor,Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK, Bengaluru)
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