Want to boost your child’s growth? Replace rice with millets, says India-led nutrition study

New Delhi: TALLER, STRONGER AND HEALTHIER – Millet can boost growth in children and teens by 26 to 39 percent when they replace rice in standard meals, an India-led study finds.

The study – led by Dr. S. Anita, Senior Nutritional Scientist, at the International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Batanchero, near Hyderabad – is a review and analysis of eight previously published studies, all conducted in India.

she was published in the magazine Nutrients advance this month.

Participants in the studies analyzed included infants as well as children of preschool and school-going age, and adolescents. Children consumed millet – which is rich in nutrients and protein – for a period of time ranging from three months to four and a half years.

Five of these studies used finger millet (ragi), one used sorghum (guar) and two used a mixture of millet grains—notably finger, pearl (bajra), fox-tailed (kanjni), young millet (kotki) and kudu (faraju). The average sample size for each study was 65.

The review found that among children fed a millet-based diet, a relative increase of 28.2 percent in average height and 26 percent in weight was observed, compared to children on a rice-based diet. Similarly, a 39 percent increase in mid-humerus circumference and a 37 percent increase in chest circumference was also found among children on a millet-based diet versus a rice-based diet.

Moreover, the study found that diets containing millet grains help with this Managing type 2 diabetes, lowering cholesterol levels, treating obesity and anemia.

“These results are attributed to the high natural nutritional content in millet which shows significant amounts of growth-promoting nutrients, especially total protein, sulfur-containing amino acids and calcium in the case of finger millet,” Anita told ThePrint.

Additionally, millet (ragi) naturally contains high levels of calcium, of which 23 percent is normally retained by the body. Available evidence shows that calcium from finger millet is highly bioavailable (available for absorption into the human body), and can provide around 100mg of bioavailable calcium per 100g of grain which can help to overcome calcium deficiency if eaten adequately, “Anita.


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Recommending different types of millet

All studies analyzed in the meta-study were based on standard rice-based meals, which were then compared to meals containing millet grains. The researchers also studied diets fortified with vegetables, fruits and dairy products, and came to the conclusion that they lead to minimal additional growth if eaten with millet instead of rice.

According to the study, this suggests that simply replacing rice with millet – along with more diverse and nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables – can be beneficial for children’s development.

The study also made various policy recommendations, such as developing nutritional intervention programs to diversify staple foods, such as giving millet grains in the mid-day meal regimen or various maternal and child health programmes. Incorporating millet meals designed for different age groups is another recommendation.

“Implementation of meals containing millet requires that menus be tailored for different age groups, using delicious and culturally sensitive recipes. This must also be complemented by awareness and marketing campaigns to generate understanding and interest in millet,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr Hemalatha, Director of the Indian National Institute For Nutrition in Hyderabad, for ThePrint newspaper.

It helps in other ways too

The study also concluded that millet contains a wide range of nutrients and has been scientifically proven to contribute to meeting important health needs globally.

The study said that millet not only treats undernutrition and malnutrition in children, but also treats type 2 diabetes, lowers total cholesterol levels, and helps fight obesity and iron deficiency, which cause anemia.

It concluded that to bring the benefits of millet to the wider community, awareness of its nutritional value is needed. Only then will demand rise, investment flow, and farm-to-fork food value chains established.

(Edited by Saikat Niuji)


Read also: National Nutrition Month 2021: The power of a nutritious meal


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