In recent times, an increase in the spread of lifestyle disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity has led us to a corner. It has become essential to prevent ourselves and our loved ones from fostering these health conditions and managing lifestyle disorders. Therefore, people have adopted alternative foods with high nutritional properties that exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics  

Ragi is one of the foods people adapt to because of the bioavailability of minerals and vitamins and its various health benefits. Nutritionists suggest that the consumption of ragi is very beneficial for individuals with obesity or diabetes. Let’s learn about ragi and its uses in combating lifestyle disorders.

Ragi and its Types

Ragi is a staple food grain cultivated primarily in eastern and central Africa and southern parts of India. It is grown in dry, hot climates and at high altitudes and is also known as finger millet. This is because the head of the grain consists of five spikes in a curving manner from the central point like fingers attached to the palm. The size of the ragi varies from 1-2 mm. It comes in different colours, from red to black and sometimes white. It has a higher fibre and calcium content than any other cereals.

Ragi is a good source of nutrition for growing children, pregnant women, aged people, and patients fostering various metabolic diseases. It is because of the rich amount of calcium, phytochemicals, and phenolic compounds found in Ragi.. These compounds make it easy to digest. Therefore, people generally use it in meal preparations to make pudding, dumplings, chapati, germinated, or steamed ragi dishes . In addition, it has been gaining importance because of its slowly digestible starch and resistant starch, which keeps the body fuller and controls blood sugar levels.

Nutritional Properties of Ragi

Ragi is a nutrient-dense millet and is more nutritious than most cereal grains. It contains an immense amount of calcium, iron, dietary fibre, essential amino acids, and other minerals. It is rich in phenolic compounds and phytochemicals, which exhibit high antioxidant activity. Along with this, it contains high-quality protein, vitamin A, B complex, and phosphorus. It is a rich source of methionine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, and other essential amino acids.

The Nutritional Value of ragi is as per 100g serving:

  • Energy: 336 kcal
  • Protein: 7.7 gm
  • Fat: 1.5 gm
  • fibre: 11.5 gm
  • Carbohydrate: 72.6 gm
  • Calcium: 350 mg
  • Iron: 3.9 mg
  • Magnesium : 137 mg
  • Phosphorus: 283 mg
  • Manganese: 5.94 mg
  • Potassium: 408 mg

Beneficial Properties of Ragi

Ragi possesses abundant phytochemicals that enhance its nutraceutical properties. As a result, it provides a multitude of health benefits. It has various functional and nutritional properties such as anti-diabetic, primarily to combat type 2 diabetes mellitus, anti-inflammatory, anti-diarrhoeal, anti-ulcer, and antitumorigenic properties. Other such properties are anti-microbial, antioxidant , and atherosclerogenic effects. However, studies have revealed that consumption of ragi has decreased because of ignorance about its nutritional health benefits. Nonetheless, it has changed since people started to adopt alternative eating methods.

Health Benefits of Ragi

Finger millet contains potential phenolic compounds reported to exhibit antioxidant activity. These antioxidants possess free radical scavenging activity and act as a potential inhibitor of biological oxidation, which helps prevent complications associated with lifestyle disorders. 

Phenolic compounds present in ragi avoid the onset of complications in various health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Its antioxidant activities may also help in delaying the progression of ageing signs. Studies show that finger millet can inhibit collagen crosslinking, which slows down the ageing process by reducing the stiffness of elastic tissues in tendons, skin, and blood vessels.

High Calcium Content

Ragi contains polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic and linolenic acid. It facilitates the normal development of the central nervous system. In addition, it is a source of calcium, with up to 350 mg/100 g of calcium present in the seeds. Its calcium content is 5-10 times higher than other cereals; even cow’s milk contains 112 mg/ 100 g of milk. The absence of lactose sugar in ragi makes it easily digestible and promotes maximum calcium absorption. It is an ideal food grain for weaning babies, lactose-sensitive people, growing children, old age for bone mass development, and to treat other bone ailments such as osteoporosis.

Preventing Cardiovascular Disorders

Cardiovascular disorders have become the primary cause of worldwide mortality. Abnormal blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, hypertension, depression, obesity, and diabetes are vital factors that aggravate cardiac conditions. Consuming a millet diet has shown a significant decrease in serum triglycerides and total cholesterol levels. 

