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Millet for Diabetes: How It Affects Blood Sugar

Medically Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on April 22, 2020

Could one humble grain help you control your diabetes?

Millet, an ancient cereal grain, has gained popularity for its high nutritional content and its potential to prevent diseases. Millet has become such an "it" food that it's earned the nickname, "the new quinoa."

Millet is actually a group of grasses with small seeds grown mainly in Asia and Africa. It's been around for thousands of years. Millet has a hearty nature, which helps it survive in dry climates.

Compared to other cereal grains like wheat, rice, and corn, millet has loads of nutrition. It's high in:

It's also gluten-free.

Millet is lower on the glycemic index (GI) than many other grains. That means it raises your blood sugar slowly and gradually instead of in quick spikes. High-fiber, low-GI foods keep blood sugar steady, lower cholesterol, and help you lose weight. All of these things are helpful for people with diabetes.

How Millet Affects Blood Sugar

Millet is a whole grain. That means it still has its outer layers, the bran and germ. Food companies strip away these layers to make refined grains like white flour. Because it takes your body longer to digest whole grains, they don't raise your blood sugar as quickly as refined grains do.

There are different types of millet, including:

  • Foxtail
  • Pearl
  • Finger
  • Little

There isn't much research on millet. So far, studies show that millet helps to keep blood sugar levels steady and prevents spikes after meals.

Most of the studies done examined the foxtail variety. In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who ate a special diet with added foxtail millet lowered their blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Another study found that switching from rice to foxtail millet at breakfast led to lower blood sugar levels after the meal.

Evidence on the other types of millet isn't as clear. As a result, scientists don't know how this type of millet might affect people. Although the evidence isn't firm on all types of millet, it does suggest that this grain does raise blood sugar more slowly and steadily than white-grain products. So in theory, you may be able to control your blood sugar better if you eat millet-based foods instead of white bread, pasta, and rice.

How to Cook With Millet

Look for millet at your local natural foods store. You'll find it on the shelf along with quinoa and other whole grains. You can buy it online, as well.

Millet has a mild, nutty flavor that makes it a versatile addition to many types of meals. To cook it, first toast it in a pan for about 3 minutes with a little bit of vegetable oil. Then add 2 1/2 cups of boiling water for each cup of millet and cook it for 25 to 30 minutes until the grains fluff up.

There are different ways you can put millet into your meals. You can:

  • Make it into a porridge for breakfast.
  • Substitute millet flour instead of white or wheat flour in baked goods like bread, cake, or biscuits, or in pancake mix.
  • Use it to replace grains like rice, quinoa, or bulgur in recipes.
  • Make it into a stuffing for peppers and other vegetables.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Frontiers in Plant Science: "Dietary interventions for type 2 diabetes: How millet comes to help."

Harvard Medical School: "Glycemic index for 60+ foods."

International Journal of Pure & Applied Bioscience: "Millets in diabetes - Emic views."

Journal of Food and Nutritional Disorders: "Millet intake and risk factors of type 2 diabetes: A systematic review."

Michigan State University: "Southwest Millet Bake."

NPR: "Millet: How a Trendy Ancient Grain Turned Nomads Into Farmers."

Nutrients: "The glucose-lowering effect of foxtail millet in subjects with impaired glucose tolerance: A self-controlled clinical trial."

Recent Research in Science and Technology: "Efficacy of value added foxtail millet therapeutic food in the management of diabetes and dyslipidamea in type 2 diabetic patients."

The British Journal of Nutrition: "Amelioration of hyperglycaemia and its associated complications by finger millet (Eleusene coracana L.) seed coat matter in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats."

The Indian Journal of Medical Research: "Postprandial glycaemic response of foxtail millet dosa in comparison to a rice dosa in patients with type 2 diabetes."

Whole Grains Council: "Millet and Teff -- November Grains of the Month."

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