Many people often make the mistake of thinking that the gluten free diet is also grain-free. In reality, there are a number of delicious and nutritious gluten free grains that are safe for people who have celiac disease and gluten sensitivities. Millet is an excellent example of a healthy, gluten free grain that you should consider adding to your diet.
Though you may not be familiar with millet outside the context of bird seed, it is loaded with healthy nutrients and it is surprisingly easy to prepare in a variety of different foods. Keep reading to learn all about the health benefits of this ancient grain and to receive some tips for preparing it.
What is Millet, Anyway?
A staple in many diets around the world, millet grew wild in Africa for centuries before being cultivated by man. In addition to being nutrient-rich, it grows well in cold, arid regions and can be harvested within 70 days of planting. While it has been primarily cultivated in Africa, Asia, and Europe, it is becoming more popular in the Western world.
Millet is frequently described as an ancient grain, though it is technically a seed. There is no official definition for the term “ancient grain,” but the Whole Grains Council includes in this category grains that have remained largely unchanged over the past several centuries. Quinoa, chia seed, and buckwheat are all considered ancient grains while modern varieties of wheat are not.
Though technically a seed, millet offers similar health benefits to other grains and can be prepared in many of the same ways. It looks like little yellow pellets of bird seed (which is, in fact, one of the ways it is used) but it cooks up into a tender grain that has a mild corn flavor. It is both nutrient-rich and offers numerous heart-protective properties in addition to other benefits. Plus, it is something unique that can help add some flavor variety to your gluten free diet.
What Are the Health Benefits of Millet?
A cup of cooked millet contains about 207 calories with over 6 grams of protein, 2 grams of dietary fiber, and less than 2 grams of fat. It is rich in minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium as well as essential vitamins like folate, pantothenic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and Vitamins B6, C, E, and K.
Many of the most powerful health benefits millet has to offer are related to its fiber content. For example, the high fiber levels found in millet may help reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol while boosting high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. In addition to improving cholesterol levels, the fiber content of millet supports heart health by reducing blood pressure and, in doing so, reduces your risk for heart attack and stroke.
Here is an overview of some of the other health benefits millet has to offer:
- With 9 grams of fiber per 100-gram serving, millet supports healthy and regular digestion. It may also help resolve issues like diarrhea and supports healthy gut flora to prevent peptic ulcers and reduce your risk of colon cancer.
- Millet is rich in catechins such as quercetin which boost liver and kidney function. These organs are essential for the detoxification of the body.
- The magnesium content of millet provides a variety of benefits including improving insulin sensitivity to help prevent type 2 diabetes.
- Millet contains numerous antioxidants including selenium, quercetin, and pantothenic acid which protect the body against free-radical damage and oxidative stress, helping to prevent many chronic diseases.
- Rich in iron as well as folate and folic acid, millet helps prevent anemia by supporting the formation of red blood cells and maintaining adequate hemoglobin levels.
- The phosphorus content of millet supports the formation of cells, tissues, and bones, helping the body repair itself – phosphorus is also a key component in nervous system structures.
- With plenty of insoluble fiber, millet prevents the formation of gallstones by reducing intestinal transit time – it also reduces bile acid secretion which is known to contribute to gallstone formation.
If you want to enjoy the health benefits of millet, it is easy to incorporate this ancient grain into your diet. It can be steamed like rice, cooked into a risotto, tossed with veggies in a salad, or simply seasoned and served on its own.
Tips for Cooking Millet
Millet cooks up into small, tender grains, so it works well in many different recipes or as a stand-alone side dish. The thing to remember when cooking millet is that the tiny yellow beads are very quick-cooking because they are so small, so you need to pay special attention when preparing this grain to avoid overcooking it. Here is a simple recipe for preparing fluffy, whole-grain millet that’s ready-to-eat:
- 1 cup uncooked millet
- 2 cups vegetable broth (or water)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Heat the uncooked millet in a large, dry saucepan over medium heat and toast for 4 to 5 minutes until it turns a golden-brown color.
- Stir in the vegetable broth and salt then bring the liquid to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat to low and stir in the butter then cover the saucepan.
- Simmer until the millet grains absorb most of the liquid, about 15 minutes – avoid over-stirring or lifting the lid too often.
- Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes until the rest of the liquid is absorbed.
- Fluff the millet with a fork and adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve hot.
Wondering how else you can use millet in gluten free cooking? Try tossing some cooled millet with fresh herbs and diced vegetables for a tasty summer salad. Or, for a heartier meal option, make your own millet veggie burgers with cooked millet (using the instructions above) and your favorite veggies, then serve on toasted Schär Gluten Free Hamburger Buns. Here’s a quick and easy recipe:
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2 small zucchini, diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- 2 cups cooked millet
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- Pinch cayenne (optional)
- 1 ½ cups gluten free flour
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes until it starts to soften then stir in the garlic.
- Cook for 1 minute until fragrant then stir in the zucchini and carrots.
- Sauté for 5 to 6 minutes until the veggies are tender then stir in the cooked millet and remove from heat.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste then stir in the remaining seasonings.
- Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and work in the gluten free flour by hand until it is well combined.
- Use a ½ cup measure to scoop the millet mixture onto the prepared baking sheet in 8 mounds.
- Shape the mounds into patties then bake for 15 minutes.
- Flip the burger patties and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes until cooked through and browned.
- Serve the burgers on your favorite Schär Gluten Free Bread Rolls with your burger toppings of choice.