Finger millet (Eleusine coracana), or Ragi, is an important staple food in India. It is one of the less commonly used cereals and earliest known millets in India. It is known for numerous health benefits associated with its high calcium content and rich dietary fibre.

Nutritional Value of Ragi

Nutritionally, its importance is well recognised due to its high content of : 

Protein(g)   7.7 
Carbohydrates(g)  72.6  
Fat(g)  1.5 
Calcium(mg)  344 
Phosphorus(mg)  250 
Manganese(mg)   3.5 
Iron(mg)   6.3 
Magnesium(mg)  130  
Crude fibre (g)   3.6  
Ash (g)   2.7  

Table 1. Nutritional composition of Ragi

Compared to white rice, Ragi has higher minerals, dietary fibre, and sulphur-containing amino acids. Even after having a rich nutrient profile, studies show its lower consumption by urban Indians.

Therapeutic Uses of Ragi 

Ragi has been documented for its therapeutic effects such as anti-tumorigenic (prevents the formation of tumours), anti-diabetic, anti-ulcerative, antioxidant effects, antimicrobial properties, and wound healing properties etc. Several In vitro (in the laboratory) and in vivo (in animal) studies have indicated the presence of these properties in Ragi.

  • It comprises essential amino acids and dietary fibre, which aids in lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of obesity in the body.
  • The Ragi seeds contain protease inhibitors, which can reduce the incidence of prostate, colon, breast, pharyngeal and oral cancers.
  • The high amount of carbohydrates that are available in the form of non-starchy polysaccharides, low-fat content, and dietary fibre are vital in offering physiological and nutritional benefits such as lowering blood sugar levels.
  • Minerals present in Ragi grains include iron and magnesium that aid in reducing high blood pressure, rate of recurrence of migraines, risk of a heart attack and the severity of asthma.

Benefits of Ragi 

Ragi has a higher nutritional value, though the grain is highly ignored and underutilised. Ragi has the following health benefits when absorbed in human bodies:

Benefits in Overcoming Calcium Deficiency:  

  • Ragi grains contain important minerals such as phosphorus (P) and calcium (Ca). The grains have the highest amount of Ca, varying from 162.0-358.0 mg/100 g compared to other millet species. Regular dietary inclusion of Ragi can help to abate the deficiency of calcium in the body of both young and older people.
  • Phosphorus, another mineral present in Ragi, helps in the development of body tissues and energy metabolism.

Helps to Lose Weight:  

  • Low-fat content, together with essential fatty acids, contributes to better storage properties, and higher amounts of carbohydrates which are available in the form of non-starchy complex carbohydrates, are essential in providing nutrition, regulating body weight and preventing the risk of obesity.
  • Finger millet grains also contain more than 40% of essential amino acids, which assist in lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of obesity in the human body.

Source of Vitamins:  

  • Vitamins present in Ragi grains are important micronutrients essential for self-maintenance and normal growth in the human body.
  • The absence of vitamins in the diet can cause vitamin deficiencies, leading to other health problems.
  • Ragi contains both fat and water-soluble vitamins. These are particularly rich in vitamins A and B complex.

Helps in the Development of the Brain and Neural Tissue:  

Ragi grains comprise essential fatty acids that are vital for neural tissue and brain development.4 

Anti-ageing Effects:  

Since Ragi has antioxidants present in the seeds, it helps in the elimination of free radicals from the body and thus has an anti-ageing effect. 

Lowers Glycaemic Index:  

For people having diabetes and celiac disease (a disease caused by the consumption of cereal protein that contains gluten), Ragi is reported to be a healthier choice because intake of this grain assists in blood glucose level regulation.

Benefits in Wound Healing:  

According to a study, when Ragi was fed for four weeks to diabetic animals, the glucose levels in them were controlled, and the antioxidant levels were improved, which accelerated the healing of skin wounds. However, no proven information for humans has been found so far.

Beneficial in the Treatment of Migraine:  

  • Ragi consumption helps in relaxing the body naturally.
  • It is advantageous in conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
  • It is also useful for reducing the frequency of migraines.

How to Use Ragi? 

Ragi is used in the preparation of several foods as it is an indigenous millet. Various methods used for processing Ragi are malting, milling, popping, fermentation, and decortication. The Ragi grains are also milled to form flours to prepare products like noodles, porridge, biscuits, puddings, pancakes, roti, bread, and other snacks. Moreover, it is nourishing food for infants once malted.

Side Effects of Ragi 

The side effects of Ragi are: 

Risk of Developing Kidney Stones:  

A high intake of Ragi could increase the amount of oxalic acid in the body. Therefore, it is not recommended for patients having kidney stones (urinary calculi). 

Ragi Consumption Can Cause Goitre:  

The glycosides present in Ragi can be readily converted to thiocyanate by enzymes after ingestion. This thiocyanate is associated with cases of goitre in the population that consumes millet and cassava regularly.

Ragi Can Cause Other Issues:  

Ragi consumption is said to negatively influence the function of the thyroid gland and the pancreas. Therefore, it might inhibit growth. Ragi can also cause pathological changes in the liver. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

1) Can we have Ragi with milk or with something else? 

Ragi is a rich source of iron and other essential nutrients. It can be consumed in the form of chapatis, bread, porridges, and snacks with a variety of ingredients such as milk and vegetables.

2) Is Ragi porridge good for babies? 

Yes, millet malts have been used traditionally to feed infants. It can be used in different ways to prepare beverages using milk or warm water and a bit of sugar. Since finger millet has malting characteristics, we can give Ragi porridge to babies as it is good semi-solid food for weaning. 

3) When should we avoid eating Ragi? 

People with existing liver conditions and kidney stones must avoid using Ragi without proper consultation with the doctor.

4) Is Ragi capable of curing diabetes? 

The use of Ragi for curing diabetes is still under study, but since it has a high content of polyphenols and dietary fibre, it is known to reduce the risk of diabetes mellitus and gastrointestinal tract disorders.

5) Can Ragi be used as a preservative?  

Studies have shown that extract obtained from the ragi seed coat demonstrated high antimicrobial activity against Bacillus cereus and Aspergillus flavus. It was also observed that the polyphenols present in Ragi were responsible for the antimicrobial activity of the millet. Therefore, the potential exists to utilise the seed coat of Ragi as a possible natural food preservative.

6) Is Ragi suggested for a vegan diet? 

Ragi is a great choice for a Vegan diet because it is rich in nutrients. Whole meal-based Ragi products make a healthy choice for vegans.

7) Can Ragi be a source of calcium for lactose-intolerant people? 

Ragi is a rich source of calcium (about 344mg/100g). Ca deficiency can be mitigated in the body by regular consumption of Ragi food products by both young and older people.

8) Can one eat Ragi during pregnancy? 

Ragi is rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, and multivitamins. Thus, it acts as a great dietary supplement for pregnant women.

9) Does Ragi help in improving migraine? 

Ragi has a natural relaxing ability as it reduces anxiety, regulates blood pressure and also helps in reducing the frequency of migraines.

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