7 benefits of eating bajra in winters; delicious ways to consume this millet | Health - Hindustan Times
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Ancient Wisdom Part 29: 7 benefits of consuming bajra in winters, ways to add the millet to your diet

By, New Delhi
Nov 24, 2023 09:43 AM IST

From lowering diabetes risk to digestive health, pearl millets or bajra is your ultimate winter superfood that can keep illnesses at bay.

Millets, the ancient grains, are back in the reckoning after decades of being forgotten, thanks to their amazing nutrient profile that can also potentially keep many chronic diseases at bay. In modern times, as the consumption of unhealthy foods high in carbs, sugar and fat are on rise, people are struggling to include good-quality protein, fibre and other essential micro-nutrients in their diet. Millets went from being a staple food to a redundant grain over the years as the production dipped and the food preferences shifted towards wheat, rice and western diet. While we prioritised taste buds over nourishing our bodies, millets that are rich in iron, protein, fibre, vitamins, magnesium and basically all the superior nutrients, were left ignored. One of such forgotten grains is pearl millet also known as Bajra, one of the oldest millets that is not only affordable, nutritious, but is also environment friendly and drought-resistant. (Also read | Ancient Wisdom Part 28: Why jaggery is the perfect winter superfood; best ways to consume it)

Pearl millets are the ultimate superfoods for your gut health too as they not only relieve constipation with their high fibre content but can also help treat diarrhoea due to presence of lactic acid bacteria, which acts as a probiotic.
Pearl millets are the ultimate superfoods for your gut health too as they not only relieve constipation with their high fibre content but can also help treat diarrhoea due to presence of lactic acid bacteria, which acts as a probiotic.

Pearl millets grown in tropical semi-arid regions of Asia and Africa are rightly touted as poor people's food due to their affordability and high productivity. Bajra like many other millets is gluten-friendly which can easily be consumed by people with celiac disease. Diets rich in plant foods provide protection from cancer, cardiovascular ailments, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and Parkinson's disease. With high iron and zinc content, bajra can help with anaemia. American Diabetes Association found lower diabetes incidence in millet consuming populations which is another reason for you to embrace this crop. Studies have also demonstrated how pearl millet can prevent cancer and also help in bone repair and development. Pearl millets are the ultimate superfoods for your gut health too as they not only relieve constipation with their high fibre content but can also help treat diarrhoea due to presence of lactic acid bacteria, which acts as a probiotic.

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2023 has been declared as the International Year of Millets at the behest of Indian government and most recently India organised a 5-day millet festival in Indonesia to popularise the grain and create a market for it there.

"Pearl Millet (Pennisetumglaucum) also known as Bajra is one of the oldest millets used by our ancestors and is one of the most important cereal grown in tropical semi-arid regions of the world primarily Asia and Africa. Bajra is very cheap millet known as “poor people’s food”. It has enormous health benefits that it is being recommended to the patients of celiac disease, constipation and several noncommunicable diseases. In India, it is used as regular meal in states like Rajasthan and Gujarat. Due to its potential health benefits, it has now gained popularity, nutritionists and dieticians recommends it for the better health options," says Ruhi Khan, Dietician at Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai.

Bajra being a complex carbohydrate helps in boosting energy. It is an ideal source of long-lasting energy in winters because they release energy gradually.
Bajra being a complex carbohydrate helps in boosting energy. It is an ideal source of long-lasting energy in winters because they release energy gradually.

Benefits of bajra during winters

As the winter season is approaching, Bajra can be added to the diet in a variety of ways be it roti, soup, porridge, smoothie to name a few. Bajra's consumption goes back to 3,500-2,000 BC as evidence of its consumption has been found in Korean Peninsula. Bajra has also found mention in ancient Indian texts such as Yajurveda and also medicinal texts like Nali. It has been described as Kutsitadhanya or unappetizing in Ayurveda but its gluten free properties and nutrient profile has been appreciated in ancient texts.

"In ancient times bajra was consumed both as a flour and grain. It was the principal diet of a large majority of Indians.

Traditionally, kambu sadam or bajra rice was consumed with raw onions and green chillies in every home in Tamil Nadu. It was also consumed in the form of halwa, khichdi and dosas, by combining it with other grain flours. Bajra can be incorporated in the form of khichdi, pancakes, raab, roti, dosa, chilla, pizza, bajra puri, soup, kheer, laddoo, upma, muthias, halwa etc.," says Khan.

Here are some of the benefits of Bajra in winter season as explained by Khan.

1. Minerals like iron, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium which are useful for general health and wellbeing of an individual is found in abundant amounts in bajra.

2. Bajra is high in dietary fibre which improves digestion and helps ward off constipation. Additionally, fibre encourages a fullness sensation, which has advantage in order to control weight.

3. Bajra being a naturally gluten-free grain is helpful for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or gut related diseases.

4. Bajra being a complex carbohydrate helps in boosting energy. It is an ideal source of long-lasting energy in winters because they release energy gradually.

5. The vitamins and minerals found in bajra supports the immune system's overall function and aid the body's defence against illnesses that are more prevalent in winters.

6. Consuming bajra in winters helps to boost lung power as the anti-inflammatory properties in this versatile grain can ease breathing.

7. Moreover, bajra has a lower glycaemic index. It absorbs slowly and prevents sugar spikes. Thus, it is an ideal grain for diabetics.

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Amreen Shaikh, Head Dietitian, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mumbai Central adds to the list of the benefits.

  • Nutrient-rich: Bajra is rich in nutrients like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins, essential during winter for immunity and overall health.
  • Warmth provider: Its high carbohydrate content provides energy and warmth, making it ideal for the cold season.
  • Digestive health: Bajra's fibre content aids digestion, preventing constipation often experienced in winter due to reduced activity.
  • Immunity booster: Nutrients in bajra can help strengthen the immune system, guarding against seasonal illnesses.
  • Regulates blood sugar: Bajra has a low glycaemic index, which means it releases sugar slowly into the bloodstream, helping in regulating blood sugar levels, an important factor during winter.

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How Bajra was consumed in ancient times

Shaikh elaborates how the ancient grains were consumed in earlier times.

In ancient times, Bajra was consumed in various ways:

  • Bajra roti: One of the most common ways was to make rotis (flatbreads) using bajra flour.
  • Porridge: It was also used to make porridge, which was a staple in many ancient diets.
  • Brewed beverages: Bajra grains were brewed to make beverages.

Use bajra flour to thicken soups for added nutrition and texture.
Use bajra flour to thicken soups for added nutrition and texture.

Tasty ways to add bajra to the diet:

  • Bajra roti: Prepare rotis using bajra flour, either solely or by mixing it with wheat flour.
  • Bajra khichdi: Cook bajra with rice or lentils to make a nutritious khichdi.
  • Bajra upma: Use cracked bajra to make a delicious upma with vegetables and spices.
  • Bajra soup: Use bajra flour to thicken soups for added nutrition and texture.

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Who can't consume Bajra

"Bajra, like many millets, contains goitrogenic substances such as glucosyl vitexin and glycosyl orientin. Excessive consumption of bajra may interfere with thyroid function by impeding iodine absorption. Individuals at risk of hypo or hyperthyroidism, as well as those currently dealing with thyroid disorders, should seek advice from a registered medical professional before including bajra in their diets," says Khan.

Shaikh says while bajra is generally nutritious, people with certain conditions should be cautious:

  • Kidney stones: Bajra is rich in oxalates, which could contribute to kidney stone formation. People prone to kidney stones may need to moderate their intake.
  • Allergies or digestive issues: Some individuals may have allergies or digestive issues related to bajra. In such cases, it's wise to avoid it.

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