Indian Millets Are Perfect For Winter; Experts Explain Why
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Come winter in states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and even other parts of India, and the focus of homecooked meals shift from lighter ingredients to heavier ones that generate a lot of warmth. In most cases, the traditional meals in these regions go on to include millets which are locally grown and sourced. What’s more, recipes that feature millets and include them in everything from flours for regular flatbreads to one-pot meals like khichdi also dominate regional platters in winters. If you have observed this trend of shifting to millets for winters and are wondering why this occurs, here is everything you need to know.  

Firstly, it is important to understand that millets are widely used to make regional dishes like bhakris and khichdi throughout the year in many parts of the country. But while these dishes are made with lighter millets like jowar or sorghum and samai or little millet in summers, when the digestive system slows down due to high temperature outside, the opposite happens during winters. Winters are therefore the ideal time to explore heavier, warmer millets like bajra or pearl millet and ragi or finger millet. And this tradition is based around concepts of Ayurveda that have been passed down the generations. 

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Millets & Their Nutritive Value For Winter Consumption 

According to a study published in the International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts (IJCRT), ancient Indian texts have always highlighted the use of certain millets as winter staples because of their ability to keep the body warm. For example, the study states how Charak, the ancient scholar, recommended barak (kangani, uddalak (kodo), chin (china) and many other ancient millet varieties for winters because they require “much more digestive fire energy to digest” compared to lighter millets.  

The study mentions that other ancient experts in the field of medicine, like Sushruta, also made similar recommendations for heavier millets to be consumed in winter because they are more loaded with nutrition and generate more body heat while they are being digested. And modern science agrees with this too. A 2023 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition, for example, explains that the consumption of millets like finger millet and proso millet is high in the hilly regions of Northeast India not only because these are resilient cereal grains that need less water to cultivate and grow, but also because they are loaded with complex carbohydrates and plant proteins that make them easier to digest and generate body warmth in winters. 

Nisha Singh, Clinical Nutritionist, Integrative Sports Dietitian, Founder of NutriWellness by Nisha Singh, explains that contemporary nutritionists and health experts are finally catching up to the benefits of eating millets in winter for their nutritive value, especially in colder regions. “Millets are a very good source of fibre, packed with micronutrients like iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, etc and protein,” she explains. “Traditionally, in winters you don’t get fresh crops in regions which experience very cold winters, where the reliance has always been on these resilient crops known as millets.” 

Millet Cooking Method And Proportion Matters 

However, Singh explains, not all millets are made the same and generate the same amount of body heat and energy. “My top picks for winter are bajra, ragi, makai and amaranth,” she says. “Bajra is not recommended for consumption in summers because of their heat, but they are perfect for winters. And when it comes to cooking these millets, the ideal method is the one used in Rajasthan and Gujarat, where they make Raab out of bajra, ragi and other flours. You can also make rotis and bhakris, or add the millets in khichdi. You can also make laddoos out of these millets for a quick bite.” 

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Singh also adds that generally millets are safe for consumption by everyone during winters, but bajra is often found to be counterproductive for people with hypothyroidism. “Care should therefore be taken that excessive consumption is not done,” she says. “If someone has chronic kidney disease then you have to consult a doctor and only then consume millets. If you have excessive bloating or gassy feeling at the end of the day, then you should also avoid millets.” The trick here is, she says, to replace other grains you eat with millets when you can and not eat too many grains.   

“I would say, don’t go overboard with millet consumption because it is healthy and perfect for winters,” she adds. “Add one variety and acclimatise your body to it. For kids, introduce it to them slowly and do not overeat.” Dr Khadar Vali, a food and nutrition specialist who has been working on millets in Andhra Pradesh for years, agrees. “A fistful of millets for everyone and eat one or two morsels less than you can to avoid overfilling the stomach every day,” he recommends. “You can eat more during the mornings, but avoid overeating millets during the afternoons and night.”  

As a final word of caution, Singh points out that millets do contain something called antinutrients which hinder the absorption of nutrients in the body. “So, always soak them for a few hours to get rid of the antinutrients,” she recommends. “Millets are drying in nature, so add some fat to your millet meals, like a little bit of ghee on top. I do get this question from patients that when you soak it in water, doesn’t it get moisturised? My answer is that it might, but the lubricating quality only comes with the addition of fat. Moderation is the key here.”