Millet: A Gluten-Free Grain You Should Avoid

Millet | The Paleo Diet

Over the past 5-7 years, more and more people worldwide have become aware of the Paleo Diet, which really is not a diet at all, but rather a lifelong way of eating to reduce the risk of chronic disease and maximize health and wellbeing. One of the fundamental principles of The Paleo Diet is to eliminate or drastically reduce consumption of cereal grains, whether they are refined or whole. Currently, 8 cereal grains (wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye, and millet) provide 56% of the food energy and 50% of the protein consumed on earth.3 However, from an evolutionary perspective, these foods were rarely or never consumed by our hunter gatherer ancestors.3

When I first made the suggestion that as a species we would be a lot healthier if we reduced or eliminated cereal consumption in 1999,3 I received, and still receive, criticism by some professionals in the nutritional community because they believe that the elimination of an entire food group (cereals) is nutritionally unsound and “will produce numerous dietary deficiencies.” This statement is not supported by any experimental evidence. In fact, the contrary is true. As I have previously pointed out, elimination of cereal grains actually increases the nutrient density of the 13 vitamins and minerals most lacking in the U.S. diet4, 5 – providing cereals are replaced by fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, seafood and eggs.

Besides this fundamental lack of knowledge concerning the nutrient density of cereal grains, nearly all classically trained nutritionists have little or no appreciation for the antinutrients present in grains. As the name implies, antinutrients are dietary substances which interfere with our normal metabolism and physiology. Cereal grains are generally concentrated sources of numerous antinutrients and may produce undesirable health effects,3 particularly when consumed as daily staples.

In the U.S. “gluten free” foods have become incredibly popular in recent years as many people recognize that they simply feel better by eliminating the 3 gluten containing grains (wheat, rye and barley). Gluten conscious consumers frequently replace wheat, rye and barley with non-gluten containing grains (rice, corn, oats, sorghum and millet) in the mistaken belief that these 5 non-gluten grains are harmless. However, as I have previously pointed out, even the 5 non-gluten containing grains should be avoided for a variety of reasons.3 Specifically, I’ll detail below how millet adversely affects iodine metabolism and may cause goiter (swelling of the neck) when eaten regularly.

The Culprit: Millet

Unless you are a vegan, a vegetarian or are in search of gluten-free grains, most Americans and westerners have never tasted millet. Nevertheless, you don’t have to look very far to find this cereal grain (grass seed) at most health food stores. If you only dine upon millet dishes once in a blue moon, it will have zero repercussions upon your health, but be aware that millet is a nutrient poor, antinutrient laden food – the regular consumption of which may cause multiple dietary deficiencies and nutrient related diseases,3 including impairment of iodine metabolism and risk for goiter.

Millet is not a single plant species (as are most other cereal grains), but rather interpreted broadly may comprise about 500 species of grass seeds worldwide.13 Only a few species of millet are commonly cultivated as food crops. Worldwide, pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) is the most widely produced millet15 and is cultivated extensively in Africa and India. Finger millet (Eleusine coracana, proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), fonio millet (Digitaria exilis), and foxtail millet (Setaria italic) are also important crop species in developing countries.13, 15 Nevertheless millet is a minor cereal grain in terms of global economic importance. Worldwide production of millet is about 1% of either wheat or rice.13

Because millets require little water and are highly drought resistant, they grow well in arid and semi arid regions of the world such as in countries surrounding the Sahara desert in Africa and in dry areas in India and Asia. Further, millet is an attractive agricultural crop for farmers in these regions because under good conditions, it can yield two harvests per year13 and is resistant to pests and pathogens.

In the Sudan region (Darfur Province) of Africa, dietary surveys show that millet consumption in three communities (Kas, Tawaila and Nyala) was the primary source of food calories, respectively yielding 73.6%, 66.7%, and 37.1% of total daily energy.20 In this study, the occurrence of goiter was outrageously high – greater than almost anywhere else in the world. The incidence of goiter for girls in these three communities was 75%, 55%, and 13%, respectively; for boys it was 46%, 35%, and 10%, respectively. Similar high rates of goiter and thyroid disorders have been reported for school children in the Gujarat district of Western India where millet is a staple food.2

Millet Consumption, Iodine Deficiency and Goiter

Wherever and whenever millet becomes a staple food worldwide, the incidence of goiter increases and abnormalities of thyroid function and iodine metabolism occur2,7,16-20 Further, animal studies in rats, pet birds, and goats and tissue (in vitro) studies demonstrate unequivocally that this cereal plays a major role in causing goiter, thyroid abnormalities and impairment of iodine metabolism.1, 8, 10-12, 22

Iodine is an essential nutrient for humans, without which we most conspicuously develop goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland about the neck). Additionally, lack of iodine in the diet impairs cognitive development in growing infants and children, miscarriage in pregnant women and brain and nervous system dysfunction in adults.24, 25

Originally, it was thought that goiter occurred primarily from a deficiency of iodine in our food supply and water. Accordingly, in the U.S. and elsewhere most dietary salt (NaCl) has been fortified with iodine. An unappreciated aspect of iodine metabolism is that metabolic deficiencies of this nutrient can still occur even when dietary intake of iodine appears to be sufficient.7 Although virtually unknown to most nutritionists, elements found in millet represent powerful antinutrients that impair iodine metabolism and frequently cause goiter and symptoms of iodine deficiency.

