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Find the nutrition column of Stéphane Besançon, nutritionist and director of the NGO Santé Diabète in Bamako, Mali. This week, he talks to us about the nutritional value of millet, sorghum and fonio.
Last July, new scientific results came to strengthen the scientific evidence of the value of traditional millets in our diet. Can you tell us about this family of cereals?
Millet are a species of grasses in the Poaceae family. This family now includes 13 varieties of cereals recorded throughout the world. These are food grains whose small grains have been used in food for over 10,000 years. The best known and most consumed are millet, sorghum but also pearl millet, bird millet and Fonio. The different varieties of millet and sorghum have been consumed since antiquity in Asia (especially in China, Korea and Japan) but also in Africa. As for fonio, it represents a somewhat rarer variety which is mainly cultivated in 4 West African countries: Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Senegal. It also represents a variety with a slightly different shape. Indeed, it is a herbaceous plant which measures on average 80 cm and which has the particularity of having a tiny grain which measures barely 1.5 mm. It therefore takes almost 2000 seeds to obtain a single gram of fonio.
How was this study carried out and what are the main results?
This work is not a classic study but what is called a meta-analysis; that is to say, the analysis of the results of a large number of scientific studies which meet very specific criteria in terms of methodology and publication. This meta-analysis was carried out by researchers from 7 research organizations based in 4 countries from different continents. These researchers have thus compiled the publications of 181 research studies studying the consumption of 11 types of millet in 1000 diabetic and non-diabetic people in 11 countries. This work represents, today, the largest systematic review of international studies on the subject. The conclusion of this analysis is that the consumption of different types of millets is associated on the one hand with a reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes but also with better management of type 2 diabetes for people already affected by the disease. sickness. In addition to the improvement of biological constants, these studies also show that the glycemic index, that is to say the rise in the level of sugar in the blood following the ingestion of a food, of this family of cereals is significantly weaker than that of rice, wheat or even corn.
Are there any other benefits or risks of consuming these grains?
Like all cereals, they are mainly composed of complex carbohydrates, that is to say starch. They are therefore of interest for providing the energy necessary for the daily functioning of our body. This family of cereals also has an interesting protein content which is made up of fairly diverse amino acids which complement the proteins provided by legumes, nuts and seeds. It is also important to note that millets, sorghum or fonio do not contain gluten and are therefore indicated for people who are gluten intolerant and therefore have celiac disease. However, you have to pay attention to a particular point with fonio. Indeed, in West Africa, it is often said that fonio is a drug food for diabetes that can even cure diabetes. But, we must be very clear, diabetes cannot be cured and even if fonio is an interesting food it is in no way a medicine against diabetes.
Taking all this knowledge into account, what are your recommendations?
Millet and sorghum, but also in smaller proportions fonio, was consumed as a cereal base in many parts of the world until the middle of the 20th century. The plans to expand the cultivation of rice, wheat and corn have significantly reduced the consumption of millets, sorghum and fonio. However, we know that one should not have a monotonous consumption of one or two cereals but that it is important to diversify. I therefore recommend consuming more millet, sorghum and fonio in order to strengthen the diversification of the cereals consumed while increasing the consumption of cereals which have a positive impact on health. But be careful, it should be remembered that the consumption of millet and sorghum or fonio, like other cereals, should not exceed 50% of the daily caloric intake, or about 300 g per day. It should also be remembered that the composition of the sauce that accompanies the cereals is very important to maintain a healthy benefit. These sauces should contain a lot of vegetables, little sugar, little salt and little fat. Finally, the strengthening of the consumption of local traditional cereals, which are better adapted to the climates of the countries in which they are produced, will have a positive impact on the environment and will often require fewer chemical inputs to reduce the contamination of the cereals used. in the market for consumers.
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