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Nutritionists now prefer to call millets as Nutri-Cereals or superfoods
Thursday, 07 March, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Dr Shamshad Begum S
Millets are small seeded grasses which grow in a wide range of topographies and climates. They require minimum irrigation and fertiliser inputs and have high genetic diversity. Their growing seasons are relatively short which span between three to four months. They are harvested for their seeds, consumed as coarse cereals, which contain high nutrient content such as iron, calcium and phytate. These crops are known to be one of the oldest cereals consumed by humans, pre-dating rice and wheat.

Coarse cereals are a broad sub-group of several short duration warm weather (Kharif) crops such as Jowar (Sorghum), Bajra (Pearl Millet), Maize, Ragi and other millets . These grains are valued for their food, feed and fodder uses in various parts of the world. They hold great potential in contributing substantially to food and nutritional security of the country and thus they are not only a powerhouse of nutrients, but also are climate resilient crops and possess unique nutritional characteristics.

They are rich in resistant carbohydrate, vitamins, micronutrients especially iron and zinc, dietary fibre and phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. They  also contain anti-diabetic properties and millet-based food have low GI and reduces the postprandial blood glucose level and glycosylated haemoglobin.

Small millets are a good source of phophorus and iron. They are rich in compounds that help against several chronic diseases like cardiovascular diseases, cancers, obesity and type II diabetes. They are nutritionally comparable or even superior to major cereals such as wheat and rice, owing to their higher levels of protein with more balanced amino acid profile (with good source of methionine, cystine and lysine).

Finger millet that is one of the staple food, is believed to be a good laxative and prevents constipation. People who suffer from liver diseases, high-blood pressure, heart weaknesses and asthma should consume finger millet to ameliorate these conditions. Finger millet is considered to be a boon for diabetics and obese people, as the digestion of fingermillet takes place at a slow pace and hence, glucose is released slowly into the blood. Also, this redmillet contains an amino acid known as Tryptophan. This millet is rich in calcium, and therefore helps in proper growth and development of bones and teeth.

In view of the nutritional properties these coarse cereals like jowar, bajra, ragi and other millets have, they are designated as Nutri-Cereals owing to their  immense nutrition and health benefits. In a notification, the agriculture ministry said, “the Central government hereby declares millets comprising Sorghum (Jowar), Pearl Millet (Bajra), Finger Millet (Ragi/Mandua), Minor Millets: Foxtail Millet (Kangani/Kakun), Proso Millet (Cheena), Kodo Millet (Kodo), Barnyard Millet (Sawa/Sanwa/ Jhangora), Little Millet (Kutki) and two Pseudo Millets (Black-Wheat (Kuttu) and Amaranthus (Rajgira) which have high nutritive value as “Nutri-Cereals” for production, consumption and trade point of view.

There has been demand to declare these crops as Nutri-Cereals to boost its demand and allow farmers to get higher prices. Even noted agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan had suggested the name change in 2006. Also to popularise the consumption of these Nutri-Cereals, the government has already decided to include millets for  improving nutritional security of the country.

In view of this nomenclature, even nutritionists now prefer to call millets as Nutri-Cereals or superfoods and recommend their inclusion in the diets of underfed people and health-conscious individuals. Their intake can, therefore, redress widely prevalent micronutrient deficiencies, especially among women and children. The nutritional deficiencies like  anaemia (iron deficiency) and vitamin B-complex inadequacy can be overcome through millets. Modern day challenges like obesity and diabetes can also be countered with these grains because these are free of gluten and contain dietary fibre and antioxidants.

Because of the repeated awareness created by the Government of Karnataka through millet melas, workshops, trade fair at hobli level, taluk level, district level, at national and international level, most of the people from urban areas and nearby rural areas have become familiar with Nutri-Cereals and also due to various demonstrations of millet-based recipes during millet melas and availability of recipe formulations on fingertips though social media and youtube videos, most of them have incorporated  these Nutri-Cereals in their diet.

