Last week, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion, titled ‘Resurgence Of Millets In My Plate’, by eminent personalities from the state of Karnataka. This discussion, organised by the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Agriculture in co-ordination with the Department of Home Science of the Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, was held at The Capitol on Raj Bhavan Road on December 7, 2018 .
The panel discussion was a lead-up to the next Organics & Millets International Trade Fair, which is scheduled between January 18 and 20, 2019, at the Bengaluru Palace. As always, the discussion opened up to me the immense world of millets, all that one can do with these wonder grains, in one’s own kitchen and at the country level.
The event started with a welcome speech by Dr. K.G. Jagadeesha, IAS, Commissioner – Department of Agriculture. He spoke about the mammoth scale of the Organics & Millets International Trade Fair 2019, and of how the fair has already proved to be a great success in the past years.
Post this, Dr. A. Sundaravalli, Head of the Department of Home Science, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, spoke about the panelists and the agenda of the discussion, i.e. how to enable millets to make a come-back on the plates of the common man, after the ancient grains having been considered as ‘poor man’s food’ for so long. She spoke of how, considering the immense health benefits of millets, it is critical for them to start gaining a wider acceptance than they already are.
The panel discussion started, moderated by Dr. Santha Maria, Dean, Faculty of Home Science, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.
The esteemed panelists included:
- Dr. Manjunath C.N., Director, Jayadeva Hospital
- Dr. Mahesh D.M., Consultant Endocrinologist, Aster CMI and Medpoint Diabetes & Thyroid Clinic
- Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy, President, Indian Dietictic Association
- Mr. Sihikahi Chandru, Actor, Producer & Director
- Mr. Prashant Parameshwaran, Managing Director, Soulfull
- Mr. Vilasbhargav, Managing Director, South Ruchis Square
- Mr. Suresh Hinduja, CEO, Gourmet India.com
- Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal, Former Indian goalkeeper of Indian Hockey
- Dr. Swarnalatha Chandran, Swarayu Wellness Clinic
Putting forth his views about the importance of using millets in today’s world, Dr. Manjunath stated that there has been a stark increase in the incidence of lifestyle diseases in India, in the last couple of decades, both among males and females. What is even more alarming is the age group among which the incidence of these diseases is on the rise – more and more people in their 20s and 30s are being affected by rising blood pressure and cholesterol as well as heart problems, which is something very serious. At this rate, the day is not far when India will be the ‘disease capital of the world’. There are several factors which are leading to this negative development, as per Dr. Manjunath – including improper food habits, sedentary lifestyles, improper work situations, high stress levels and rising air pollution. Millets can go a long way towards bringing this alarm-inducing situation under control, he strongly opined.
The primary prevention of most lifestyle disorders starts with food, Dr. Manjunath stated. A lot of these diseases that are prevalent among today’s Indian youth can be controlled by increasing the consumption of millets, as well as consuming more vegetables and fruits (at least the minimum recommended dietary requirement for an adult). Dr. Manjunath stated that awareness among people about the various health benefits of millets needs to increase further, which will in turn bring about a better acceptance of them.
He went on to appeal to the audience not to think that the consumption of millets will automatically resolve all of one’s health issues. Millets are not a panacea. They should be used in combination with other components in one’s diet, like fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fats, wheat and rice. Every food group is important, he said. A 60:40 combination of millets:other ingredients will go a long way towards making them more palatable to the general public, he stated.
Dr. Mahesh then went on to further elaborate on the various benefits that the consumption of millets offers. He stated that millets are the only food that offer everything to the human body, from fat, protein and antioxidants to vitamins and minerals. They are of great help in exercising the gut, and ensure the slow release of sugars into one’s blood stream. Considering this, it is very important for millets to start gaining wider acceptance among the general public, he stated.
Prevention is better than cure. To cut short lifestyle diseases before they occur, it is high time we start paying close attention to what kinds of foods we are putting into our systems, Dr. Mahesh stated. It is high time we started recognising the importance of these wonder grains called millets, and gave them pride of place on our dining tables, he added.
Dr. Mahesh also spoke about the criticality of inculcating good eating habits, millets included, among children and youth, which will go on to ensure that we grow up into healthier adults and a healthier nation. Educating them about healthy eating will go a long way towards increasing acceptance, he stated.
Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy went on to bust some common myths about the consumption of millets in India:
- There seems to be a misconception among some Indians that eating a dark-coloured millet like ragi or finger millet will cause one’s skin to become dark. That is so not the case! Millets do not affect the colour of your skin, or that of your unborn child during pregnancy!
