Let’s address the question – Is ragi good for diabetics?
Why do people think ragi is good for diabetics?
Magazine articles and random folks who encourage ragi for diabetics often have this blanket statement: “Millets have a high fiber content and it is good for diabetics.” – Ok, first of all, it does it make sense to categorize all millets together? I think not…Finger millet (ragi) does not function the exact same way as Pearl millet or Kodo millet or…you get the idea. Secondly, how high is the fiber they are talking about?
Or how about Ndtv.com which puts out an article with the statement: “Ragi, or nachni, is often said to be a wonder grain for diabetics by experts.” – Who are these experts?
And also stated in that very article “Ragi has low glycaemic index”. – No data, no reference, nothing. By the way, this statement that “Ragi has low GI” is NOT true…nope, nada, not at all!! It is the opposite, in fact.
This is not a dig at NDTV.com at all. I just want to bring attention to the fact, that many such pop articles all over the internet that mislead and confuse people.
Anyway, back to Ragi… Let’s address these issues one by one.
Fiber in Ragi (Finger Millet Flour)
Let us check out the nutrition labels for ragi from 3 different brands.
- Deep Brand Ragi Flour
30 g of Deep Ragi contains 1 g of fiber; so 100g of ragi will contain 3.3 g of fiber
2. Udipi Brand Ragi Flour
50 g of ragi contains 5 g of fiber; so 100g of ragi will contain 4 g of fiber
24 Mantra Brand Ragi Flour
30 g of 24 Mantra Ragi contains 3 g of fiber; so 100g of ragi will contain 10 g of fiber
First of all that is a big jump in fiber when you compare Mantra Brand to Udipi Brand, but we will deal with this issue in 1 minute. Before that, let’s think about the above numbers for a second. Is it really that high in fiber?
Here are Bob’s Red Mill numbers for fiber levels with 100g of popular flours:
- Whole Wheat Flour – 18g
- Coconut Flour – 35.7 g
- Almond Flour – 14.2 g
- Stone ground brown rice flour – 2.5g
(When you look at the nutrition label in the link given, remember to convert all units to 100g measurement)
So, yeah, 10g of fiber for ragi is way better than rice flour; but it is not super high. Whole wheat and keto favorites like Almond and Coconut do much better in their fiber content.
Does Mantra’s 24 brand have extra fiber compared to the other brands?
To test this I took 1/4 cup of ragi of both brands: Mantra and Udipi.
I dissolved them in exactly 2 cups of water….
and then strained them using the same type of filter….
Here’s the coarse fiber strained side by side…
In the above image, the left ladle containing more bran/fiber is Mantra brand and on the right is Udipi brand.
Here’s the porridge made with the strained fiber added back in…
I don’t know if you can see well in the picture, but the Mantra ragi was thicker than Udipi ragi. (same amount of flour, the same amount of water, heat etc.)
Here’s my theory. During the processing, the Udipi/Deep brand mill the flour really fine and sieve out most of the bran for a smooth product. The Mantra product on the other hand seems more comfortable with having more bran in the product.
Here’s a closeup of the Mantra brand ragi flour…
Now look at the Udipi brand flour closeup:
As you can see the Udipi brand ragi is a fine powder. So, is that good or bad? The answer – it depends. If you are a diabetic, you should know the rule by now – more finely ground flour is, the faster it gets absorbed in your body and the higher the glycemic response.
But if you are looking for finely strained ragi to create a smooth porridge for your small children, you may find Udipi brand more suitable.
Does the size of the flour particles actually matter?
Are you wondering, “Oh well, how does a few micrometers of flour particle size even matter?” Well, lucky for you and me, scientists in Sri Lanka actually conducted an experiment to address this very question. Their paper was called: Effect of different milling methods on glycaemic response of foods made with finger millet (Eucenea coracana) flour
They compared the glycemic responses of foods prepared with finger millet flour (called locally as kurakkan), using traditional stone grinding (large flour particles) and industrial milling (finely powdered flour particles).