Goitrogens in Millet

Goitrogens are dietary substances which impair thyroid and iodine metabolism and may ultimately cause the development of goiter. As I have previously alluded, a few scientists in the nutritional community early on appreciated that high millet diets promoted goiter. However, it was not completely understood how millet produced its goitrogenic effect. Subsequent discoveries and experiments over the past 35 years now show that compounds known as flavonoids in millets are responsible for causing iodine dysfunction and may in turn produce goiter when consumed as staples.6, 7, 21, 23

All millets are concentrated sources of compounds known as polyphenolics, some of which are referred to as flavonoids. Numerous flavonoids have been found in millets including apigenin, luteolin , kaempferol and vitexin; all of which severely impair thyroid function and iodine metabolism6, 10-12, 21, 23 and cause goiter in animal and tissue models.1, 8, 10-12, 22 Although it is not completely understood, flavonoids from millets appear to inhibit iodine uptake by most cells in the body, impair secretion of thyroid hormones, and reduce organification of Iodine by the enzyme thyroperoxidase.6, 7, 10, 23

Additional Antinutrients in Millets

Although a few scientific articles suggest that millets may possess positive health effects,26, 27 these papers and authors seem to be completely unaware of the numerous antinutrients found in millets and their potential for disrupting nutrition and health.

Let’s begin with the mistaken notion that millets are good sources of calcium.26, 27 Upon chemical analysis on paper, this statement may be true, but in the body (in vivo), nothing could be further from the truth. Calcium, along with iron and zinc that may be present in millets are actually poorly absorbed in our bodies because phytates, tannins and other compounds prevent their assimilation.28-32 Accordingly, high cereal grain diets whether millet derived or not, frequently result in multiple nutrient deficiencies including calcium, iron and zinc.3

In addition to their high phytate, flavonoid and polyphenolic contents, millets are also concentrated sources of other antinutrients including protease inhibitors (trypsin, chymotrypsin, alpha amylase and cysteine)33-35 and steroidal saponins.36, 37 Cereal grain protease inhibitors likely elicit adverse effects upon the pancreas when consumed as staple foods,3 and saponins are known to increase intestinal permeability and may contribute to chronic low level systemic inflammation.

Taken in its entirety, an overwhelming scientific literature demonstrates that millets are second rate foods that when consumed regularly may adversely affect iodine metabolism and elicit goiter. I’m not completely sure where the USDA dietitians derived their recommendations for whole grain consumption, but it certainly could not have come from their familiarity with the millet literature.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

 

References

1. Abel Gadir WS, Adam SE. Development of goitre and enterohepatonephropathy in Nubian Goats fed with pearl millet (Pennisetum typhoides). Vet J. 1999 Mar;157(2):178-85.

2. Brahmbhatt S, Brahmbhatt RM, Boyages SC. Thyroid ultrasound is the best prevalence indicator for assessment of iodine deficiency disorders: a study in rural/tribal schoolchildren from Gujarat (Western India). Eur J Endocrinol. 2000 Jul;143(1):37-46.

3. Cordain L. (1999). Cereal grains: humanity’s double edged sword. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 84: 19-73.

4. Cordain L. The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Neutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24.

5. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:341-54.

6. de Souza Dos Santos MC, Gonçalves CF, Vaisman M, Ferreira AC, de Carvalho DP. Impact of flavonoids on thyroid function. Food Chem Toxicol. 2011 Oct;49(10):2495-502

7. Elnour A, Hambraeus L, Eltom M, Dramaix M, Bourdoux P. Endemic goiter with iodine sufficiency: a possible role for the consumption of pearl millet in the etiology of endemic goiter. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1):59-66.

8. Elnour A, Liedén S, Bourdoux P, Eltom M, Khalid SA, Hambraeus L. Traditional fermentation increases goitrogenic activity in pearl millet. Ann Nutr Metab. 1998;42(6):341-9.

9. Elnour A, Liedén S, Bourdoux P, Eltom M, Khalid SA, Hambraeus L. The goitrogenic effect of two Sudanese pearl millet cultivars in rats. Nutr Res 1997; Mar (17): 533–546.

10. Gaitan E, Cooksey RC, Legan J, Lindsay RH. Antithyroid effects in vivo and in vitro of vitexin: a C-glucosylflavone in millet. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1995 Apr;80(4):1144-7.

11. Gaitan E, Lindsay RH, Reichert RD, Ingbar SH, Cooksey RC, Legan J, Meydrech EF, Hill J, Kubota K. Antithyroid and goitrogenic effects of millet: role of C-glycosylflavones. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1989 Apr;68(4):707-14.

12. Gaitan E, Lindsay RH, Cooksey RC, Hill J, Reichert RD, Ingbar SH. The thyroid effects of C-glycosylflavonoids in millet. Prog Clin Biol Res. 1988;280:349-63

13. Hunt HV, Badakshi F, Romanova O, Howe CJ, Jones MK, Heslop-Harrison JS. Reticulate evolution in Panicum (Poaceae): the origin of tetraploid broomcorn millet, P. miliaceum. J Exp Bot. 2014 Jul;65(12):3165-75.

