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Foxtail millets: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects and More By Dr. Rajeev Singh

By Dr Rajeev Singh +2 more

Introduction: 

Foxtail millets, magical millets or miracle grains are natively known as Kangni, Kang and kakum.  These are tiny seeds covered in a thin, crispy hull and are available in a light yellow-brownish colour. The cultivation of foxtail millets (Setalica italia) began in 8700 BC in China. In India, these are widely grown in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. There are three to four foxtail varieties available in the market, namely Moharia, Maxima, Nana and Indica. Foxtail millets have a sweet and nutty flavour and are eaten as instant foods, ready-to-eat products, rice flour, etc. Apart from the culinary uses, it is a farmer-friendly and health-friendly crop; making it “good for you” (due to its nutritional value), and “good for the world” (as it requires less water and other factors for cultivation). Foxtail millets are a host of nutrients; let us learn more about the health benefits of adding foxtail millets to your dietary routine.1,2 

I recommend including foxtail millet in your diet to enjoy the benefits of a well-functioning digestive system. Foxtail millet, just like other millets, is packed with a type of fibre that is good for your body. This fibre is called crude fibre. One of the great things about crude fibre is that it might aid in the process of digestion and encourage smooth bowel movements. This means that foxtail millet may act as a natural laxative, promoting a healthy digestive system.

Dr. Siddharth Gupta, B.A.M.S, M.D (Ayu)

Nutritional Value of Foxtail Millets: 

From my perspective, foxtail millet might be a cost-effective alternative to animal protein foods. Its flour and protein concentrate may have excellent functional properties, making it versatile for various food applications. This might even open up the potential for developing affordable, protein-rich functional food products that can help manage lifestyle-related chronic diseases.

Dr. Rajeev Singh, BAMS

Did you know?

  • Foxtail millet possesses health-promoting properties due to its unique protein composition. source: apeda.gov.in
  • Foxtail millets are rich in dietary fiber, which aids in digestion and prevents constipation. source: ncbi
  • Foxtail millets are a good source of vitamins, including vitamin B6 and folate. source: nutritionvalue.org
  • Foxtail millets have a higher iron content compared to rice, which can help prevent iron deficiency anemia. source: nutritionvalue.org
  • Foxtail millets contain antioxidants that help in reducing oxidative stress and preventing chronic diseases. source: ncbi

Foxtail millets are packed with the goodness of proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins like Vitamin A and E and minerals like phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, sodium, etc.  The nutrients in foxtail millets are mentioned in the table below: 

Nutritional components Value per 100 g 
Energy 331 kCal 
Protein 12.3 g 
Dietary fibre 8 g 
Fat 4.3 g 
Phosphorus 290 mg 
Potassium 250 mg 
Magnesium 81 mg 
Vitamin A 32 mg 
Calcium 31 mg 
Vitamin E 31 mg 
Folic acid 15 mg 
Sodium 4.6 mg 
Niacin 3.2 mg 
Iron 2.8 mg 
Zinc 2.4 mg 

Table 1: Nutritional value of foxtail millets3 

Properties of Foxtail Millets: 

Let me tell you a little secret. The nutrients found in foxtail millet might have special powers that can help ward off certain non-communicable diseases. By including foxtail millet in our diets, we may give our bodies the nutrients they need to stay healthy and avoid these diseases.

Dr. Smita Barode, B.A.M.S, M.S.

Scientifically proven properties of foxtail millets include: 

  • It may have antioxidant properties.4 
  • It may show glucose-lowering properties.5 
  • It may have gastro-protective (managing or reducing injuries to the gastrointestinal tract) properties.6 
  • It may show anti-carcinogenic properties.7 
  • It may have the potential to manage fungal infections.7 

Potential Uses of Foxtail Millets for Overall Health: 

I stumbled upon a study that showed the extract from foxtail millet may reduce inflammation. In the study, they induced swelling in the mice’s hind legs using a substance called carrageenan. When the mice were administered a foxtail millet extract, the swelling potentially went down. This suggests that foxtail millet might have natural anti-inflammatory properties. However, more studies are required to validate these results.

Dr. Anuja Bodhare, B.A.M.S, M.D (Ayu)

Some of the potential benefits of foxtail millets are described as under:  

Potential Uses of Foxtail Millets on Diabetes 

Literature studies state that the occurrence of diabetes can be lowered by including whole grains like foxtail millets in your diet.  In vitro study by Chen et al. in 2003 concluded foxtail millets have a low glycemic index and may stimulate the cells of pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone which regulates blood glucose. These actions can help lower the spike in blood glucose. Choi et al. conducted an animal study in 2003 on the role of foxtail millets in improving the responsiveness of body cells to insulin, a hormone which manages blood glucose and exerts an anti-diabetic effect. This indicates that consuming foxtail millet may help manage diabetes. However, more human trials are needed to support the claims obtained from animal experiments and in-vitro studies.8 

