As part of the ICRISAT – INFH strategic relationship, the second paper in the series has been published which found that millets can help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by reducing total cholesterol and BMI. This is an important study as it strengthens the evidence that millets are beneficial to health and provides scientific evidence to popularise the return of this beneficial ancient grain to diets.

Eating millets can reduce total cholesterol and BMI, a new study has found.

In an analysis of data of 19 studies with nearly 900 people carried out by an international team of scientists, the results published in Frontiers in Nutrition brings critically needed scientific backing to the efforts to popularize and return millets back to diets, especially as staples, to combat the growing prevalence of obesity and being overweight in children, adolescents and adults.

The study, led by ICRISAT in partnership with the University of Reading showed that consuming millets reduced total cholesterol by 8%, lowering from high to normal levels in the people studied. There was nearly a 10% decrease in low and very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (commonly viewed as ‘bad cholesterol’) and triacylglycerol levels in blood. Through these reductions, the levels went from above normal to normal range. In addition, consuming millets decreased blood pressure with the diastolic blood pressure decreasing by 5%.

Dr. S Anitha, the study’s lead author and Senior Nutritionist at ICRISAT, said:

“We were very surprised how many studies on humans had already been undertaken on the impact of millets on elements that impact cardiovascular diseases, and this is the very first time anyone has collated all these studies and analyzed their data to test the significance of the impact. We used a meta-analysis, and results came out very strongly to show significant positive impact on risk factors for cardiovascular disease.”

Reducing BMI

The study also showed that consuming millets reduced BMI by 7% in people who were overweight and obese (from 28.5 ± 2.4 to 26.7 ± 1.8 kg/m2), showing the possibility of returning to a normal BMI (<25 kg/m2). All results are based on consumption of 50 to 200 g of millets per day for a duration ranging from 21 days to four months.

These findings are influenced by comparisons that show that millets are much higher in unsaturated fatty acids, with 2 to 10 times higher levels than refined wheat and milled rice as well as being much higher than whole grain wheat.

Professor Ian Givens, a co-author of the study and Director at University of Reading’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH) said:

This latest review further emphasizes the potential of millets as a staple crop that has many health benefits. It strengthens the evidence that eating millet can contribute to better cardiovascular health by reducing unhealthy cholesterol levels and increasing the levels of whole grains and unsaturated fats in the diet.

This latest review further emphasizes the potential of millets as a staple crop

Professor Ian Givens, University of Reading

Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT said:

Obesity and being overweight are increasing globally in both wealthy and poorer countries, so the need for solutions based on healthier diets is critical.  This new information on the health benefits of millets further supports the need to invest more in the grain, including its whole value chain from better varieties for farmers through to agribusiness developments.” 

The study identified a number of priority future research areas including the need to study all different types of millets, understand any differences by variety alongside the different types of cooking and processing of millets and their impact on cardiovascular health. Given the positive indicators to date, more detailed analysis on the impact of millets on weight management is also recommended. All relevant parameters are also recommended to be assessed to gain a deeper understanding of the impacts millets consumption on hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease.

This study is part of a special edition and theme section in the Frontiers journal – Smart Food for Healthy, Sustainable and Resilient Food System. This study is also part of a series that has been worked on for the last four years under the Smart Food initiative and will be progressively released in 2021, including systematic reviews on the impacts of millets on:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Calcium deficiencies and requirements

As part of this, ICRISAT and the Institute for Food Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading are partnering to research and promote the Smart Food vision that our diets become healthier, more sustainable on the environment and good for those who produce it.

Full citation;

Anitha S, Botha R, Kane-Potaka J, Givens DI, Rajendran A, Tsusaka TW and Bhandari RK (2021) Can Millet Consumption Help Manage Hyperlipidemia and Obesity?: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front. Nutr. 8:700778. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2021.700778