Most of you must have heard of Ragi.
Until recently, Ragi was never an important grain that we would consider to include in our regular diet. The staus Ragi had as a grain was not on par with rice or wheat. Some part of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Telengana were exceptions though. For the villegers in these regions, Ragi based staple meals are important and unavoidable.
Of late however, with the exponential rise of lifestyle related diseases, the health benefits of Ragi are discussed at households and the usage therefore of this grain is on the rise in general.
Most of us assume that Ragi is a native grain. But the fact is that Ragi has its origins in East Africa. It is reported to have come into India around 2000 BC. Today, Eastern and Southern Africa, India and Nepal are the countries were Ragi is found and cultivated mostly.
Ragi is part of India’s food tradition and is known by many names in the different regions and states of India. It is Finger Millet in English, Ragi in Hindi, Kezhvaragu in Tamil, Nachni in Maharashtra and Konkan, Koovaragu in Malayalam and so on.
Did you also know that in 2018, the Government of India has renamed millets as Nutri-cereals? Jowar, Bajra and Ragi were earlier called ‘Coarse Cereals’ and other millets, ‘Minor Cereals’. This intelligent move was focused toward clarifying a perception that millets are a poor man’s food and are inferior to rice and wheat. This new definition helps to boost the demand for millets as well as helps farmers to get a better price for them.
There are a large number of advantages and health benefits of ragi that are compelling enough to have it in our everyday diet. Here we will look at 12 top reasons why ragi should be one of the most prefered grains to consume regularly.
Finger millet aka Ragi is one of the most nutritious cereals. It has high dietary fiber (15–20%). Apart from this, Ragi also has 5–8% protein, 65–75% carbohydrates and 2.5 -3.5% minerals in it making it indisputably nutritious.
Health benefits of Ragi are endless. Ragi is extremely rich in calcium (344 mg%) and therefore it is one of the best non-dairy sources of calcium. In fact, ragi has three times more calcium than milk. So, it is also a good option for people who dislike milk, allergic to milk or are vegans.
Ragi is highly recommended for women who have crossed their middle age. Our bones start to lose its density after 40s resulting in a condition called Osteoporosis. Regular consumption of Ragi ensures that body gets the needed calcium and this keeps our bones healthy and brittle free.
We have all heard that bananas are a great source of potassium. But do you know that potassium levels in Ragi are higher than that in bananas? In 100 grams of Ragi, there is 408mg ppotassium and this makes Ragi one of the grains that has the highest levels of pottasium in it.
Health benefits of Ragi includes the rich antioxidents it has. The high antioxidant levels of Ragi are attributed to the high content of phenols and presence of a range of flavonoids in it.
This is another important aspect of the health benefits of Ragi. Ragi is rich in amino acids like tryptophan which is required for the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which help relax the body. Many women undergo depression many times in life due to the bodly and hormonal changes. This wonder millet helps in combating depression.
If that is not enough, Ragi is also a great food to keep your skin healthy and young. Vital amino acids like Methionine and Lysine present in it, make the skin tissues less prone to wrinkles and losing strength. The qualities in Ragi is helpful in reversal of skin ageing.
Gluten, arguably is seen as a big problem maker in people’s health. Though scientific fraternity is devided in calling gluten bad for everyone, some of the recent studies points that gluten can be the key reason for autoimmune deseases in people.
Ragi is a gluten free grain and thus is safe for people suffering from gluten allergy and celiac disease.
Ragi has very little cerial fat in It and is non-acid forming. Similarly, it is high in dietry fibre. All of these makes Ragi an easily digestable grain. No wonder Ragi is given as the first solid meal for the babies.
Ragi is a recommeded food for diabetic patients. The low glycemic index of ragi is a boon for diabetics as it releases sugar in a gradual manner.
Ragi, with its high fiber content, helps keep the stomach full for a longer time and thus prevents unwanted food cravings. This in turn leads to a lower appetite and therefore, could help with weight loss. So including Ragi in daily diet is a wise move.
Ragi is an excellent source of natural iron. So it is a boon for anemic patients and also for those with low haemoglobin levels. Consuming Ragi regularly can boost haemoglobin levels. These may be the hidden reasons why ragi has been a traditional food of choice for pregnant women, lactating mothers and a weaning porridge for babies. In many cultures, the first grain based food given to babies is Ragi porridge. It’s easy to digest and ensures to provide all the nutriesnts babies would need.
Ragi has high levels of protien. 100 grams of Ragi has close to 3.5 grams of proptien. This is a very high proportion of protien when compared with other foods. Normally most of the protien comes from animal based foods such as meat, fish and diary products. Considering that there is a growing population of vegans and vegetarians across the world, Ragi, being a plat based food is a wonderful food source for their protien needs.
With Climate Change already showing its effects, Ragi is a climate resilient crop that is extremely drought tolerant. That’s not all, Ragi cultivation requires far less water than rice thus making it an ecologically sustainable source of food. This low maintenance quality of Ragi makes it a crop of choice for farmers, especially when the demand for the grain increases in the market.
Having seen these wonderful health benefits of ragi, some of you might now be keen to explore including ragi among your choices of foods. As we are generally not very used to cooking with ragi, there would also be concerns around what to make with Ragi. There are many interesting ragi recepes we can try at home.
I am glad to share with you a zero oil/steamed breakfast recipe using ragi flour - Ragi puttu. Puttu is a traditional Kerala delicacy, generally made with rice. Puttu commonly is eaten with green gram or channa dal curry.
An interesting study conducted around foods related to its of the glycemic response, puttu was found to be the lowest compared to other traditional Kerala breakfast recipes like Idiappam, Aapam and Tapioca. Couple that with low GI of ragi itself. And you have a healthy double bonus. Here is an easy Ragi Puttu Recipe you can easily try at home.
Sujata Lakshmanan has been an educator in Biology & Environmental sciences since the last 20 years. Her passion for cooking has inspired her to launch a YouTube channel called Munch & Mull, which raises pertinent questions related to health, lifestyle & our environment through healthy vegetarian recipes.