Reports suggest that phenolic compounds found in finger millet lower lipid peroxidation and inhibit oxidative modification of LDL cholesterol. As a result, it reduces the instances of atherosclerosis, ultimately decreasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In addition, the soluble fibre in ragi also reduces the reabsorption of bile acids and LDL cholesterol.

Perfect for  Celiac Disease

In recent times, the prevalence of autoimmune disorders has increased significantly. Celiac disease is one of the most common autoimmune disorders triggered when ingestion of a group of proteins named gluten takes place . Wheat, rye, and barley cereals primarily contain gluten.

It is necessary to avoid gluten-containing foods and follow the food alternatives with similar nutrient properties to maintain celiac disease. Rice, corn, sorghum, quinoa, amaranth, millet, and oats are cereals reported to have non-glutinous nature.

Improves Bowel Movement

Ragi is rich in soluble and insoluble dietary fibre and roughage that is not broken down during digestion, increasing the satiety level. Studies have shown that fibre helps prevent gastrointestinal disorders, colon cancer, coronary heart diseases, and diabetes. The insoluble fibre component of ragi helps bulk the stool by retaining water in faeces. It acts as a laxative that stimulates bowel mobility and prevents constipation by promoting peristalsis. Soluble fibre component helps in lubrication and soothing of the inflamed digestive tract. It reduces peptic inflammation and exhibits anti-ulcerative properties.

Finger millet contains high-quality protein with a high portion of essential amino acids and bioactive peptides, which helps treat protein-energy malnutrition and manage homeostasis in various disorders. Finger millet is a highly balanced and easily digestible grain ideal for undernutrition and obesity groups. It contains valine, methionine, and tryptophan, scarcely present in vegetarian diets. In addition, it has low-fat content, making it ideal for obese people. 

Studies have shown that finger millet carbohydrate composition is slowly digestible and takes longer to absorb. As a result, it increases the satiety level, reduces excessive calorie intake, and prevents hunger pangs, promoting weight loss.

Prevention from Cancer

To reduce cancer prevalence, people switch to healthier food alternatives than processed options. Adding food alternatives to the dietary regimen that exhibit anti-cancerous properties reduces the frequency of spontaneous and chemically  induced tumours. Finger millet has phytochemicals and antioxidants, which have extensive anti-carcinogenic properties. Reports suggest that it contains ferulic acid, which happens to have blocking effects on induced carcinogenesis in tongue, colon, and breast cancer cells. Ragi is a nutrient-dense grain with a long shelf life and can be grown in drought areas. In addition, researchers are investigating whether one can use millet to fight food insecurity and protect the population during climate instability.

Ragi and Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder diagnosed with high blood sugar levels due to inadequate production of insulin or due to insulin resistance. Finger millet contains phenolic extracts, effective alpha-glucosidase and pancreatic amylase inhibitors. As a result, it helps manage hyperglycaemic conditions. In addition, it is beneficial in lowering blood glucose levels.

Studies have shown that finger millet-based food preparations show a lower glycaemic index, which induces a lower response. In addition, it shows that adding 30% of millet to multigrain flour has significantly reduced plasma glucose levels. The significant decrease is related to dietary fibre-mediated delayed carbohydrate digestibility.

A study has shown that calcium and vitamin D intake concerning type-2 diabetes in women helped alleviate the risk . Moreover, finger millet has an abundance of calcium and magnesium, easing diabetes type-2 risk indirectly.

One of the significant concerns of diabetes patients is the delay in wound healing. However, a 4-week study has found that eating millet speeds up  wound healing, improves antioxidant status, and controls blood glucose levels. In addition, adding ragi to the diet regimen has been reported to delay the onset of cataractogenesis, which is a complication of diabetes.

The protein and lipid content interferes with starch digestion, which prolongs its digestion and takes a long time for glucose release. Therefore, the high fibre content of ragi may affect blood sugar levels to a lesser extent than other refined grains. Nevertheless, consuming high amounts of fibre helps lower blood glucose levels and prevents the risk associated with diabetes.

