In a metro like Chennai, where fast food is a way of life, millets might be the least appetising option.

But the health food is set for a makeover in the city, with a number of studies looking at introducing preparations — from biscuits to ‘payasam’ — using millets.

With increasing focus on right diet and healthy living, millets have become of great interest to doctors and nutritionists as they are considered nutritionally superior to rice. (See infographic 'Nutritional Content in Millets' on the left.)

“Millets are inexpensive and highly nutritious. It promotes healthy eating as it is rich in fibre, carbohydrates and minerals. Its nutritive value is enhanced when combined with pulses and legumes,” said Kundala Ravi, lecturer, department of clinical nutrition, Sri Ramachandra Medical University (SRMU).

A number of SRMU students are working to develop millet recipes make it appetising, she said.

“We are looking at how millets can be combined with other ingredients. For example, we can make ‘payasam’ using millets, green gram dal, jaggery and milk. Similarly, ‘puttu’, ‘sevai’, ‘dosa’, ‘idli’ and ‘vadai’ can be prepared with millets,” she said.

For diabetologists, the humble millets assume significance due to their low glycemic index. “The starch-protein interaction causes the glycemic level to drop. Millet-based formulations are suitable as a food supplement or meal replacer for those with diabetes,” said R.G. Abirami, nutrition research associate, M.V. Hospital for Diabetes and Research Centre, Royapuram.

The hospital is involved in studies to develop low cost millet-based recipes for breakfast and lunch using foxtail millet and barnyard millet.

For long, rice has been the staple diet in south India and people here tend to eat large servings, said Vijay Viswanathan, head and chief diabetologist at the hospital. “The glycemic index is high in rice, especially the unpolished variety. We are developing products specific to south India, using millets — recipes hitherto prepared with rice. We are asking patients to judge the taste factor,” he said.

Students of Women’s Christian College (WCC) too are looking at creating recipes using millets such as biscuits and nutrition bars, said Sheba Jeyaraj, assistant professor, department of home science.

“People do not use millets as they feel the food lacks in taste and looks unappetising. But a 100-gram portion of finger millet (ragi) has 344 mg of calcium. No other cereal has such high nutritive value. Millets are gluten free and can be consumed by people with celiac disease (gluten-sensitive enteropathy). They are rich in vitamin B and help in controlling diabetes and reducing cholesterol levels,” she said.

The Institute of Community Medicine, Madras Medical College, has been promoting consumption of millets at its interactions with the public.

“We have been asking people to add millets to their diet. Various millet-based products are available in the market today. Whole wheat ground with millets such as ragi, ‘cumbu’ and ‘cholam’ can be used to make chapathis,” said A. Chitra, an assistant professor at the Institute.

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