Ragi, also known as finger millet or Eleusine coracana, is a nutrient-dense, versatile grain that grows especially well in dry, hot climates and high altitudes.
For thousands of years, it has been a primary source of nutrition for millions of people around the world (1).
Today, people living with diabetes may wonder how certain foods like grains and cereals affect their blood sugar levels.
This article explains what ragi is and how to include it in your diet if you have diabetes.
Although all types of millet are nutritious, ragi has some particular qualities that set it apart (2).
For example, it contains more calcium and potassium than other millet varieties and most other grains and cereals (3).
For this reason, it has been proposed that it could help fight calcium deficiency and prevent calcium-related conditions like osteoporosis — a weakening of the bones — in certain parts of the world (4, 5).
In addition, given that ragi is nutrient-dense, has a long shelf life, and is drought-tolerant, researchers are investigating how it may fight food insecurity and protect certain communities during times of climate instability (6, 7, 8, 9).
Although the benefits of ragi don’t stop there. This millet variety may contain prebiotics. Plus, emerging evidence shows that fermenting millet might increase its nutritional value even further.
One study found that fermented millet-based food products had significantly higher protein concentrations than those of plain millet flour (10).
Another study found that finger millet flour fermented for 16–24 hours had a lower starch content and higher essential amino acid concentration (11).
Additionally, the fermentation process might reduce concentrations of phytic acid. Phytic acid inhibits the absorption of minerals and trace elements, so reducing levels of this compound may improve the absorption of the minerals in ragi (12, 13, 14).
Like many types of millet, ragi is a nutritious grain that grows well in drought-like conditions. It’s associated with various health benefits, such as helping prevent calcium deficiency, and it shows potential as a quality source of prebiotics.
Ragi and diabetes
Diabetes is a disease that affects more than 422 million people worldwide. It’s associated with complications like infections, blindness, kidney disease, heart disease, and stroke (15).
Diabetes occurs when a person’s blood sugar levels regularly stay above healthy limits, usually when the body stops producing or utilizing insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body move sugar from the blood into cells for energy (16).
Carbohydrate-rich foods can significantly impact blood sugar levels. Therefore, you might wonder how grains like ragi will affect your blood sugar levels (17).
Research shows that ragi and other millet varieties are a fine choice for people living with diabetes, as it’s higher in fiber, minerals, and amino acids than white rice. Plus, emerging research shows it may improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels (3).
That said, more randomized human trials are needed to confirm these benefits.
Emerging research shows that ragi may reduce oxidative stress and inflammation (18, 19).
Inflammation is an immune response in which your body continuously fights infection. Oxidative stress refers to when your body is not properly balancing levels of molecules called free radicals and antioxidants.
Each of these bodily responses is normal, but when your body stays in these states for too long, it could increase your risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (20, 21).
A 4-week study in rats with diabetes found that eating millet sped wound healing, improved antioxidant status, and controlled blood glucose levels, indicating that this grain may have potent health properties (22).
However, more controlled studies are needed to confirm these benefits in humans.
Blood sugar levels
Some research on ragi suggests that the polyphenols in this type of millet might help prevent and treat diabetes, as well as some of its complications (2).
Polyphenols are micronutrients found in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains. They’re believed to have a number of potential health benefits, including aiding the treatment of diabetes due to their high antioxidant concentration.
However, much of the research on the beneficial properties of the polyphenols in ragi has come from animal or test-tube studies.
A study in rats with diabetes found that eating a diet containing 20% finger millet seeds for 6 weeks reduced the excretion of albumin and creatinine into the urine. Further studies are needed to confirm whether similar benefits would be observed in humans (23).
Albumin is a main protein in human blood, while creatinine is a byproduct of protein digestion. Elevated levels of protein in the urine or creatinine in the blood suggest complications of diabetes.
According to some research, thanks to its higher fiber content, ragi may affect blood sugar levels to a lesser extent than other refined grains. Consuming higher amounts of dietary fiber helps stabilize blood sugar levels and might even help prevent diabetes (2, 24).
Research suggests that including ragi in the diets of people with diabetes may provide benefits, including helping stabilize blood sugar levels and reducing inflammation. However, more studies are needed.
How to eat ragi
Ragi can be consumed in a variety of forms.
Since gaining popularity, it can now be found in everything from ice cream to pasta to bakery products (3, 25).
One of the easiest ways to add it to your diet is to simply prepare whole finger millet by soaking and then boiling it or using it to make porridge.
In addition, this type of millet is commonly used in the form of flour.
That said, additional research is needed to compare how different forms of ragi affect people with diabetes.
Ragi can be consumed whole, as ground flour, or in a variety of other forms. As with all carb sources, the portion size should be regulated among those with diabetes.
The bottom line
Many types of millet, including ragi, are beneficial for people with diabetes due to their nutrient density and higher fiber content (26, 27, 28).
People with diabetes can consume ragi safely, and the grain might help stabilize their blood sugar levels. Plus, it may even help relieve the inflammation and oxidative stress that sometimes accompanies diabetes.
Ragi can be consumed in a variety of forms, including whole, as a flour, or as an additive in other products. However, more research is needed to determine which form is best for people with diabetes.
If you want to give ragi a try, you can purchase it — particularly in the form of flour — in specialty stores and online.
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