14. Lu H, Zhang J, Liu KB, Wu N, Li Y, Zhou K, Ye M, Zhang T, Zhang H, Yang X, Shen L, Xu D, Li Q. Earliest domestication of common millet (Panicum miliaceum) in East Asia extended to 10,000 years ago. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 May 5;106(18):7367-72

15. McDonough CM, Rooney LW, Serna-Saldivar SO. (2000). “The Millets”. Food Science and Technology: Handbook of Cereal Science and Technology (CRC Press). 99 2nd ed: 177–210.

16. Medani AM1, Elnour AA, Saeed AM. Endemic goitre in the Sudan despite long-standing programmes for the control of iodine deficiency disorders. Bull World Health Organ. 2011 Feb 1;89(2):121-6.

17. Moreno-Reyes R1, Boelaert M, el Badawi S, Eltom M, Vanderpas JB. Endemic juvenile hypothyroidism in a severe endemic goitre area of Sudan. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1993 Jan;38(1):19-24.

18. [No authors listed] Millet–a possibly goitrogenic cereal. Nutr Rev. 1983 Apr;41(4):113-6.

19. Osman AK, Basu TK, Dickerson JW. A goitrogenic agent from millet (Pennisetum typhoides) in Darfur Province, Western Sudan. Ann Nutr Metab. 1983;27(1):14-8.

20. Osman AK, Fatah AA. Factors other than iodine deficiency contributing to the endemicity of goitre in Darfur Province (Sudan). J Hum Nutr. 1981 Aug;35(4):302-9.

21. Sartelet H, Serghat S, Lobstein A, Ingenbleek Y, Anton R, Petitfrère E, Aguie-Aguie G, Martiny L, Haye B. Flavonoids extracted from fonio millet (Digitaria exilis) reveal potent antithyroid properties. Nutrition. 1996 Feb;12(2):100-6.

22. Schoemaker NJ, Lumeij JT, Dorrestein GM, Beynen AC. Nutrition-related problems in pet birds]. Tijdschr Diergeneeskd. 1999 Jan 15;124(2):39-43.

23. Schröder-van der Elst JP1, Smit JW, Romijn HA, van der Heide D. Dietary flavonoids and iodine metabolism. Biofactors. 2003;19(3-4):171-6.

24. Zimmermann MB.The role of iodine in human growth and development. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2011 Aug;22(6):645-52.
25. Taylor PN1, Okosieme OE, Dayan CM, Lazarus JH. Therapy of endocrine disease: Impact of iodine supplementation in mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency: systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Endocrinol. 2013 Nov 22;170(1):R1-R15. doi: 10.1530/EJE-13-0651. Print 2014 Jan.

26. Devi PB, Vijayabharathi R, Sathyabama S, Malleshi NG, Priyadarisini VB. Health benefits of finger millet (Eleusine coracana L.) polyphenols and dietary fiber: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2014 Jun;51(6):1021-40.

27. Shobana S, Krishnaswamy K, Sudha V, Malleshi NG, Anjana RM, Palaniappan L, Mohan V. Finger millet (Ragi, Eleusine coracana L.): a review of its nutritional properties, processing, and plausible health benefits. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2013;69:1-39.

28. Lestienne I, Besançon P, Caporiccio B, Lullien-Péllerin V, Tréche S. Iron and zinc in vitro availability in pearl millet flours (Pennisetum glaucum) with varying phytate, tannin, and fiber contents. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Apr 20;53(8):3240-7.

29. Lestienne I, Caporiccio B, Besançon P, Rochette I, Trèche S. Relative contribution of phytates, fibers, and tannins to low iron and zinc in vitro solubility in pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum) flour and grain fractions. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Oct 19;53(21):8342-8.

30 Udayasekhara Rao P, Deosthale YG. In vitro availability of iron and zinc in white and coloured ragi (Eleusine coracana): role of tannin and phytate. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1988;38(1):35-41.

31. Suma PF, Urooj A. Nutrients, antinutrients & bioaccessible mineral content (invitro) of pearl millet as influenced by milling. J Food Sci Technol. 2014 Apr;51(4):756-61.

32. Archana, Sehgal S, Kawatra A. Reduction of polyphenol and phytic acid content of pearl millet grains by malting and blanching. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 1999;53(2):93-8.

33. Pattabiraman TN. Trypsin/chymotrypsin inhibitors from millets. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1986;199:439-48.

34. Shivaraj B, Pattabiraman TN. Natural plant enzyme inhibitors. Characterization of an unusual alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitor from ragi (Eleusine coracana Geartn.). Biochem J. 1981 Jan 1;193(1):29-36.

35. Joshi BN, Sainani MN, Bastawade KB, Deshpande VV, Gupta VS, Ranjekar PK.
Pearl millet cysteine protease inhibitor. Evidence for the presence of two distinct sites responsible for anti-fungal and anti-feedent activities. Eur J Biochem. 1999 Oct;265(2):556-63.

36. Lee ST, Mitchell RB, Wang Z, Heiss C, Gardner DR, Azadi P. Isolation, characterization, and quantification of steroidal saponins in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.). J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Mar 25;57(6):2599-604.

37. Patamalai B, Hejtmancik E, Bridges CH, Hill DW, Camp BJ. The isolation and identification of steroidal sapogenins in Kleingrass. Vet Hum Toxicol. 1990 Aug;32(4):314-8.

About Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor EmeritusDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of six popular bestselling books including The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

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“61” Comments

  1. According to the Eat Right for your type -( Blood group diet), my B Blood Group says I am an ancient Nomad and Nomads flourished in those areas of India where the millet thrives. It is probably why I do so well on millet, I am unable to have Gluten and since I have been including millet as a staple I feel great, my health is now good, no more bowel problems, and now I have no health issues.

  2. Terrific. I don;t like using coconut or almond flour. What can I bake with besides those choices? Someone guide me. I love the paleo diet, but this is starting to get ridicules.

  3. Traditionally, in India, Millets and pulses are soaked, the water removed and then used. For eg. Rice and Urud Dhal, a pulse, are soaked together during day, the water removed, they are ground together with sufficient fresh water and the paste of this mix is left overnight to ferment and this mix is used to make idlis or dosas. Similarly millet dosas – soak the ground millet (ragi, kambu etc) with wheat if required, let it ferment overnight, and make dosas in the morning. When people used to have these for breakfast, they were healthy and strong without diseases. My grandmother lived till 95 without any problem. She ate these+everything except processed food, all in moderation, good vegetables, fruits, fish, eggs, meat. My dad is currently 86 and fit without any disease.

    Its silly to talk about paleolithic food and assume this and that. However, we in India have had highly evolved scientific texts and scientific knowledge passed on by a highly evolved oral tradition for atleast 12,000 years of our history. Every plant was researched and its use for food and medicine elaborated through verses. In a simple way, all seasonal food was consumed and a wide variety of grains and pulses cultivated and consumed in certain ways as mentioned above. Nothing was done without an understanding.

    However, after the British dedicatedly destroyed all the systems, we have started imitating the west and the consequences are seen. India has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the world’s capital of coronary heart disease and diabetes. Now, every now and then a scientific research is published, with the narrowest of parameters, without understanding the wholeness of life and solely for the profit of some company and that is regarded as absolute truth and people are becoming sicker by the day to support the health care industry.

    Eat organic natural food, with lots of vegetables, have an egg a day, have some meat during weekends if you wish and most importantly chew the food well before sending it down your throat, and stay healthy and fit with lots of energy.

  4. The incidence of goiter is recent phenomenon(last 50 – 70 years) in these regions introduced my modern agriculture (chemical pesticides, and fertilizer and hybrid varieties). If this kind drastic negative impact was there on those communities consuming millets they would have been wiped out of the face of the earth long back without trace.

    native varieties of Millets consumed over centuries in Indian sub continent had no ill effect on people.
    The Millets and cereals were genetically tinkered with by ICRISAT research institute which has created hybrid strains that give high yields and contain many harmful compounds. many of the IRCIST Jowar and millet varieties are so bad that cattle avoid eating th grass and stem of these varieties which indicates they are not edible.

    cotton plant(BT cotton) is made to produce life harming chemical to ward off pest attack is proof that modern agriculture can poison our food.
    Dear professor spend your time on finding how to prevent poisoning of food chain by your scientific community
    Some genetic changes take generations to show their bad effect . making irresponsible changes to grain breeds to find a quick fix to food shortage (which is mostly due to greed of business community) is most bad thing that agricutural scientists have done to the world.

    to stay safe avoid hybrid varieties and opt for native varieties which organically grown.
    native varieties are gods creations and some irresponsible crook who made money by doing ons sided research and tinkers with statistics

  5. What a lot of nonsense. The best advice is to eat a little of a wide rang of foods which Nature has provided. Vegetarians like me include these grains within their healthy diet which eschews meat and fish and therefore does not contribute to animal cruelty.

    • It’s a lot better to have a few antinutrients, which obviously are not really wreaking havoc, than to continue the obscenity of animal abuse. Mix your diet up, ferment and soak your grains perhaps, and don’t get paranoid.
      Our bodies will do great with good organic veggies, fruits, grains, and God/dess’s goodness. :)