They found that GI for roti made of stone ground flour was 44±5 and that of roti made of industrially milled flour was 59±7. Pittu (a steamed dish) made of stone ground flour had a GI of 67±5 and GI of pittu made of industrially milled flour was 79±5. So, yes size of flour particles do matter when it comes to Glycemic Response by the body.
If you are a diabetic, the smaller the flour particles, the greater your body’s sugar level will rise following a meal.
Why is the Glycemic Index of Ragi high?
Ok, now let’s move on to the question regarding the glycemic index of ragi.
If you go to glycemicindex.com, and type in Ragi in the search box, you will get the following 3 results (as of Sept 2020):
|Millet/Ragi, (Eleucine coracana), dehusked, soaked 12 h, stored moist 24 h, steamed 1 h||68|
|Millet/Ragi (Eleucine coracana)||84|
|Millet/Ragi (Eleucine coracana) flour eaten as roasted bread||104|
All the above values are quite high and bad for diabetics. Remember, If your food has a GI of below 55, it is considered a low-GI food, between 55-70 is medium GI and above 70 considered high GI.
But let’s ask ourselves that if ragi is high in fiber as they say, why does it trigger such a high glycemic response?
First of all, ragi is still a high-carb grain. Now, you can do relative comparisons to rice, and be like, “it is much better than some rice” and that’s totally fine, but overall ragi has quite a bit of carbs stored in its endosperm.
The total carbohydrate content of finger millet has been reported to be in the range of 72 to 79.5%. The carbohydrates include starch as the main constituent being 59.4 to 70.2%. About 80 to 85% of the finger millet starch is amylopectin and the remaining 15 to 20% is amylose.
And if you all have read my report on GI on rice, you will remember:
When it comes to GI/ diabetics:
Amylose= good, Amylopectin = bad!!
Ragi’s endosperm containing a high amount of starch, that too majority being amylopectin + consuming it in highly powdered form makes for very high GI.
Indian Council of Medical Research Study
Ok, if you are still not convinced by the numbers, let’s listen to an actual expert:
Sudha Vasudevan, senior scientist, Madras Diabetes Research Foundation said that the mean value of GI of upma made from decorticated or processed finger millet (husk is removed from the grain) was high at 87, similar to the GI of white polished rice. Vasudev also said that the study showed that GI of finger millet flakes (also processed) was 82.3.
So, what does all this data mean? Should we all avoid Ragi? Certainly not. The GI aspect only affects diabetics. In fact, ragi is a spectacular grain with great qualities, if you take away the GI aspect.
The National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, India, carried out a study of the total phenolic content and antioxidant activity of various pulses, legumes, and cereals, including millets. Finger millet and Rajmah were highest in antioxidant activity, while ﬁnger millet and black gram dhal had the highest total phenolic content.
Furthermore, in The lost crops of Africa, it is noted finger millet is an important preventative against malnutrition. Tryptophan is usually the second most deficient amino acid in cereals. However, is not deficient in finger millet. Threonine too was not deficient, in contrast to rice, wheat and sorghum (FAO, 1968). Among millets, finger millet is relatively better balanced in essential amino acids because it contains more lysine, thereonine and valine.
Finger millet is also a rich source of minerals. Some samples contain 0.33 percent calcium, 5-30 times more than in most cereals. The phosphorus and iron content can also be high.
So, ragi (finger millet) is nourishing and wonderful. But, use the grain wisely and appropriately. If you are diabetic, try to eat whole grains that have low GI and stay away from finely powdered starches.
I hope this was helpful. Please post your thoughts and comments below. As usual, I look forward to hearing from you!!
Did you enjoy reading the above article? Do you enjoy reading about food science and numbers? If so, try:
Amazon Affiliate Links
Mantra 24 Ragi Flour
Udipi Ragi Flour
I am not a nutritionist/nurse/doctor. I just study numbers and report them. Consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.