Potential Uses of Foxtail Millets on Hypertension 

Hypertension or high blood pressure is a leading risk factor for many cardiovascular diseases. Hypertension is usually managed with drugs belonging to a class called as “ACE inhibitors”, they work by relaxing the blood vessels which helps in reducing the blood pressure. ACE-inhibitor molecules are also found in food sources like foxtail millet. Chen et al. conducted a study in 2017   stating the consumption of foxtail millets caused a reduction in blood pressure in hypertensive rats. This indicates that the consumption of foxtail millet can have a positive impact on blood pressure. However, we need more studies to support these claims.9 

Potential Uses of Foxtail Millets in Colorectal Cancer  

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon and the rectum, located at the lower end of the digestive system. Literature suggests that the intake of whole grains or cereals can contribute to a lower risk of colorectal cancer. A study done by Zhang et al. in 2020 to assess the effects of foxtail millets on colorectal cancer showed that the ingestion of foxtail millet positively impacted colorectal cancer in mice. This suggests that consuming foxtail millets may help manage colorectal cancers. However, we need more clinical studies to support these claims.10 

Potential Uses of Foxtail Millets for Fungal Infections 

To date, many chemical compounds obtained from plants have positively impacted fungal infections. An experiment done by Wentao et al. in 2011 identified a novel antifungal protein molecule in foxtail millets, which is known to show activity against fungi like Botryrtis cinerea and Alternaria alternate, responsible for allergies and asthma. Foxtail millets may inhibit the growth of these fungi and, thus, show antifungal activity against these species. This indicates that foxtail millets may have the potential to manage fungal infections, but we need more clinical studies to support these claims.11 

Potential Uses of Foxtail Millets in Under Nutrition    

Under nutrition (insufficient energy and nutrient intake is broadly divided into stunting, underweight, wasting and micronutrient deficiencies. The main cause of under nutrition is a deficiency in nutrient intake. Seetha et al. conducted a meta-analysis in 2022, stating that adding millets to the diet may help improve under nutrition due to the presence of nutritional components like methionine (an essential amino acid), calcium, protein, zinc, etc. The findings of this study support the use of foxtail millets as a solution to under nutrition. However, more studies should be conducted in humans to ascertain these claims.12 

Other Potential Uses of Foxtail Millets: 

  • Foxtail millets are rich source of iron, which is required for the formation of haemoglobin, thus an increased iron intake may help manage iron-deficiency anaemia.12 
  • The presence of insoluble fibres in foxtail millets reduces the risk of gallstones by reducing the production of bile acids (end products of cholesterol metabolism) and decreasing bile cholesterol levels.13 
  • The fibre content in millets aid bowel movements and may provide relief from constipation.14 

Though there are studies that show the benefits of foxtail millets in various conditions, these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of sweet potatoes on human health.  

Also Read: The Power of Rice Water: A Secret to Healthy Hair

How to Use Foxtail Millets? 

  • Foxtail millets are used to prepare foxtail millet kheer, an Indian dessert. 
  • Famous south-Indian style lemon rice is also prepared using foxtail millets. 
  • It is grounded into flour and used to make bread, roti and cakes.1 

You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.   

Side Effects of Foxtail millets: 

Few side effects related to the consumption of foxtail millets include: 

  • Gaitan et al. conducted a study in 1989 which showed that foxtail millets are rich in C-glycosylflavones which produce goitrogenic effects (inhibition of thyroid hormone production which can eventually lead to goitre or enlarged thyroid).15 
  • Although foxtail millets are gluten-free, the content of B Vitamins and fibers is low, and thus a protective effect against chronic diseases can be reduced.16 

However, if you experience any adverse reactions to foxtail millets, it is advised to discontinue its intake and immediately contact a doctor or your Ayurvedic physician who has prescribed it. They will be able to guide you appropriately for your symptoms. 

Precautions to take with Foxtail Millets: 

Eating foxtail millets is okay if taken in moderate amounts. However, general precautions must be followed in the following conditions: 

  • Foxtail millets increase Vataja roga (diseases due to vata), so caution must be taken if you have complaints of dry skin, weight loss, joint pain, etc. 
  • Millets contain anti-nutrients like phytic acid and tannins, which may be reduced by soaking. Additionally, soaking can increase the absorption of nutrients.17 

Interactions with Other Drugs: 

There is no significant interaction of foxtail millets with other drugs. However, you must always seek the advice of your Ayurvedic physician about the possible interaction of foxtail millets with other drugs and follow the prescription thoroughly, as they will know your health condition and other medications you are taking. 

Also Read: Is Basmati Rice Healthy? A Comprehensive Nutritional Analysis

Frequently Asked Questions: 

1) What are the local names of foxtail millets? 

The scientific name of foxtail millets is Setalica italia. It is also known as Kangni, Kang or kakum locally.1 

2) What are the different foxtail millet varieties available? 

There are three to four foxtail varieties available in the market, namely moharia, maxima, nana and Indica.1.2 

3)  Can foxtail millets help manage anaemia?  

