Why millets are key to addressing gluten grievances and managing Celiac disease

Gluten is a bunch of proteins commonly found in wheat, rye and barley where it acts as a “glue”, giving foods the stretch, the structure and the bite

Why millets are key to addressing gluten grievances and managing Celiac disease

Women kneading millet to prepare food at Kaya in Burkina Faso. Image courtesy Wikimmedia Commons

“Celiac Disease”, have we heard of this before? Maybe. “Gluten”, “Gluten-Free”, and “Gluten Allergy”- yes, we have heard of these more frequently on social media, food labels and advertisements. Let us thoroughly understand what gluten is? Why is it a big deal? And, what is the solution for it?

Let us understand GLUTEN

Gluten is a bunch of proteins commonly found in wheat, rye and barley where it acts as a “glue”, giving foods the stretch, the structure and the bite. Gluten helps in having longer shelf stability (your biscuits will not crumble before they expire) and better dough rising (your cakes will be more spongy). While gluten enters the Indian diet via bread, cakes, biscuits and roti (through wheat)- it can also step into our favourite beer, through the barley. Whether we realise it or not, we have consumed some amount of gluten in our lives.

What is the big deal about gluten?

For some gluten does not break down in the body easily. This could lead to issues in the intestine that is collectively known as “Gluten intolerance” — symptoms may vary, with some of them unnoticed, or mildly ignored as “just a case of indigestion” and so on.

Gluten intolerance can include a mild sensitivity to consuming products with gluten, with symptoms like feeling tired and having a headache. The severity of a wheat allergy is higher, leading to nausea and difficulty in breathing. Wheat allergies involve the immune system and could weaken the body if left untreated.

The highest form of gluten intolerance is Celiac Disease. There are two genes responsible for Celiac Disease and when these genes are present in a person, there is a high risk of developing Celiac Disease. At any age and time point in life, these genes may get triggered by gluten consumption. This leads to the onset of Celiac Disease. Symptoms can vary from vomiting and weight loss to arthritis and migraines, all leading to severe intestine damage.

How can millets help?

Regardless of the severity of gluten intolerance, dietary intervention is a sure solution. Millets are small cereal grains that are naturally gluten-free. They are also a nutrition powerhouse, being high in fibre, protein, calcium, and antioxidants. They have a tough outer skin, leading to being drought and pest resistant. What’s more? They are naturally gifted to survive in harsh environments- due to their small size and hardness. To sum it up, they are good for your body and the planet. In India, each region is endowed with millets- some of them are better known by regional names. For example, Ragi (Finger millet/Nachni) is native to Karnataka; Jowar (Sorghum) is native to Maharashtra, Bajra (Pearl millet) is well known in Rajasthan. Rajgira (Amaranth) is a well-known food consumed during traditional/religious fasting in North India, while Tamil Nadu is endowed with Kodo millet, Samai (Little millet) and Proso millet.

Traditionally, millet consumption was at an all-time high in India- with the onset of the green revolution, rice and wheat took dominance. Even today, the Tier 2 cities, towns and villages in India are familiar with millet consumption to a better extent than Tier 1 cities. Some traditional ways to have millets in the diet include ragi mudde, jowar bhakri, bajra roti, rajgira ladoo, kodo millet porridge etc. However, most of us aren’t aware of cooking these grains- with these millets having tough outer layers, it can take time to process. If not processed right, digesting millets is a challenge as it can lead to intestinal disorders. One can also start with purchasing millets as flakes, as rawa, or as flour, and go ahead to consume them as cereals, as upma or as a dosa.

To be cautious, while purchasing these ingredients, customers should be careful about mixing millet flakes with corn flakes, or use of semolina rava with millet rava- having a mix with refined ingredients can lead to lesser or no health benefits at all. Convenience food brands have entered the millet segment, with a fusion of taste, and health consumers now have a sea of options with ragi and jowar dosa for breakfast, multigrain diet muesli for a snack, dessert mix with chocolate and ragi for sweet cravings or a Multigrain Dalia for lunch or dinner.

As consumers are also becoming aware of unhealthy food ingredients, there are a handful of Indian homegrown brands offering products with 0% chemicals, 0% preservatives and 0% added sugar. Some of these true brands are 100 per cent wholegrain certified and also backed by a clean label certification that ensures the ingredients in the product are as close to their natural form as possible! It’s best to trust a brand that provides Food That DOES NOT LIE To You!

The author is a Pavitra Krishna Kumar, Ph. D. Lead, New Product Development, True Elements.

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