  6. This is a terrible article. So much meat and dairy funding aimed at conditioning and brainwashing impressionable readers– very irresponsible I might add, coming from someone with a wide readership and supposed qualifications in conventional nutrition studies. The diet the human body was designed to consume is a starch-based high fiber low fat diet, free from animal fats and proteins which are the cause of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and the majority of all other diseases and adverse conditions in the human body. Once people make the connection between the basic mind-body physiology and realise that we as humans thrive on plant carbs, superior health becomes a downhill journey. Thankfully the plant-based movement is expanding so rapidly as more and more people from every corner of the globe switch on and take control of their own health, tuning out all external propaganda nonsense/misinformation such as this. It is laughable that the only rationale these paleo “experts” (self-professed) “scientists” etc have for promoting such an unhealthy, disease-causing lifestyle is that “it’s only in the last 10,000 years that our ancestors have incorporated grains into the diet!” Well actually, if you update your resources and do a little research, you’ll discover that archaeologists confirm the reliance of the human diet on cereal grains and starchy root vegetables over 100,000 years ago, the time of early Homo sapiens. There’s no need for me to post a link or a source here, if you have an internet connection granting you the possibility to read this comment then you have the possibility to do a little research yourself to uncover this truth. It’s most amusing because it discounts the entire premise of the supposed rationality of a ‘paleo’ diet– a paleolithic diet which actually relied heavily on grains and starches! Who would have thought, given the misinformation spewing from this article. Whole grains, especially millet, contain a multitude of health benefits forming the building blocks for excellent health, well being, mental, psychological and hormonal health, and appearance/beauty– including a range of B vitamins, exceptional fiber for cleansing (starch-based diet is synonymous with a fiber-packed diet, thus warding off every kind of disease and keeping the colon clean), magnesium, iron and countless other essential nutrients to build a strong, lean, healthy and beautiful body. It has been demonstrated by science that vegans have a more pleasant body odor, breath and pass much less offensive gas than meat eaters, who have dead decomposing animal flesh clogging their intestines and causing constipation- not attractive at all! Furthermore, there is no “everybody’s body is different” or “what works for you may not work for me” nonsense. This is pure nonsense. We are one species with a species-specific diet which is a low fat, high carb plant-based starch-based lifestyle. Traditional communities who haven’t been tainted by diet propaganda and meat-funded misinformation are in the most excellent health out of all populations, live the longest and experience the least instance of diseases in their populations– rural Chinese communities, Japanese Island communities, Indian communities and so on, who all consume starch based diets and maintain lean and healthy bodies with all mental faculties intact into old age. Do research Dr. Ellsworth Wareham, a 101 year old retired cardiac surgeon who has followed and promoted a vegan diet for 50 years of his life. He is in excellent form, has no joint issues, still drives and exercises and employs excellent mental faculties. You can watch his interviews online. Please, take a look in nature. All species follow a species-specific diet. Some gorillas aren’t carnivores while others vegans. They share much of our genetic composition and consume a plant based diet (excluding small insects which can comprise an insignificant percentage of food consumption). The phytonutrients and phytochemicals many Paleo promoters seem to have a problem with are actually the very plant nutrients which serve to fight off and prevent disease in the human body. Also research Dr. Fuhrman, he is a good resource for more info on this.

    Please, a little common sense can go a long way. This article seems to be lacking even a grain of sense, pun intended.

    • Oh I so agree with this correspondent Well done, you. I am a vegetarian verging on vegan and am in wonderful health looking years younger than my chronological age. I know, instinctively, that living on plant based foods is the right way of living. I hope the time ill come when the human race will realise that the slaughter of animals and consumption of dead meat is barbaric and the creation of dis-ease.

    • Yes, I totally and wholeheartedly agree here: Humans are meant to consume plants, mostly fruit, as their diet. I am a living example of this truth: 64 years, never a fiber of meat in my diet, only mostly fruit, and vegetables. I love to eat raw: apples, bananas, lots of nuts and also dried fruit. I never eat anything processed, only what I prepare myself from produce that is whole and unadulterated. The consequence of this lifestyle, starting right after being weaned from breast feeding, is that I have never had a doctor, never am sick, look much younger than my years would indicate, and have energy to give away. I am literally brimming with health and energy. Actually, I do not care much for all those so-called scientific studies, because all they do is take one very minor aspect out of the entire spectrum of wholesome nutrients, and then over-study it on animals. How is that supposed to yield intelligent data? Food absorption is a synergistic type of process, and it is useless to pick out one tiny thing and make sweeping deductions from those so-called scientific findings. There should be NO food “industry”, especially not one who relies on genetic tinkering. I want my fruit and veggies the way they have been growing for eons. So what if they don’t look like painted pictures, like clones? On a natural apple tree, there will be fat apples and tiny ones, all are good! Live long and prosper with fruit and vegetables. Respect the animals, do not enslave and exploit them. Aren’t we supposed to be the stewards of this planet? I think that does not mean ‘exploit and slaughter’ anything we can lay our hands on. We have lost the true meaning of ‘the respect for life’. So very sad!

    • Aisha, thank you for the comment. The idea of not having a healthy grain-vegetable (roots, cruciferous vegatables, leafy greens) diet is not based on centuries-old wisdom. A wide variety of whole foods prepared at home is the way to go.

    • Oh thNk you so much I am vegan also and reading this article was making me feel sort of uneasy and insecure but you slapped me back into reality helping me to snap out of feeding into this rubbing thank you!

  7. What this expert and other experts fail to realize is that there are two sides to thyroid deficiency. It’s annoying that they focus on the one that makes the most money and appeals to most Americans, the side that is associated with weight gain, hypothyroidism. For those suffering from an overactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism there is very little credible information out there. So called experts like this should address all the audience and I believe they are causing people harm by there one sided mis information. For people suffering with an over active thyroid millet is actually a very viable diet option to help alleviate the effects of hyperthyroidism. It may not be the best option health wise but it serves it purpose is giving a bit of relief to those suffering.