Yes, foxtail millets are a rich source of iron and may increase haemoglobin (an iron-based protein) levels and may help manage anaemia. However, more studies are needed to support these claims. Therefore, it is advised to consult a doctor for proper treatment in case you have anaemia.12 

4) Can foxtail millets help manage constipation? 

Yes, the fibre content in millets aid bowel movements and may provide relief from constipation. However, scientific evidence supporting this is limited and we need more studies to support these claims. It is recommended to consult a doctor for proper treatment in case you have constipation.13  

5) What are the side effects of foxtail millets? 

As foxtail millets are gluten-free, they may cause weight gain and increase the risk of certain chronic diseases. Gaitan et al. conducted a study in 1989 which showed that foxtail millets are rich in C-glycosylflavones which can lead to goitre or enlarged thyroid.15,16 

References: 

  1. Naturally Yours, 6 amazing benefits of Foxtail Millet, Naturally Yours. Available at: https://naturallyyours.in/blogs/blog/6-amazing-benefits-of-foxtail-millet (Accessed: December 9, 2022).  
  1. PM formlisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises Scheme. Available at: https://www.mofpi.gov.in/pmfme/enews7.html (Accessed: December 9, 2022).  
  1. Foxtail millet – nutritional importance and cultivation aspects. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303662897_Foxtail_Millet_-_Nutritional_importance_and_cultivation_aspects (Accessed: December 9, 2022).  
  1. Suma, P Florence, and Asna Urooj. “Antioxidant activity of extracts from foxtail millet (Setaria italica).” Journal of food science and technology vol. 49,4 (2012): 500-4. doi:10.1007/s13197-011-0300-9. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3550894/ 
  1. Narayanan, Janani et al. “Postprandial glycaemic response of foxtail millet dosa in comparison to a rice dosa in patients with type 2 diabetes.” The Indian journal of medical research vol. 144,5 (2016): 712-717. doi:10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_551_15. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5393082/ 
  1. Lin, Hui-Ching et al. “The gastroprotective effect of the foxtail millet and adlay processing product against stress-induced gastric mucosal lesions in rats.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine vol. 10,4 336-344. 17 Jan. 2020, doi:10.1016/j.jtcme.2020.01.003. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7365783/ 
  1. Shan, Shuhua et al. “A novel protein extracted from foxtail millet bran displays anti-carcinogenic effects in human colon cancer cells.” Toxicology letters vol. 227,2 (2014): 129-38. doi:10.1016/j.toxlet.2014.03.008. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24685566/ 
  1. Ren, Xin et al. “The Glucose-Lowering Effect of Foxtail Millet in Subjects with Impaired Glucose Tolerance: A Self-Controlled Clinical Trial.” Nutrients vol. 10,10 1509. 15 Oct. 2018, doi:10.3390/nu10101509. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30326632/ 
  1. Chen, Jing et al. “Effect of foxtail millet protein hydrolysates on lowering blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats.” European journal of nutrition vol. 56,6 (2017): 2129-2138. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1252-7. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27344669/ 
  1. Zhang, Bowei et al. “Dietary Supplementation of Foxtail Millet Ameliorates Colitis-Associated Colorectal Cancer in Mice via Activation of Gut Receptors and Suppression of the STAT3 Pathway.” Nutrients vol. 12,8 2367. 7 Aug. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12082367. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7468867/ 
  1. Xu, Wentao et al. “A novel antifungal peptide from foxtail millet seeds.” Journal of the science of food and agriculture vol. 91,9 (2011): 1630-7. doi:10.1002/jsfa.4359. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21445868/ 
  1. Anitha, Seetha et al. “Can Feeding a Millet-Based Diet Improve the Growth of Children?-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nutrients vol. 14,1 225. 5 Jan. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14010225. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8747143/ 
  1. Shastry, S. (2022) Millets for weight loss: Types of millets and their health benefits, Possible. Available at: https://possible.in/millet-weight-loss-recipes-health-benefits-side-effects.html (Accessed: December 10, 2022).  
  1. Naturally Yours ,How to use millets for weight loss?, Naturally Yours. Available at: https://naturallyyours.in/blogs/blog/millets-for-weight-loss (Accessed: December 10, 2022).  
  1. Gaitan, E et al. “Antithyroid and goitrogenic effects of millet: role of C-glycosylflavones.” The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism vol. 68,4 (1989): 707-14. doi:10.1210/jcem-68-4-707. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2921306/ 
  1. Diet Review: Gluten-free for weight loss (2019) The Nutrition Source. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/gluten-free-diet-weight-loss/ (Accessed: December 10, 2022).  
  1. Nitya Sharma et al., Effect of high pressure soaking on water absorption, gelatinization, and biochemical properties of germinated and non-germinated foxtail millet grains, Journal of Cereal Science, Volume 83,2018,Pages 162-170,ISSN 0733 5210. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0733521018303588 

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