Health Benefits of Millet

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on September 14, 2023
4 min read

Millet is one of the oldest cultivated grains in the world and has been grown throughout Africa and Southeast Asia for thousands of years. Today, it's one of the most important cereals around and is a staple crop for humans and animals. 

The small round grains are so important because they're hardy and easy to store for years without insect damage. 

Pearl, finger, proso, and sorghum varieties are available in the U.S., and they're all full of vitamins and minerals. 

Even though millet grains vary in size and color, they're all part of the grass family, which also includes wheat, rice, and barley. Millet also has two categories: large (major) and small (minor).

Large millets:

  • Pearl is the most common type of millet and is usually white, yellow, gray, or even purple. The grains are among the biggest at about 3-5 millimeters.
  • Sorghummillet has several shades, including white, yellow, and red, and they're usually about 4-6 millimeters. 
  • Finger (ragi) is almost always brown, and they're small, only 1-2 millimeters per grain.
  • Foxtail grains are about 2-3 millimeters long, and they can range from red and black to white or yellow.
  • Proso millet grains are about 3 millimeters long with lines running their lengths. They can be white, yellow, or brown. 

Small millets:

  • Little millet grains are about 2-3 millimeters long, and they come in shades of gray and white.
  • Barnyard millet also comes in shades of gray and white, and they're about 3 millimeters long.
  • Kodo grains vary from blackish to dark brown, and the grains are about 3-4 millimeters long.
  • Browntop grains are tan to white and about 4-5 millimeters in length.

Millet is rich in niacin, which is important for healthy skin and organ function. It also has beta-carotene, especially the dark-colored grains, which converts to vitamin A, helps your body fight free radicals, and supports your immune system.

Millet also has other health benefits: 

Controls blood sugar

Millets are low-glycemic index (GI) foods and can help keep your blood sugar from spiking after you eat. They contain carbs we don't digest that help control blood sugar, plus fiber, and non-starchy polysaccharides, so millets are a good whole grain, especially if you have type 2 diabetes.

Improves digestive health

Millets are rich in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. The insoluble fiber is a prebiotic, which means it supports good bacteria in your gut. The fiber also adds bulk to poop, helping keep you regular and reducing your risk of colon cancer. 

Protects your heart

Millets are full of soluble fiber, which trap fat in your gut and can lower the cholesterol level in your blood. That can help reduce your chances of atherosclerosis, or heart disease. Millets are good sources of magnesium, too, which may prevent heart failure.

Promotes anti-aging 

How your body metabolizes sugars is a major factor in how you age. Millets are full of tannins, phytates, and phenols that help protect your cells against damage and potential diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. 

Builds healthy cells

Finger millet is an excellent source of B vitamins, which play a role in everything from brain function to healthy cell division. You need vitamin B9, also known as folate, to produce healthy red blood cells.

Millet is rich in protein and calcium and has more essential amino acids than most other cereals. 

It’s also an excellent source of:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Antioxidants
  • Niacin
  • Iron

Nutrients per serving

A quarter-cup of dry millet contains:

  • Calories: 189
  • Protein: 5.5 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 36.5 grams
  • Fiber: 4.25 grams
  • Sugar: Less than 1 gram
  • Sodium: 2.5 milligrams

Portion sizes 

Like other grains, such as wheat or corn, millet isn't a low-calorie food, so eat it in moderation. A single serving of cooked millet is about 1 cup. Millet expands when cooked, so pay attention to how much you’re serving. 

You can buy millet in grocery stores, health food stores, and online. It’s sold dried, puffed, or ground as flour.

Dried millet can be cooked like couscous or quinoa. Millet flour is a good substitute for whole-wheat flour. You can eat puffed millet as a snack or use it instead of puffed rice cereal. 

To cook millet, combine 2 cups of water and 1 cup of millet in medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer with a lid on for about 15 minutes (or until the millet absorbs most of the water). Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes with the lid on until the millet absorbs any remaining liquid. 

Soak the grains in water for several hours before you cook them. This will help decrease some of the grains' phytic acid, which can make you less able to absorb some nutrients. For a nuttier flavor, toast the millet in the saucepan for a few minutes before you cook it. 

Try these ideas for adding millet to your diet:

  • Bake some bread with millet flour.
  • Try a millet and mushroom risotto.
  • Use millet as the filling for stuffed eggplant.
  • Mix millet flour in a batch of waffles.
  • Snack on puffed millet instead of popcorn.
  • Add toasted millet for crunch to your salad.
  • Make a millet curry or stew.