Millets can help to meet many of the largest nutrition and health needs.
Photo: ©ManeeshUpadhyay/Shutterstock

Using millets to improve nutrition

As millets have a naturally high nutrient content, they can significantly contribute to overcoming malnutrition.

Millets can boost growth in children and adolescents by 26 – 39 per cent when they replace rice in standard meals, according to researchers from the International Crops Research Institute of the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). This is the result of a review and meta-analysis of eight studies, undertaken by seven organisations in four countries and published in January 2022. 

Millets provide high amounts of growth promoting nutrients, especially total protein, sulphur containing amino acids, and calcium in the case of finger millets. They not only help tackle child undernutrition, but also assist in managing type 2 diabetes as well as overcoming iron deficiency anaemia, lowering total cholesterol levels, obesity and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Infants, preschool children and schoolchildren as well as adolescents were part of the review. Five of the studies in the review used finger millet, one sorghum and two a mixture of millets (finger, pearl, foxtail, little and kodo millets).

Among the children fed millet-based meals, a relative increase of 28.2 per cent in mean height, 26 per cent in weight, 39 per cent in mid upper arm circumference and 37 per cent in chest circumference was noted when compared to children on regular rice-based diets. The children studied consumed millets over 3 months to 4.5 years.

The studies of the meta-analysis were all undertaken in India and based on standard rice-based meals. The researchers also studied meals significantly enhanced with more diversity including vegetables, fruit, dairy and staples, which resulted in minimal additional growth from replacing rice with millets.

This indicates that simply replacing or diversifying rice with millets or major changes in the whole diet with more diversity and nutritious foods can be beneficial for the growth of children.


Read more at ICRISAT

Read the study Can Feeding a Millet-Based Diet Improve the Growth of Children?—A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis published in the journal Nutrient

Rural 21, 3/2021: Food systems, nutrition and the SDGs

Rural 21, 3/2020: Changing times, changing diets

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