  8. Through the entire article I kept thinking to myself that this person is a very poor dietician. Every single last food on the planet has its positives and negatives. In the end, our food, our diet, will kill us, “naturally”. There is no perfect diet. The best diets are the ones which offer a wide variety of foods, and our diets should change frequently throughout our lifetime. Diets should vary according to age, sex, nationality, locality, even genetics, and of course, environment.
    The concept of “anti-nutrients” is rather silly. All nutrients have a level of toxicity. It is very easy to take too little or too many nutrients, and the amount we need changes by the moment, and varies depending on other nutrients that we ingest. At times, the best diet can be fasting. The “Paleo-diet” is rather interesting, it is based upon the imagination and was followed by humans for the first time in history when it was recently first introduced to the world. Based upon the above facts, it is sure not to be a good thing, except perhaps for a small group of people, over a short period of time, under specific circumstances — as is the case with most diets.
    Millet, and other grains, have saved millions of peoples lives, and greatly boosted their health and way of life since the beginning. That is a fact. It would be best to figure out ways of working with such nutritious plants. Perhaps they could be processed better and combined with other ingredients to naturally and/or artificially augment its positive attributes. Unfortunately we do not know what we are doing yet, and perfect diets are far beyond our current capabilities, but to experiment is to learn.

  9. If u abuse those millets and not eat but millets you are going to get screwed. If you eat only chicken you are going to get screwed, if you eat only cucumbers you are going bye bye. Mix your daily food with a variety of grains and vegetables , every grain from this earth is beneficial and the abuse of it will lead to vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition. I’am a vegan and I don’t mind people eating meat every once in a while it’s not gonna kill you or mess with your health, just the idea of killing innocent beings for taste, pleasure and misguidance towards protein and calcium through those innocent bodies. Got blood results today, protein, calcium and B12 are higher than average and i haven’t consumed meat or dairy for 2 years. Just mix your food and stop eating meat and dairy for pleasure purposes. Idiots.

  10. Re thyroid problems. Some people are just more prone to them. You can avoid all the well known goiter producing foods and still have issues if your intake of Iodine and tyrosine (found in protein) is inadequate for your particular constitution. About eggs and other animal foods, if the animal’s feed didn’t contain enough iodine it won’t be in the food you eat. It’s that simple. Take an Iodine supplement. There are a few different kinds.

  11. Some of the claims in this articles are not true. May be author has a vested interest in food Industry and have an incentive to work against millets.
    FYI, entire south India used to be on millet diet for several centuries (only few decades back rice has become popular). South India has a population of 400 million (yes more than US population) and rarely see any of the side effects this author suggests

  12. this website is culprit not millets. these informations are fake and very very wrong, don’t go with this diet. search about nammalvar organic scientist and indian millets. easy way to cure diabetes, hypothyroidism and many diseases with using millets

  13. Dr. CORDAIN, you rebuked Millet and other grains because of their antinutrients but in the Paleo diet you advocate eating nuts, which also have a high amount of antinutrients. Please explain?

  14. Dr. Cordain, I was naturally concerned about the advice you provide about Millet and other grains. Virtually all grain, nuts and beans contain antinutrients and that is why you have to soak them overnight first. This takes out the antinutrients and also releases the good nutrients (making it more readily absorbed by the body). Grains, nuts and beans are very healthy. Everyone in Russian and China eat millet regularly and they don’t seem to suffer from GOITER. Several comments have asked you about this and I didn’t see your reply. I am very interested to know your reply to this? Many thanks, Fash.

    • Hi, Fash, I have eaten nuts by the handful all my life, never soaked a single one of them. I just chew them very long times before I swallow them. The saliva does the job of preparing the foods for further break down in the stomach and intestines. I cannot imagine our primitive ancestors picking nuts from bushes in the wilderness and soaking them for a day or so before eating them. The natural way is: from the shrub into the mouth! That has worked for me all my life, and I am 100 % healthy. Quod erat demonstrandum, lol!

  15. Interesting post! I’ve experimenting vegan diet for 16 months. I eat quinoa, buckwheat, and very rarely millet. I have recovered from most of chronic diseases including Hay Fever I suffered from for many years. All I could say is that not one food is contributing to nutrient deficiencies in our bodies. It is either over-consumption of one food or not consuming enough nutrient-dense food such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Good article anyway!

  16. As I eat my oatmeal with sprinkles of millet in it, I cant help but be confused by this. Iodine deficiency seems rare being as though most people don’t just consume millet and millet only. Iron, B-6, Magnesium, protein, fiber are to be expected… Calcium is not something one looks for when consuming millet. You say to “beware” and “inflammation”. Consuming meat is the leading cause of inflammation and acidity in the human body. Shouldn’t you be telling your readers to beware of cooking bacon in butter as that is okay on a paleo diet. Some people are unaware because they are lead to believe that as long as they run away from the bad grains, that require an entire article, they are not being cautioned on their excessive protein and fat consumption.

  17. Dear Dr. Cordain,

    Millets are being consumed in the Indian subcontinent for over 4000 years. Many civilisations and kingdoms sustained thanks to Millets. Vegetarian body builders in India consume millets for their micronutients content – iron calcium, magnesium etc. Please verify your research before commenting on millets.

    • Abhishek,

      Millet might have been consumed in various civilizations for the last 4000 years or greater, but large-scale cultivation of millet and all other grains is a product of the recent neolithic revolution (last 10,000 years). Humans evolution spans much longer than the time frame for recent neolithic or agricultural revolution. Prior to agriculture, all human beings on the planet existed as hunter-gatherers, and did not eat large quantities of any grains including millet. Additionally, one can easily obtain all of the necessary nutrients for the human body in the absence of grain consumption.