The Best Ways to Consume Ragi

Individuals can eat ragi in various forms, such as flatbreads, pudding, porridge, and bakery products. Different preparation methods, such as soaking, germinating, steaming, roasting, and baking, are considered. It is made in powdered form to prepare cookies, ice cream, and other bakery products. One can use it with different grains in porridge or multigrain chapati.

Glycemic index studies on finger millet preparations range from low to high values, conducted with outdated methodology. Appropriate GI testing of finger millet preparations and short- and long-term human intervention trials may help establish evidence-based health benefits.

Note: People with kidney disorders, thyroid disorders, and diarrhoea should avoid eating ragi. It negatively affects them and aggravates their conditions.

Summary

Ragi is a nutrient-dense crop with tremendous health benefits and nutraceutical properties, which are unknown. Therefore, adding ragi with other staple crops can improve  general global health status. The health benefits of ragi are significantly high due to its high nutritional quality. 

Ragi is beneficial for diabetic people because of its high nutrient density and fibre content. In addition, it can be consumed safely by diabetic people as it stabilises blood sugar levels and relieves the inflammation and oxidative stress associated with diabetes. But more research is needed to determine which form of ragi is ideal for diabetic people.

It contains an extremely high amount of calcium, more than any other cereal. As a result, nutritionists suggest ragi consumption for bone development and strengthening in babies, growing kids, and aged individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. How much ragi should a person with diabetes take daily?

A. 10-20 g of ragi can be consumed daily or on alternate days if the diabetic person has stable blood sugar levels. However, it is essential to understand how to eat ragi so that it won’t spike blood sugar levels in a diabetic patient. Soaking ragi for 12 hours, storing ragi moist for 24 hours, or steaming for an hour are the best ways to consume ragi.

Q. Does eating ragi increase blood sugar?

A. Even though ragi has a high glycemic index, it affects blood sugar levels to a lesser extent than refined grains. The main reason behind this is the presence of various anti-nutritional factors and high fibre content, which increase the glucose absorption  time during digestion. As a result, it results in low post-prandial blood sugar levels, hence low blood sugar levels.

Q. Who should not eat ragi?

A. People who suffer from thyroid disorders, diarrhoea, and kidney disorders such as kidney stones. It may affect people drastically who foster such conditions.

Q. Which flour is best for diabetes?

A. Usually, flour with high fibre and complex carbohydrates is ideal for diabetes. Some flours considered best for diabetes include ragi flour, Bajra flour, amaranth flour, barley, and Jowar flour.

Q. Is arrowroot good for diabetes?

A. Arrowroot is a tropical herb with more than 80% starch, and the remaining amount contains proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fibre. It has a moderate glycemic index which ranges from 65-to 85. Therefore, it is advised not to consume too much arrowroot if the person has diabetes.

Q. Is ragi carbohydrate or protein?

A. Ragi is a millet known as finger millet. It has 65-75% of carbohydrates, 15-20% of fibre, and 5-8% of protein.

Q. What happens if you eat ragi every day?

A. Ragi is known for its dense nutrients. Eating ragi everyday  enhances nerve impulse conduction, promotes a good mood, and treats insomnia and anxiety. Furthermore, it manages cholesterol levels and improves heart health. In addition, it is a rich source of iron and calcium, preventing anaemia and strengthening the bones.

Q. What is the glycemic index of Ragi?

A. Glycemic index of ragi indicates whether one can eat it during diabetes or not. However, the mean glycemic index of millets ranges from 54-to 68. Therefore, the GI score of ragi flour is 104, while the GI score of ragi when it is dehusked, soaked for 12 hours, stored moist for 24 hours, and steamed for one hour is 68.

Q. Does ragi digest easily?

A. Yes, ragi is easily digestible because of its high fibre content, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. Due to its high fibre content, it keeps the stomach full for a more extended period. It prevents frequent hunger pangs. It increases the time taken to absorb glucose during digestion.

Q. Can I eat ragi at night?

A. Yes, one can eat ragi at night. Ragi contains an essential amino acid named tryptophan which helps manage sleep disorders such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression. It is fiber-rich food. It is necessary to remember that people with digestive problems should not consume it at night.

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