Diabetes is a condition where the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t efficiently use insulin.
As a result, the body can’t properly process foods for energy. This can increase your blood glucose level, or blood sugar, and lead to dangerous complications if left untreated.
Since diabetes affects blood sugar, there’s a belief that people with diabetes can’t eat sugar or carbohydrates like millet.
But while it’s true that people living with diabetes may have to be more aware of their carb intake to manage their blood sugar, good carbohydrates (particularly complex carbs) can also help manage diabetes symptoms.
Millet, and other whole grain carbohydrates, are loaded with fiber, minerals, and vitamins. They should be included in your diet if you have diabetes.
Here’s a look at why millet is good for people with diabetes, as well as tips for eating healthy with this condition.
Can I eat millet?
The short answer is yes.
Millet is a group of small-seeded grains resembling small pearls. In the United States, some people haven’t heard of millet, yet it’s a staple in many parts of the world. It’s commonly included in Indian and African dishes.
The different types of millet include:
- jowar kodo
Millet is a whole grain. It’s considered a “good” carb, so it’s easily digestible. And since it’s also gluten-free, it’s a great alternative for people living with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Additionally, millet has a high nutritional value.
A cup of millet has about:
- 6.11 grams of protein
- 2.26 grams of fiber
- 76.6 milligrams of magnesium
- 108 milligrams of potassium
Although anyone can reap the nutritional benefits of eating millet, it’s been shown to be especially beneficial for diabetes management, making it one of the better whole grains for managing blood sugar.
Millet is a good choice for diabetes due to its high fiber content. Fiber helps slow digestion. As a result, sugar enters the bloodstream slowly, lessening the risk of a blood sugar spike.
Benefits of millet for diabetes
Research supports the idea that millet is good for diabetes management. In one study, 300 participants with type 2 diabetes were evaluated after eating foxtail millet for 90 days. The study evaluated millet’s effect on:
- glycemic control
- fasting plasma
- triglyceride levels
After the 90 days, researchers found that millet lowered the group’s hemoglobin A1c level by 19.14 percent. A1C is a measurement of your average blood sugar level over 3 months.
Fasting glucose was lowered by 13.5 percent, cholesterol by 13.25 percent, and triglycerides by 13.51 percent.
These results have led researchers to believe that an intake of millet could have a positive effect on glycemic control and improve cardiovascular risk factors.
What’s the glycemic index?
People living with diabetes also need to be familiar with the glycemic index (GI) and know the GI value of the foods they eat.
The glycemic index ranks carbohydrates by how fast they increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a lower GI value are slowly digested and raise blood sugar at a slower pace.
On the other hand, foods with a higher GI value digest faster and can thus quickly raise blood sugar.
The GI scale is from 0 to 100. One benefit of millet is that many types have a low to medium GI value, so you can eat them more often without affecting blood sugar too much.
Keep in mind, though, that the GI value of millet varies depending on the type. For this reason, some types of millet are better than others if you have diabetes.
Foxtail, little, finger, and pearl millet have a GI value ranging from 54 to 68. Jowar millet, however, has a GI value of 70. It shouldn’t be eaten as often as the others.
It’s also important to know where other whole grains fall on the GI scale, since you’ll likely incorporate these foods into your diet, too. Whole grains with a low GI (55 or less) include:
- oat bran
- all-bran cereal
- sourdough bread
- whole grain tortilla
Whole grains with a medium GI (56 to 69) include:
- flaxseed bread
- whole wheat or white pita bread
- rye bread
- basmati rice
- brown rice
- rice noodles
- white rice
Whole grains with a high GI (70 or more) include:
- jasmine rice
- instant white rice
- rice cakes naan
- white or whole wheat bread
Healthy eating tips for diabetes
The key to blood sugar management is eating a healthy diet. This doesn’t only apply to people living with diabetes, but to everyone.
The goal of diabetes management is to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level, as well as manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight. Taking these measures can help prevent diabetes complications, such as:
- cardiovascular disease
- nerve damage
- kidney disease
- eye issues
- skin problems
It’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet of:
- whole grains
- low-fat dairy
Foods to incorporate into your weekly menu can include:
- leafy greens
- green beans
- carrots corn
- whole grains (pasta, rice, bread)
- lean meats (chicken, turkey) eggs
- fish (salmon, tuna)
- dried beans
- nuts and peanuts
- low-fat dairy (cheese, yogurt)
Other tips for healthy living
When using oil to prepare meals, choose heart-healthy fats, such as:
- canola oil
- olive oil
- avocado oil
Also, watch your portion sizes. Serve meals on smaller plates, and rather than eat three heavy meals a day, eat five to six smaller meals.
Keep a close eye on your sugar and sodium intake, too. Experiment cooking with more herbs and less salt. Limit beverages with added sugar. Drink more water, and use sugar substitutes when possible.
Along with a healthy diet, incorporate physical activity into your day, at least 30 minutes for heart health and to maintain your weight. Go for a walk, ride your bike, or get a gym membership.
Healthy millet recipes
If you’ve never prepared millet, here are a few simple, healthy recipes to add variety to your plate:
- millet pancake with lentil puree
- millet stuffed chicken breasts
- foxtail millet porridge
When to talk with a pro
Some people living with diabetes can effectively manage their blood sugar with diet, exercise, and medication.
But if you continue to experience blood sugar spikes, talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication. Request a referral to see a diabetes dietitian or a diabetes educator.
This is especially important if you don’t know what foods to eat and what foods to avoid. These professionals can help create a diabetes-friendly meal plan that allows you to better manage your blood sugar — all while reducing your risk for heart-related complications.
The bottom line
Whether you’re newly diagnosed with diabetes or you’ve been living with the condition for years, eating the right foods can be challenging at times. One thing to remember is that good carbohydrates play an important role in a healthy, balanced diet.
So, if you haven’t already, explore recipes that incorporate millet, and make this whole grain a regular addition to your weekly menu.
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