- Millets are not a panacea for all diseases. Increasing the consumption of millets in one’s diet does not mean that all one’s ills will be cured.
- Millets cannot replace everything else in your lunch or dinner plate. Your meals every day cannot be all-millet. A balanced diet, including good portion of all food groups, is more important. Moreover, millets might not be suitable in large proportions for certain people, such as those with digestive ailments.
- Using millets in any proportion and in any way does not help. Using a small portion of millets in a dish, while the rest is made up of sugar or fat is not a healthy way to consume them. You don’t get the health benefits of the millet in your system, that way.
Mr. Sihikahi Chandru spoke about how he started reading up about millets a while ago, when he heard about the numerous health benefits they possess. He was surprised to discover that millets are not some new-fangled marketing drama, but an age-old grain that has been in use in India since centuries. He spoke of how his grandparents and ancestors grew up regularly consuming millets, and lifestyle disorders never seemed to affect them. Further, he went on to speak about how, when he himself tried to inculcate millets in his daily diet, it took a while for his system to adjust to them. He urged the audience to give millets a chance, to give their bodies enough time to get used to them, to not give up on them too soon. Mr. Chandru also spoke about the need to cook millets in a way that is palatable to the general public, so as to improve their acceptance.
In conclusion, Mr. Chandru stated that millets need to be made more affordable, so as to enable common men and women to consume more of them. The production, distribution and affordability of millets needs to be worked upon.
Mr. Prashant Parameshwaran spoke about how his firm, Soulfull, is working towards making millets more palatable and acceptable to the kids of today and the younger generation. He went on to speak about how Soulfull is making millets easier to use, so that they can get wider acceptance by the general public.
Mr. Parameshwaran also talked about how the onus of change (from a largely wheat- and rice-dominant diet to a millet-inclusive one) lies on several people, including doctors, media, teachers, bloggers, food critics and housewives. All of these stakeholders need to work towards this goal, for it to be successfully achieved.
Mr. Vilasbhargav talked about increased awareness among his customers at South Ruchis Square, a fine-dining restaurant located in Bangalore, about the health benefits of millets. He spoke about how customers today are more willing to try out various dishes made using millets, and of how such dishes are getting a good response in his restaurant. There is scope to do a lot more using millets in the culinary world, he added.
Mr. Suresh Hinduja spoke about the need to tackle the non-acceptance of millets among children and adults alike. It is critical to introduce millets to children early on, so they are more receptive of them at later stages in life, he rightly stated. Also, there is a need to educate adults about the many ways in which millets can help them lead a healthier life, he said, which enable them to accept the grains more readily.
Mr. Hinduja also re-emphasised the need to serve millets in a way that is more acceptable to the children and youth of today. Millet-based drinks, energy bars, chocolates, pancakes and snacks are good ways to introduce the younger generation to the wonder grain, he stated.
Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal talked about how the inclusion of millets is important for sportspeople and those are conscious about their health. Millets are a gluten-free food filled with nutrients, thus making for the perfect pre-game food. He spoke about how he began including millets like ragi and jowar in his own daily diet and that of his team, at the recommendation of doctors, and how that benefited them hugely.
Dr. Swarnalatha spoke about how millets are loaded with health benefits, but might not be suitable for all types of personalities, all age groups, and all times of the day. For instance, she stated, the system of someone with a kapha-dominant personality would be more acceptable to millets rather than someone with a vata– or pitta-dominant personality. Millets take time to digest, which is why they should preferably be consumed earlier in the day, between 6 AM to 2 PM, she said. She also spoke of how what you consume the millets with affect what nutrients you absorb from them – for instance, cooking them with an acidic substance like lemon or tamarind helps in better absorption of the iron in them.
Dr. Swarnalatha went on to state that it would be wrong to say that millets cannot be consumed by goiterous people or those with thyroid issues. The consumption of millets only has a very small bearing on goiter and thyroid problems, she stated. It would be best to consult a qualified dietician or doctor for better clarity on these aspects, she added.
The event concluded with the answering of audience questions by the panelists. This was followed by a vote of thanks to the panelists on behalf of the Department of Home Sciences, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.
As always, there are several events planned to the run-up of the Organics & Millets Trade Fair 2019, including cooking contests, millet fairs, runs and more. Stay tuned! Also, don’t miss marking your calendars for the gala fair that is slated to happen in January 2019!