Millet-based diet could lower risk of type 2 diabetes, help manage blood glucose levels

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New research has found that eating millets can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and helps manage blood glucose levels in people with diabetes, indicating the potential to design appropriate meals with millets for diabetic and pre-diabetic people as well as for non-diabetic people as a preventive approach.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, drew on research from 11 countries, finding that diabetic people who consumed millet as part of their daily diet saw their blood glucose levels drop 12 to 15 percent fasting and post-meal, and blood glucose levels went from diabetic to pre-diabetes levels. The HbA1c, blood glucose bound to hemoglobin, levels lowered on average 17 percent for pre-diabetic individuals, and the levels went from pre-diabetic to normal status. These findings affirm that eating millets can lead to a better glycemic response.

The authors reviewed 80 published studies on humans of which 65 were eligible for a meta-analysis involving about 1,000 human subjects, making this analysis the largest systematic review on the topic to date.

Millets, including sorghum, were consumed as staple cereals in many parts of the world until half a century ago. Investments in a few crops such as rice, wheat, and maize, have edged nutritious and climate-smart crops like millets out of the plate, the researchers said.

According to the International Diabetes Association, diabetes is increasing in all regions of the world. India, China, and the United States have the highest numbers of people with diabetes. Africa has the largest forecasted increase of 143 percent from 2019 to 2045, the Middle East and North Africa 96 percent and South East Asia 74 percent. The authors said the diversification of staples with millets to keep diabetes in check, especially across Asia and Africa.

Strengthening the case for reintroducing millets as staples, the study found that millets have a low average glycemic index (GI) of 52.7, about 36 percent lower GI than milled rice and refined wheat, and about 14-37 GI points lower compared to maize. All 11 types of millets studied could be defined as either low or medium GI, with the GI as an indicator of how much and how soon a food increases blood sugar level. The review concluded that even after boiling, baking, and steaming, millets had lower GI than rice, wheat, and maize.

The study also identified information gaps and highlighted a need for collaborations to have one major diabetes study covering all types of millets and all major ways of processing with consistent testing methodologies. Structured comprehensive information will be highly valuable globally, taking the scientific knowledge in this area to the highest level, the researchers said.