Growing awareness about health benefits of whole grains such as brown rice, barley, ragi, and amaranth has made their way back into our diets. Though refined grains have a longer shelf life and fine texture, they lack fiber and other nutrients. Studies have suggested that regular consumption of whole grains can reduce risks of diabetes, gastrointestinal cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. Whole grains contain all the three parts of kernel viz. the endosperm, germ, and bran that are rich in nutrients and fiber. Ragi is one such whole grain that has immense health benefits. Also known as finger millet or red millet, ragi is a seed from the plant Eleusine coracana that grows in the arid and semi-arid regions of Asia and Africa, and is considered as one of the staple cereals in these regions.
Nutritional Potential of Ragi
In terms of nutrition, ragi is a good alternative to other cereals such as barley, rice or wheat. It contains 65-75% carbohydrates, 5-8% protein, 2.5-3.5% minerals, 1-2% ether extractives, and 15-20% dietary fiber. Ragi contains essential amino acids such as isoleucine, threonine, methionine, tryptophan, and valine. Minerals including phosphorous, calcium, iron and magnesium are abundantly found in ragi. Among all cereals, ragi has the highest calcium content. It is estimated that 100 grams of ragi contains approximately 344 mg of calcium. Ragi is rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B complex such as Folic Acid, Thiamin, and Niacin. As ragi does not contain gluten, it is advised for celiac patients.
Health Benefits of Ragi
Owing to its high nutritional content, ragi is often termed as a super grain and is highly recommended for pregnant and lactating women. It is also recommended for babies due to its non-acidic contents and easily digestible properties. There are multiple benefits of including it in regular diet. Some of the benefits associated with the consumption of ragi are as follows:
- Healthy Skin: Ragi seed coat contains phenolic acids and its derivatives, tannins and flavonoids that act as free radical terminators. The antioxidant property of ragi is known to prevent skin ageing. Further, it protects the skin from sun damage and prevents hyper-pigmentation. Its anti-inflammatory property helps in reducing acnes and minimizing scarring. Ragi extracts or ragi flour is widely used in homemade facial masks and in some skin care formulations. Ragi is rich in amino acids and helps build collagen. The presence of essential amino acids such as lysine makes skin tissues less prone to sagging. As a result, topical application of ragi on face can arrest ageing effects on skin such as fine lines, and wrinkles. Herbal exfoliation treatment with ragi can lead to smooth and supple skin.
- Healthy Hair: The anti-inflammatory properties of ragi help prevent psoriasis, itchiness of scalp, dandruff, and other scalp related problems. As ragi is rich in proteins, its intake is considered beneficial for growth of hair, and prevention of premature greying and balding.
- Healthy Bones: Due to the presence of high amount of calcium, along with phosphorous and magnesium, ragi helps in maintenance of healthy bones. It is often advised by nutritionists to include ragi in diets of children and aged people to take care of their bone health.
- Diabetes Management: Ragi has a low glycemic index. The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate-containing food on the basis of glucose level they raise in blood. Food items with low glycemic index are metabolized slowly by the body, thereby preventing fluctuations in blood glucose levels. High amount of fiber in ragi makes it a low glycemic food and is advised for people suffering from diabetes.
- Weight Loss: Patients struggling with obesity are often clueless while selecting the right type of cereal to be included in diet; cereal that is low in fat and calories but high in nutrients and fiber. Ragi is one such cereal that can help in weight loss.
- Healthy Heart: High fiber content in ragi prevents absorption of cholesterol and plague formation in heart muscles. The presence of vitamin niacin in ragi helps increase the level of high-density lipids (HDL) in body.
- Healthy Intestines: Compared to other cereals, Ragi has relatively high amount of dietary fiber. Consumption of food containing high dietary fiber increases fecal bulk and fecal transit time, thereby causing mobility of intestines. Regular intake of ragi is helpful in prevention of colon cancer.
- Natural Relaxant: The amino acid tryptophan is found to be associated with regulation of serotonin in brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and decreased level of serotonin leads to depression, anxiety, lack of sleep, and hypertension. The presence of essential amino acids such as tryptophan in ragi makes it a natural relaxant and is beneficial for people suffering from insomnia and depression.
Ways of Consuming Ragi
In India, ragi has been included in diet for long and is widely consumed as a whole grain flour. The malted millet grains are ground to produce flour that is used to make a number of food preparations across different parts of India. Traditionally, ragi flour is used in making roti, dosa, idli, uttapam, bhakri, pappad, and other breakfast preparations and snacks. It is also used to prepare sweets such as laddoo and porridge. Nowadays, ragi flakes (noodles), biscuits and cookies are also high in demand among urban adults. Powdered ragi mixed with sugar and milk is fed to children to increase bone strength. Ground ragi is also used as a homemade baby food.
Ragi can be directly applied on skin as well in form of herbal face masks or exfoliators. Masks made with ragi and eggs can help in tightening skin. The protein content of such masks offers elasticity to skin. Scrubbing facial skin and other parts of body with ragi can help in smoothening skin. As the antioxidant properties of ragi can help prevent hyper-pigmentation, a paste of ragi flour along with other ingredients can act as skin whitening mask.