      • Not to derail the topic, but I think a large portion of the resistance to the idea of grain and cereal grains (not saying you Abishek)is the lack of consideration towards the incredible length of time the human digestive tract has been evolving. 10,000 years may be more than just a drop in the bucket, but it isn’t much more!

          • If we had not evolved to handle a grain diet, we would all be dead a long time ago. A grain diet does not mean you eat 100% grain. No society anywhere has ever done this. All people everywhere also included animal products to a greater or lesser degree and all kinds of plant foods as well. They figured out cooking and food preparation techniques to maximize nutrients. It may have taken several generations, but they did figure it out.

            I don’t think that it is even an issue of grain based VS meat based. It’s an issue of getting all the minerals you need. Prior to science figuring this out, and defining what minerals are needed, it was only by happenstance that some populations got enough of the socalled minor minerals – which are actually major in their effects on health. For example, Se and Iodine, just for starters. These are not distributed equally around the world.

            Also, the consumption of grain produced a larger brain and all that goes along with that – good and bad. Eat paleo style long enough and your descendants will eventually go back to the entire lifestyle. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that; just saying.

      • before to grain cultivation, people were living by hunting. accepted. but did you really know that those people were living for 50 yrs or 60 yrs or 70 yrs or 80 yrs or 90 yrs or 100 yrs without any disease. no evidence indicates that their survival was healthy. can i get an explanation.
        why to consider millet grain consumption is wrong.
        atleast there is clear evidence that people who ate millets were healthy and fit and fine without the disease goitre. please explain

    • Yes, millet, if consumed as part of a balanced diet of meat, fish, veges, pulses etc etc, is ok. Professionals who go on a witch hunt for certain food groups,do so to protect their own professional prowess and reputaion as ‘experts’ in their field. We all have intelligent minds and experience in life which we can draw from to make decisions about diet. We don’t need to be ‘babied’ by professed professionals.

  18. This is a great input. Thanks.
    If I am not mistake, 500 years ago and before, most of human’s life expectance is below 45 years old, and girls are mated below age of 14. Most of the time, they are in a very different condition than we do.
    Except a few rich and powerful, most of them are in surviving state, food for existing and calories for hard labor.
    50 or so years ago, Chinese common greetings, one of them is “Have you eaten yet?”.
    Chinese with their 3000 years of herbal medicine, never found iodine. It has it own strength and short fall. But we tend to think in “good” or “bad”. We should consider that every is good and bad.
    We need people to research more, but, please, always remember that we do no know it all.
    Keep up the good work. Thanks.

    • Ask per medical texts of India, China and Arabrian texts as well, the life expectancy 5000 years ago, say in Ayurvedic texts of Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita was 100 years. This conflicts with common and “new” science of today, yet that continues to change, constantly and consistently.

      When the article above states about vegetarian diet and its downfalls yet cultures have been eating vegetarian for centuries….. when it states about millet yet you can find opposing research to that which is being used here…. ?????

      • In ancient texts, where they refer to life span (such as in the Old Testament, see Methuselah) they are not using our modern time counting. The translation may quote it as being years (which we believe to be 12 months), but more likely, the count is in “moons”, new moon to full moon. In other words, they counted in Months.
        So, if Methuselah died at the age of 969, if you look at this as “moons”, he died at the age of just under 81 years.
        Makes sense to me, and it was certainly a blessed age, considering that the life span of modern man, even in advanced societies today, lies about 10 years below that.

  19. Millet has been eaten in Africa since the time of our ancestors. It is not the cause of goiter or thyroid issues. Millet is fermented in Africa before it’s eaten. If your thyroid is functioning normally, these foods (including millet) will not cause harm. You would have to eat an incredible amount of millet to result in goiter unless you have a pre-existing condition.

    Anti-nutrients are a part of nature so like our ancestors, we should take care to sprout, ferment or soak to release micro-nutrients in our food.

  20. Very controversial article in the world of nutrition. But well written. May I ask what is the source of fiber in the world of Paleo nutrition? Does it receive any importance, and do you think its’ a worthy component of what we eat regularly?

  21. Pingback: 3 Millets – Jowar, Bajra And Ragi (gluten intolerance people, here ya go!!! Its the newest superfood!!!) | trueayurveda

  22. Dr. Cordain,
    Thanks for the informative research, but what is known about consumption of millet and it’s affect on uptake of vitamins and minerals AF ter it has been soaked, soured, or fermented? Would appreciate your thoughts or research on this.
    Sincerely,
    Michelle Tebbe

  23. Aren’t polyphenols and flavonoids also powerful antioxidants? The problematic ones listed in the article, do they also exhibit beneficial activity in the human body?

    Also, does this mean that the same flavonoids found in other plant foods exhibit similar anti-iodine activity? And what about other commonly found flavonoids in fruits and vegetables? Are any of them also harmful? Thanks!

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  25. Pingback: The List Of Whole Grain Foods Part One

  26. Thank you for the interesting read. I’ll file this under “good to know,” although I don’t see too much millet making its way onto our table, or in my meals. I do, however, get some grains in my diet, but usually in the way of oats or rice if I do.

  27. I just heard about this millet plants, because the park is not in asia, musty this plant can grow in asia? I really want to cultivate them because so many benefits contained in millet.

