Millet Mania: Why the “Poor Man’s Grain” is Now Taking Over - Artinci

Millet Mania: Why the “Poor Man’s Grain” is Now Taking Over

Aarti Laxman

Did you ever buy a very expensive pack of quinoa or cous cous, as they are super grains and cooking them for your family will instantly turn you into a domestic health Goddess? Come, come, ‘fess up now! 

Ok, mea culpa! I’ve done this for sure. After cooking quinoa for the first time back in 2009, I wondered why it looked so familiar. I did some more research and found that millets are our home grown, desi answer to the South American wondergrain. And at ¼ the price, at that! 

Once considered a “poor man’s grain” - cheap, highly nutritious, undemanding to grow, and filling, providing energy for a hard day’s work ahead - millets now retail as “ancient supergrains” for a pretty penny. Chances are, reader, you yourself have hopped on the train, trying out the various millet recipes that now populate the internet.

And yet, these supergrains may just be worth the hype and more. Their return to our diets signifies better health - for us, for the farmers, and for the planet.

What’s the hubbub about?

Millets pack a nutritional punch that starchy white rice and processed wheat are hard-pressed to provide. Cultivated first as staple foods across Asia and Africa, millets are a group of grass species used as cereal crops. Millets are known for their resilience and ability to grow in harsh, arid conditions where other crops might fail. In a world grappling with climate change, this makes millets all the more essential to farmers and for food security.

But this is just the beginning: millets are incredible staples for your health, and it has to do with a little nutritional science.

Glycemic Index 101

The glycemic index (GI) of a food is a measure of how fast your blood sugar levels spike after you eat. A GI of 55 or less is considered low, and these foods are digested over 2-4 hours. Medium GI foods (56-69) take 1-2 hours to pass through your system, while high GI foods (70 and above) cause quick spikes in blood sugar and are digested within 30 minutes to an hour, leaving you hungry very quickly for the next sugar rush

GI is only measured for foods containing carbs. So, foods like nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios…), herbs and spices, fish and seafood, eggs, some meats, and fats and oils (olive oil, butter…) which don’t contain carbs, do not have a GI score.

Foods which have more complex carbs - like brown rice, or rice with the bran, or whole wheat, and other whole grains, have lower GI than polished or refined grains. Refined grains are almost entirely pure starches - simple sugars, and pass through your system very quickly, causing a corresponding fast blood sugar peak and crash.

Ok, so… what’s the big deal? And what about millets in all this?

Prioritizing low GI foods can:

  1. Help you feel full for longer, and prevent sudden cravings.
  2. Help with better gut health and digestion, since they are usually high in fiber.
  3. Improve metabolic flexibility (i.e., the body’s ability to switch between carbs and fats for fuels, as per availability.) (read more here)

And as you may have guessed - millets are, as a group, low GI foods.

Millets, GI, nutrition

Not only are millets low GI, but different millets are also teeming in essential nutrients. Here’s a list (adapted from this meta-analysis of millet research) of the different food grains that we commonly eat in India, and their GI:

Millet/ grain (with Hindi / Tamil / Kannada names)

Mean glycemic index

Glycemic index category

Barnyard millet 

(Samwa / Kuthiravaali / Oodhali)



Foxtail millet 

(Kangni / Thinai / Navane)



Pearl millet 

(Bajra / Kambu / Sajje)



Finger millet 

(Nachni / Ragi)




(Jowar / Cholam / Jolada)



Kodo millet 

(Kodra / Varagu / Haraka)



Little millet 

(Kutki / Saamai / Saame)



Whole Wheat Flour (Atta)



Polished White Rice



Refined wheat flour (maida)



Many of these millets are also high in various nutrients - calcium, iron, amino acids, magnesium, phosphorus and more. Millets also have around 6g of protein per 100g, which is much higher than other grains.

Millets for Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is an inability of the body to regulate blood glucose levels - an insulin resistance, where insulin is the hormone normally responsible for bringing down your blood glucose levels. So, it becomes very important for people with diabetes to avoid high spikes in blood glucose.

This means avoiding, to a large extent, starchy and refined foods - foods with a high GI. White rice and refined wheat, with their  70+ GI, lead to a quick rise in blood glucose level - which, for people with diabetes, can become dangerous.

Low GI foods - like millets - which keep you full for longer and avoid blood glucose spikes, are preferable for diabetics.

But, as is evident from the table - not all millets are low GI. Some, like India’s beloved ragi, and sorghum, pearl millet and more, have a GI of around 60-65 - cutting it quite close to the high GI foods, refined rice and wheat (at GI 70).

What does that mean for people with diabetes?

Well, studies show that even when millets have a medium GI, they can be beneficial for diabetes.

For example, ragi, with a GI of around 60, is richer in calcium and potassium than many other grains, even among millets. It also contains polyphenols, which are micronutrients that may help prevent and treat diabetes and help stabilise blood glucose levels. Studies indicate that whole grain ragi and other types of millet are excellent options for people with diabetes, as they contain more fiber, minerals, and amino acids compared to white rice. [healthline

However, although studies in rats with diabetes showed that millet diets are beneficial for diabetes, more research is required to exhaustively claim so for humans. [webmd]

So that means I should…

If you have diabetes and want to prioritize managing your blood sugar levels,  it might be helpful to prefer lower GI millets, but feel free to include ragi and sorghum as well! 

Exhaustive human studies are ongoing, but research shows that there are definitely benefits for diabetics of a millet-based diet, be they higher or lower GI. 

If you have normal glucose tolerance (i.e. no diabetes) then you can freely include millets in your daily meals and diversify your diet to get the full benefits of these “ancient supergrains”.

If you are new to eating millets, after a lifetime of eating only white rice or wheat, it is best to introduce millets slowly to your diet. Since they take longer to digest, it is best to let your body get used to them gradually - start with 1-2 times a week for a month, then every other day for a couple of months, followed by one meal a day.

By the way, at Artinci, we make millets-based, low GI, sugar free treats to help you diversify and healthify your desserts too! To be absolutely safe, we mainly work with foxtail millet, and fortify that with coconut flour and flax seeds, to further reduce the overall GI. Check out our multigrain millet cakes and cookies.

Happy cooking and happy eating!


  • Millets are good for farmers, the planet, and you.
  • Millets are good for you because:
    • They are nutritionally dense, packed with polyphenols (help stabilise blood sugar), fiber, many micronutrients, and higher in protein than staple grains (rice/ wheat/ maize)
    • Most millets are low GI (low glycemic index) - which means they keep you full for longer and don’t spike your blood glucose. This is important for diabetics.
  • Some millets (ragi, sorghum) have a higher GI than others (foxtail, Job’s tears). 
  • Research shows that low GI or not, millets are good for you - whether or not you have diabetes.
  • However, research done so far isn’t exhaustive. 
  • So, if you have diabetes and want to prioritise managing your blood sugar levels, maybe prefer low GI millets (in the table above). But feel free to include all millets!
  •  And if you don’t have diabetes, then freely diversify your diet with all millets to cue in to all their benefits.
  • At Artinci, we make millets-based, low GI, sugar free treats to help you diversify your desserts too! Check out our multigrain millet cakes and cookies.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Can People with Diabetes Eat Millet, and Are There Benefits?
  2. Low and high glycaemic index diets improve endurance performance 
  3. Is Ragi Good for People with Diabetes? 
  4. Millets for diabetes: Benefits, nutritional content, and more 
  5. Millet for Diabetes: How It Affects Blood Sugar 
  6. Study: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Potential of Millets for Managing and Reducing the Risk of Developing Diabetes Mellitus 
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