However, still the awareness regarding the nutritional benefits of millets and various methods of consumption  has to be disseminated among the people residing in downtrodden areas, slums and remote areas in rural places where the nutritional deficiencies are prevailing to a great extent.

Availability of millets to the end-consumer in not uniform and there is fluctuation in prices of millets, and it is still a major concern in India. A major reason could be improper distribution of the various millets for production and low productivity. There is also a lack of processing units and well integrated supply chains for millet production to reach the end-consumer. Additionally, millets have lower shelf life compared to other cereals which makes them difficult to manage and store for long.

In spite of the disparities in the cultivation, distribution and short-keeping period of millets to the end-consumers, these Nutri-Cereals have tremendous scope in addressing the issue of malnutrition that is prevailing among the vulnerable population in India. Through integrated farming systems, cultivation of millets can help in reclamation of soils thereby improving the fertility of soils and helps in obtaining good Nutri-Cereals for consumption and can be a good fodder for livestock thus may aid in bringing food security as well as nutrition security.

Value addition plays a very important role in changing the form, flavour, texture, taste and acceptability of Nutri-Cereals. Various processing technologies can be adopted further to promote Nutri-Cereals with good income.

A well-developed food processing sector with higher level of processing helps in reduction of wastage, improves value addition, promotes crop diversification, ensures better returns to the farmers, promotes employment as well as increases export earnings. This sector is also capable of addressing critical issues of  food security, food inflation and providing wholesome, nutritious food to the masses. Over the years, agricultural production in India has consistently recorded higher output.

India ranks first in the world in the production of milk, ghee, pulses, ginger, bananas, guavas, papayas and mangoes. Further India ranks second in the production of rice, wheat and several other fruits and vegetables. Abundant supply of raw materials, increase in demand for food products and incentives offered by the government impacted food processing sector positively.

Having successfully attained self-sufficiency in food, despite its strong agricultural production base, a significant amount of food produce gets wasted in India due to inadequate infrastructure such as packaging facilities, storage, transportation, cold chain, and low levels of processing.

Overall, less than 10 per cent of the total food produced is processed into value-added products in India. In comparison, the US and China process 65 per cent and 23 per cent of their produce, respectively. Similarly, other developing countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, and Brazil process as high as 30, 78, and 70 per cent of their produce, respectively. India’s vast agricultural resources alone create huge potential for investments in its food processing and equipment industry.

The Indian sub-continent has a vast amount of its area under millet production. Traditionally these Nutri-Cereals are used for preparation of flour, dumpling, pudding, porridge, roti, ambli and also as infant food (sari). However, it can be utilised in myriad forms as this nutri-grain blends with all types of other grains like  rice, wheat, bengal gram, green gram and it will enhance the nutritional value of other cereals or pulse-based products that are lacking in nutrients especially calcium.

With the changes in scenario of utilisation of processed products and awareness of the consumers about the health benefits, the focus has to be given on processing, value addition and effective utilisation of the nutri-rich grain. If the utilisation of Nutri-Cereals is more by consumers, even farmers will be benefited to a great extent.

And if the processing of Nutri-Cereals is done at farmers’ level itself, it will help them greatly to fetch higher profit instead of selling Nutri-Cereals directly in the market. There are many ideas and options to initiate Nutri-Cereals based value-added products to take up as an enterprise and  also for the benefit of home consumption.

Also a range of ethnic and novel products , viz,
Nutri-Cereals based beverages ------- malt, ambli and milkshakes  
Nutri-Cereals based steamed products ----- halwa, dhokla, idli, kadabu, momos
Nutri-Cereals based fried products ------ chakli, muruku, mixture, shankarpoli
Nutri-Cereals based baked products ------ various cakes, cookies, biscuits

Incorporation of Nutri-Cereals in our daily dietary provide very good nutrition. Further they can be processed into value-added products that can be taken as an enterprise for additional income  generation. Hence, these Nutri-Cereals can be promoted in India not only for food security but also for nutrition security.  

(The author is assistant professor (food science and nutrition), Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK, Bangalore. She can be contacted at
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