  28. Interesting article, however, I must disagree on a few points. Firstly, iodine deficiency is more common in developing countries and can be easily be balanced by eating sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, seaweed…etc. Secondly, goitrogenic foods (note it does not mean these foods CAUSE goiters) is primarily found in nutrient dense foods of the cruciferous family (ie. kale, broccoli, cabbage).

    If your thyroid is functioning normally, these foods (including millet) will not cause harm. In fact, a limited diet will deplete you of micro-nutrients and will likely cause more harm. Thirdly, millet has been eaten in China (yes since the Neolithic times) but has been used as a hormone balancer. You would have to eat an obscene amount of millet (and / or kale for that matter) to giver yourself a goiter unless you have a pre-existing condition. Chances are if you eat out you’re eating iodized (and processed) salt so don’t think this is a problem.

    Thirdly, spinach, kale and nuts in particular contain anti-nutrients. This is why it’s good to cook foods and soak nuts if possible. It doesn’t make sense to pick on millet as the only culprit. Anti-nutrients are a part of nature so like our ancestors, we should take care to sprout, ferment or soak to release micro-nutrients in our food.

    I agree that millet should never be the only grain eaten (ie. mono-diets) but the same goes for eating kale or lamb everyday. Variety or a rotational diet is important to ensure a healthy diet. So, please don’t be scared of millet (esp if you’re gluten intolerant!). It can be a good part of a healthy diet but like any other foodstuff…It has to be in moderation. Who eats bowls and bowls of millet anyway?

    • Great comment. Also a single egg has 44 micrograms of Iodine (the RDA for adult men and women is 150 micrograms) due to Iodine supplementation in hen feed. Virtually no adults in Western nations who get sufficient calories and any semblance of a balanced diet have goiter. And even in these African and Asian nations where millet is consumed in abundance and goiter is an issue, goiter may actually be caused by lack of Selenium in depleted soils rather than Iodine deficiency, since Selenium works in conjunction with Iodine to produce goiter.

      Perhaps people with thyroid disorders should avoid *uncooked* millet. But cooking or soaking grains destroys anti-nutrients like phytates and goitrogens. In addition, these foods which contain such things also contain many health-promoting compounds such as flavonoids and fiber. There is no reason for a general recommendation to avoid millet, or grains in general for that matter, for the general public. Individuals with specific health conditions may find a grain-free diet beneficial though.

      • A single egg also has an excessive amount of cholesterol. Also to get the good stuff from the egg because of what the chicken ate sounds a bit confusing to me. If the feed wasn’t supplemented than you wouldn’t have the iodine in the egg? Is that what you mean? Thanks

        • I raise chickens and give them a supplement (specifically for hens) that contains Iodine. And,yes, you are right – if the mineral is not in the feed, it’s not in the egg. Period.

  29. Pingback: Short Note on Quinoa, Amaranth, Millet, and Chia | Musings from the Chiefio

  30. From my research, it appears that since pearl millet is the most widely eaten of the millets, followed by fonio millet, that only these have been assessed. The causative components resulting in goitre are apigenin and luteolin, both of which can interfere with thyroid function. Fonio millet also contain these, but no other millets have been assessed for the presence of these substances.

    Millet is a group of 500 grains. Many of them from different families. So far, Setaria italic, Foxtail Millet, Eleusine coracana, Finger Millet, and Panicum miliaeum, Proso Millet have not been tested for apigenin and luteolin.

    So, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

  31. Thanks for this information.
    Over six months ago i begun a gluten free diet which helped with my constipation issues and yes went on a corn,rice,sorghum,millet subtitute diet. As long as i stay away from gluten am fine, but i have realized that my bones feel weak; if i lean my hands on my desk while i work after a few minutes and my elbows pain, could this be the effect of a low fiber diet?

    • Hi Jacque, bones feeling weak can due to a number of causes including deficient vitamins or minerals or even food sensitivity. Perhaps trying one grain at a time (whole grains and soaked) and waiting a couple of days to see if there are any effects will help you determine if any of the food is a culprit. Also make sure you get your Vit Bs and Vit D (important for bone health). If you’re eating lots of veggies and different grains, you’re probably getting enough fiber and this shouldn’t lead to joint pain. Make sure you’re getting enough essential fatty acids (omega 3 in particular) from flaxseed oil or cold water fish. This will decrease inflammation. Good luck!

  32. Pingback: Millet Sports Collect In Store | Click and Collect

  33. Great article. It makes me wonder what the iodine requirement is for people who don’t eat grains. Not all paleohumans lived near the sea – did they get or need the current RDA’s worth of iodine??? I also ask because Potassium Iodide (the form in which iodine is added to table salt and supplements) causes me ioderma (pustules over half my skin) when I ingest KI. So I avoid KI additives & supplements. I do get some iodine from seafood that doesn’t seem to bother me (in a different form? NaI?) but have no clue how much.

    • @deirdra. Hi. I have heard that people who get bad reactions from Potassium Iodide do better on Ammonium Iodide/Iodine (a combo in liquid form). Ammonium has nothing to do with ammonia, so don’t let the sound of the word scare you. Also, there is a supplement called Magnascent. FWIW. Worth a try. I suspect most of us who aren’t eating seaweed every day may be deficient.

  34. Pingback: Millet: A Gluten-Free Grain You Should Avoid | Health Fitness Daily

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