Rice has been part of the Indian diet since ancient times. Although rice has its origins in China, it is mentioned in Yajurveda (1500-800 BC). Rice is an important staple of 60% of the world’s population. It is consumed as a variety of products. After Rice, the second major staple in India is Wheat. This originated in Afghanistan and was grown there five thousand years ago. Post-independence in India, because of the green revolution the yield of Wheat and Rice is much increased. India is the second largest producer of both Rice and Wheat in the world. Before the “Green Revolution”, millet contributed up to around 40% of cultivated grains. Although they found to be originated in Korean Peninsula around 3500 to 2000 BC, in India their mention is to 4500 BC that they were commonly consumed. Industrialization and modern living changed both eating habits and also old practices of using grains. People have switched over from consuming millet to Rice and Wheat. Also, the practice of eating minimally processed grains to more refined which may have lost Nutritional quality will have repercussions on the health of the population.
Hand-pound rice or wheat flour ground by manual means at home are quite closer in composition to that of “whole grains”. In modern methods of refining grains, whether it is getting wheat flour by a roller mill or making white rice in a rice mill, there is bound be a loss of nutrients. This underlines the importance of the nutritive value of whole grains. The refining is generally to get technological advantages. In the case of wheat where bran is removed as it creates a problem in making the right quality bread. In the case of rice, it improves the aesthetic look. Removal of germs helps in the storage of grains as that portion is usually rich in fat.
A typical wheat kernel will have three parts (Figure 1) viz. Bran, Endosperm, and Germ. When wheat is ground in a flour mill to get white flour, Bran and Germ are lost. This also results in the loss of many important nutrients.
- bran – the outer layer of the grain which contains fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals
- endosperm – the main part of the grain, which contains mainly starch
- germ – the smallest part of the grain, which contains vitamin E, folate, thiamine, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Therefore, in the process of milling, important micronutrients are lost.
Similarly, in the case of Rice to get white rice, the bran and germ portion is removed. In this process, Fibre and important micronutrients like Thiamine, Niacin, Vitamin B6, and minerals such as Phosphorus, Magnesium, Copper Manganese, Iron, and Phosphorous are lost.
As mentioned earlier, Millet has been a major part of the Indian diet in the past. For example, hand-rolled flatbreads made from millets like Jowar ground in quern stones and hand-pounded rice prepared at home used to be part of the daily diet. There are ten major and minor Millets in India. Jowar, Bajra, and Ragi are more commonly consumed. Millets have 7-12% proteins, 2-5% fat, 65-75% carbohydrates, and 15-20% dietary fibre and are rich in micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. They have antioxidant activities because of many compounds like phytates, polyphenols, tannins, phytosterols, etc. Because of all these nutritional benefits, they are also called “Nutri Cereals”.
The foregoing discussion on whole grains and Millet indicate that their consumption will give many Nutritional benefits. To summarise they are low in saturated fats, a source of PUFA, high in soluble and insoluble fibre, an excellent source of carbohydrates, a significant source of proteins, a good source of Vitamin B including folate, source of many minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper, zinc and a phosphorous, good source of many phytochemicals and antioxidants. Consumption of whole grains will therefore help reduce many lifestyle ailments. The fibre will give protection against cardiovascular disease. Consumption of whole cereals will reduce the risk of type two diabetes and improve insulin sensitivity. High fibre such as whole grains can be effective in weight management as high fibre will give satiety and avoid overeating. High fibre diet with whole grains and cereals will improve bowel movement and thus reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Rapid industrialization and urbanization throughout the globe especially affected the lifestyles of people very drastically. The industrialization has also changed the means of living of people and their living habits of people. Physical activity has replaced sedentary life and the consumption of more refined food has replaced home-cooked food. This has resulted in an increased incidence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases (CVD). In this situation increasing the consumption of whole grains and revival of our old practice of consuming millet will be a great saviour. It looks like the market has taken note of this and we can see many multigrain and millet-based products to prepare traditional recipes in the market. This is a healthy sign!