If you have diabetes and you're looking to transform your diet, your doctor or dietitian may recommend adding more whole grains. The first ones that come to mind — rice, quinoa, oats, wheat and others — are the typical choices. But there's another one that could be interesting to try: millet.
Read more: 10 Myths About Grains — Totally Busted
What Is Millet?
"Millet is a cereal grain and carries a similar nutrient profile to other cereal grains, meaning they're naturally a quality source of B vitamins," says Eugene Arnold, RD, CDE, a clinical dietitian specialist and diabetes educator at the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Diabetes Center in Baltimore. "In its natural form, millet is a high-fiber, low-calorie and nutrient-dense food."
Its origin is in parts of Asia, Africa and India — which is where it gets its name, Indian Millet — but it's found in supermarkets across the country. It contains B vitamins, but cooked millet also has calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc, according to the USDA.
Adding millet into your diet could be beneficial, Arnold says, especially if you're diabetic. "A diet comprised of mostly whole, minimally processed foods is a great starting point when it comes to eating for diabetes, or general health!" he says.
Millet and Blood Sugar
Sugar raises the blood glucose level, and foods with a higher sugar content include fruits, candy and even milk. Millet is considered a starch, and thus will break down into sugar during digestion, Arnold says.
So, "like any food that contains carbohydrates, it does have the potential to raise blood sugar, depending on how much is eaten at one time," says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, a diabetes educator in Manhattan Beach, California, and creator of the "For the Love of Diabetes" online program.
The key, then, is to limit the amount eaten in order to control the amount of sugar the body makes from it through the digestion process. Zanini recommends starting with a half-cup of cooked millet, which has about 20 grams of carbs.
Is Millet OK for Diabetes?
If the portion is adequate and it's paired with other healthy foods, millet can be a good food choice for people with diabetes.
A study published in October 2018 in Nutrients found that eating 50 grams (or 1/4 cup) of foxtail millet a day "significantly improved the glycemic control" of those with impaired glucose tolerance (which means blood sugar levels go beyond normal but not to diabetic levels). The researchers note that millet might be helpful to people with type 2 diabetes.
Fiber is another nutrient number watched by people with diabetes, and millet is a good source of it, according to Arnold. "From a diabetes perspective, a high-fiber diet slows the digestive process," he says.
"High-fiber, slower-digesting foods typically produce a slower and more predictable rise in glucose. On the converse, a high-carbohydrate, low-fiber meal is likely to lead to a sharp spike in blood glucose, and potentially a rapid fall in glucose in the hours after the meal."
Other high-fiber foods include bananas, broccoli, lentils and avocados, says USDA.
How to Eat Millet
"Millet has a slightly nutty flavor, although it's typically not consumed on its own," Arnold says. "Millet is prepared in the same way one would prepare rice, in boiling or hot water. For starters, try replacing it for rice for a fiber packed meal." Arnold suggests even adding millet into recipes for veggie burgers or salad toppings.
Because it does contain carbohydrates, Zanini suggests adding it to a meal of "non-starchy vegetables, proteins and fats to create a balanced plate" within a main meal. However, it can also be added to a salad or easily mixed with fresh vegetables and herbs, she says.
Is This an Emergency?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Millet, Cooked”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: “White Rice”
- Nutrients: “The Glucose-Lowering Effect of Foxtail Millet in Subjects With Impaired Glucose Tolerance: A Self-Controlled Clinical Trial”
- Eugene Arnold, MS, RD, CDE, clinical dietitian specialist, diabetes educator, Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Diabetes Center, Baltimore
- Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, dietician, creator of "For the Love of Diabetes," Manhattan Beach, California
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool"