Millets are a group of grains belonging to the grass family Poaceae. People with diabetes can eat millets as part of a healthful, balanced diet.

Millets are an excellent source of fiber and contain a number of important nutrients. They score 52.7 on the glycemic index (GI), which is a medium value and lower than the value for maize, refined wheat flour, and rice.

This article outlines the nutritional content of millets and the different types available. It also covers some research into the potential health benefits of millets for diabetes.

a bowel of porridge made with millets that is safe for a person with diabetesShare on Pinterest

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce any insulin. In people with type 2 diabetes, the body either produces very little insulin or is less sensitive to its effects.

Diet plays an important role in the management of both types of diabetes.

Individuals with diabetes can eat millets as part of a healthful, balanced diet. A qualified dietitian can help a person develop a nutritious meal plan that incorporates millets.

The findings of one 2018 study suggest that foxtail millet may help control blood glucose.

The study involved 64 participants with impaired glucose tolerance. Each participant ate 50 grams (g) of foxtail millet per day baked into bread. The participants ate the bread alongside their usual diet for a period of 12 weeks.

After 6 weeks, the participants’ fasting blood glucose levels decreased by 5.7%, on average. In addition, there was a 9.9% decrease in the participants’ mean 2-hour (h) glucose levels. This number denotes a person’s blood glucose levels 2 hours after eating.

Fasting blood glucose levels and mean 2-h glucose levels remained low to the end of the 12-week study period.

The researchers suggest that the glucose-lowering effects of foxtail millet may be due to its composition, being high in protein and fiber.

It can also:

  • increase concentrations of the satiety hormone leptin
  • decrease insulin resistance
  • reduce inflammation

The researchers conclude that the consumption of foxtail millet may improve glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes. They also suggest that other whole grains could have similar effects.

Millets are small-grained cereals belonging to the grass family Poaceae.

There are several different types of millets, including:

  • pearl millet
  • finger millet
  • foxtail millet
  • little millet
  • sorghum, or great millet
  • kodo

A cup of cooked millet contains the following key nutrients:

  • 6.11 g of protein
  • 1.74 g of fat
  • 41.2 g of carbohydrate
  • 2.26 g of fiber
  • 207 kilocalories

Millets are also a good source of the following nutrients:

The GI is a measure of how quickly certain foods release glucose into the bloodstream.

In 2008, experts produced tables allowing people to compare the GI value of various foods, but work is ongoing to refine these tables.

The GI scale begins at 0 and goes up to 100, with 100 representing pure glucose. Foods with lower GI scores cause a slower rise in blood glucose levels.

The glycemic load (GL) takes into account how much glucose is available per serving of food.

Nutrition experts have differing views on the usefulness of these measures. Some are of the opinion that people should pay attention to both GI and GL scores.

Some experts believe there should be more awareness of GI values, but others say it is too variable and too complex to be useful. It can be hard to work out the GI value of millet, for example, when a person prepares it with other ingredients.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends monitoring the total carbohydrate content of foods as well as:

  • the type of carbohydrate, for example, whether it is whole-grain or not
  • portion sizes
  • other nutrients on the plate

A 2019 review concludes that a low GI diet may help people with diabetes and prediabetes manage their glucose levels and reduce body weight.

Such diet appears to help lower:

  • HbA1c levels
  • fasting glucose
  • body mass index
  • total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol

However, it does not seem to affect insulin levels, suggesting that reductions in glucose could be due to weight loss.

Millets are a good source of dietary fiber, which can help slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

A 2015 study found that ready-to-cook little millet flakes had a medium GI of 52.11 and a low GL of 9.24. Due to the nutritional content of the flakes, the study authors suggest that they may be beneficial in the management of metabolic conditions, such as diabetes.

Millets are indigestible in their raw state, so people will need to prepare and cook them before eating.

A person can use millets to make a range of different foods, including:

  • porridge
  • flatbreads
  • stuffing

They can use millet instead of oats in almost any recipe that calls for oats.

People can follow the links below for some healthful recipes that incorporate millets:

To cook millet as a whole grain, follow these steps:

  1. Toast about 1 cup of millet in a skillet for around 2 minutes.
  2. Add two cups of water or broth.
  3. Bring to a boil and simmer for 16 minutes.
  4. Leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  5. Fluff up with a fork before serving.

The ADA advises people to keep track of the amount and type of carbohydrates they eat.

When choosing a carbohydrate, a person should do the following:

  • Eat whole, minimally processed carbohydrate foods, including:
    • fruits, such as apples, strawberries, and blueberries
    • whole grains, such as oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa
    • starchy vegetables, such as corn, sweet potatoes, and plantains
    • beans and lentils
  • Limit the intake of foods that are highly processed, contain added sugar, or both. Examples to avoid include:
    • white bread, cookies, and cakes
    • snack foods, such as candies and chips
    • sodas and other sweetened drinks

Eat whole grains

A 2020 study reviewed the possible association between the consumption of whole grains and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

The researchers looked at data for 18,629 people with diabetes. The results showed that those who ate 1 or more servings of whole grains per day had a 29% lower rate of type 2 diabetes than the participants who ate less than 1 serving per month. The authors determined rates of diabetes according to symptoms and levels of blood glucose and HbA1C.

The authors note that consuming whole grains can:

  • reduce body fat
  • boost a person’s metabolic rate while resting
  • increase insulin sensitivity
  • reduce inflammation
  • improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels

In their conclusion, the authors recommend that people with type 2 diabetes include whole grains in their diet.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the amount of grain an adult needs per day can vary between 3 ounce (oz)- and 8 oz-equivalents, depending on age, sex, and level of physical activity.

It states that at least 50% of this amount should consist of whole grains. A single oz of whole grains is equivalent to one of the following:

  • 1 slice of whole grain bread
  • 1 cup of ready-to-eat whole grain cereal
  • half a cup of cooked brown rice or whole grain pasta

People with diabetes may benefit from adding millets to their diet. Millets, like other grains, are rich in fiber, contain important nutrients, and may help prevent blood glucose spikes.

Other steps that can help manage their diabetes include favoring whole foods over foods containing highly processed carbohydrates.

A qualified dietitian can help a person plan their diet.