Ragi or finger millet (Eleusine coracana), a cereal native to the Ethiopian highlands, has been grown in India, Africa and parts of South Asia for thousands of years. Known by various names across the country, such as Kelvaragu in Tamil, Nachni in Marathi and Konkani, and Koovaraku in Malayalam, ragi has been part of the Indian food tradition for a long time, yet looked down upon as an inferior cereal to wheat or rice. However, recent research shows that ragi is a powerhouse of nutrients like minerals, dietary fibre and essential amino acids, which are found in very few other starchy cereals. Ragi is also a crop that can sustain severe drought conditions, can be grown throughout the year, and thrives upto an elevation of 2000m, making it extremely sustainable. Versatile in its uses as grain, ragi malt or ragi flour, and a part of many delicious dishes, here are the various reasons ragi should belong to your daily diet.
Benefits of Ragi
1. Great source of calcium – The National Institute of Nutrition, India has determined that 100 grams of ragi contains 344 mg of calcium, which is higher than any other cereal. This makes it a great source of the nutrient for people who are lactose intolerant or do not consume milk and dairy products.
2. Good source of plant-based protein – Ragi contains 13g of protein per 100g, which makes it a good source of the macronutrient for vegetarians and vegans. Amino acids are synthesised from the protein in your diet. Ragi or finger millet contains six of the nine essential amino acids: isoleucine, tryptophan leucine, methionine, lysine and phenylalanine, which are absent in other starchy plant-based foods, as seen in a study published in Cereal Chemistry in 2019. Your body needs phenylalanine for the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, leucine for muscle repair, and isoleucine for haemoglobin production. Tryptophan acts as an excellent natural relaxant and helps to fight anxiety, insomnia and depression. Lysine is important for the production of collagen and elastin, the two substances that keep your skin looking young and supple.
3. Rich in antioxidants – Research from Ishwar Patel, published in Journal of Dairy Science and Technology (2018) shows that ragi is a rich source of polyphenols like tannins, which show antioxidant and antimicrobial properties. These antioxidants may reduce the risk of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, and are believed to slow down the negative effects of ageing.
4. High in minerals like iron, potassium and phosphorous – Iron, potassium and phosphorous are all important micronutrients that your body needs for various biological functions, such as haemoglobin production, heart function and maintenance of bones and teeth. Ragi is rich in all these nutrients, and should be a part of your diet to avoid these deficiencies.
5. Good source of vitamins A and B – Although research on it is sparse, ragi or finger millet is believed to be a good source of B vitamins, and carotene and β-carotene, which are converted by your body to Vitamin A. You need Vitamin A in your diet for good vision, and Vitamin B for brain function and cell metabolism.
6. Diabetes friendly – According to a paper published in Vol 5 of Journal of Dairy Science and Technology, ragi is recommended for diebetic patients because of its low glycemic index (GI). Low-GI foods contain carbohydrates that take longer to break down by the body, thus raising the blood sugar levels in a gradual manner.
7. Gluten-free – Gluten-free foods have become popular in recent years because they are believed to be healthy. Harvard Health Publishing says that while there is no solid proof of this protein compound being particularly harmful for your health, those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can benefit from going without it. Ragi, being a gluten-free grain, can be a good substitute for cereals like white rice.
Ways to Eat Ragi
1. Ragi porridge: Soak ragi in water for a few hours. To this, add ghee, jaggery and milk, and stir over a low flame until it boils.
2. Grind ragi to make ragi flour, which you can use to make sweet ragi dosa (with ragi flour, jaggery, dry coconut, cardamom and walnuts).
3. Use ragi flour instead of refined flour to make some delicious and healthy desserts like dark chocolate brownies and chocolate chip cookies.
4. Ragi Uppittu (Upma): Soak 1 cup of ragi in water, then dry roast it. On medium flame, add oil to a frying pan. Add cumin and mustard seeds, curry leaves, asafoetida, green chillies, ginger, groundnuts, 1 tbsp urad dal and 1 tbsp chana dal. Fry until the groundnuts start to brown. Add chopped onions and the ragi, stirring until the onions are translucent. Pour water and add salt, and bring it to a boil. Serve hot, garnished with coriander.
Things to Keep in Mind
- Overconsumption of ragi can cause digestive issues like bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
- People with thyroid issues should avoid ragi, as it contains goitrogenic compounds that are bad for hypothyroidism.
- Those with low appetite levels should consume less ragi because of its high fibre content, which suppresses hunger.
With inputs by Dr Lakshmi K, Ph.D Food Science & Nutrition, University of Georgia (USA), Head Nutritionist, URLife.