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Millet shows benefits in diabetes management, study finds

Millet shows benefits in diabetes management.jpg
Millet, a family of ancient grains, has shown potential benefits in blood glucose management, according to a recent meta-analysis.

As consumers have become more conscious of their personal health, one trend playing out has been the adoption of ancient grains in favor of more traditional options such as wheat. Ingredients like barley, spelt, and quinoa are gaining traction as better-for-you options in bakery items and other finished goods.

One such ancient grain is millet, actually a family of grains which includes sorghum. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Nutrition now provides another reason to add this ancient grain to the diet; it may help lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and help lower A1C, a measure of average blood sugar (2021;8:687428).

The meta-analysis of 65 small studies totaling about 1,000 participants indicated millet measured a mean glycemic index (GI) of 52.7 out of 100, significantly lower than grains such as white rice (GI: 71.7) and wheat (GI: 74.2); a lower GI indicates a smaller, slower spike in blood sugar after consumption.

Results of the meta-analysis showed for individuals with type 2 diabetes, regular consumption of millet reduced average fasting blood sugar levels by up to 12% and decreased post-meal blood sugar levels by up to 15%. With these significant decreases, the researchers noted such a drop would be enough to no longer consider those individuals diabetic, but rather, prediabetic.

In individuals already considered prediabetic, regular consumption of millet reduced average A1C levels up to 17%, enough to consider these individuals no longer prediabetic and back within a normal, healthy range. 

“This systematic review and meta-analysis confirm that the millets evaluated have strong potential in dietary management and the prevention of diabetes,” the study authors concluded. “Apart from policy implications, it has implications in terms of nutrition sensitive agriculture interventions with millets and sorghum and on the dissemination of the beneficial effect of millets and sorghum for glycemic control.”

Food & Beverage Insider insights

The authors chalked up millet’s low glycemic score to its high fiber and protein content; fiber, according to the authors, helps prevent sudden blood sugar spikes, while protein increases insulin sensitivity.

“All of this together makes millets an effective food for managing blood glucose levels in the long run,” said Seetha Anitha, Ph.D., one of the study’s authors.

Considering 95% of Americans are not consuming enough fiber (Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017;11[1]:80-85), and that protein continues to be a benefit sought out by many consumers, millet has potential as an ingredient to appeal to consumers seeking a range of benefits.

The prevalence of diabetes has been on the rise in the U.S. for decades; according to the CDC, the number of diagnosed diabetics has risen from around 11 million in 2000 to more than 34 million today. With an additional 88 million Americans qualifying as prediabetic, nearly 1 in 3 Americans falls outside normal range. While a reduction in sugar consumption among consumers has been one major effect, studies such as this highlight other options available for maintaining personal health and monitoring blood glucose levels.

The COVID-19 pandemic only served to heighten these already present concerns over personal health and wellness. As more research is done to highlight new (or, in this case, ancient) ingredients that can help consumers maintain a healthy lifestyle, this trend toward personal wellness should only continue, with innovative and exciting results. 

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