Millet can raise the iron level. In the case of iron deficiency or if anemia is already present, millet should therefore be on the menu more often. It is true that millet also contains so-called anti-nutrients, which – as is often said – should reduce the usability of iron. In practice, however, this has by no means been confirmed.
Eat millet regularly if you have an iron deficiency
Iron deficiency is common. It is even the most common deficiency disease worldwide. A total of around 2 billion people suffer from iron deficiency, mostly in poor countries. But even in Europe, up to 10 percent of the population and among women of childbearing age even 20 percent are affected by iron deficiency.
In October 2021, a study was published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, which showed how regular consumption of millet can increase iron levels (ferritin levels = stored iron) and thus improve or prevent iron deficiency anemia.
Evaluation of 30 studies on the subject of “millet and anemia”
For the aforementioned meta-analysis, 22 human studies and 8 laboratory studies on the subject of “millet consumption and anemia” were evaluated. 7 organizations from 4 countries participated in the study. The initiator of the study was the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), an international research institution that was founded in 1972 and is dedicated to improving living conditions in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa.
Semi-arid means that there are long dry seasons in these areas, making it difficult to grow food and often leading to famine. Consequently, deficiency symptoms are also the order of the day. Nevertheless, the results of the study are of course interesting and helpful for anyone who is struggling with low ferritin levels and thus also with iron deficiency – regardless of whether they live in Africa, Asia, or Europe.
“Millet can cover all or at least a large part of the daily iron requirement of an average person, according to the results of our study,” explains Dr. Seetha Anitha, study author, and nutritionist at ICRISAT. “The iron content depends on the millet variety and how the millet is processed. Nonetheless, our work shows that millet may play a promising role in preventing iron deficiency anemia.”
Because millet increased the hemoglobin level by about 13.2 percent. In four of the evaluated studies, millet was also able to increase the serum ferritin value by an average of 54.7 percent. Both values - the hemoglobin value and the ferritin value in the serum – are used to diagnose an iron deficiency.
Study participants were nearly 1000 children, adolescents, and adults who regularly consumed millet. Six different millet types were studied, including crabgrass, pearl millet, sorghum, and a mixture of foxtail millet, Kodo millet, and small millet.
“It is often claimed that the iron from millet is not readily bioavailable because it is said to contain a high proportion of so-called anti-nutrients,” says Joanna Kane-Potaka, former Deputy Director General of ICRISAT and co-author of the study, which is an important one topic addresses. “However, our research shows that this is not true. On the contrary. The bioavailability of iron from millet is comparable to that of other plant-based foods. Also, the anti-nutrient levels in millet are not higher than in other staple foods, but rather lower.”
It also depends on the way the millet is processed. When you make millet snacks in the extruder, the bioavailability of the iron increases by more than 5 times.
During fermentation, puffing (millet poppies/millet pops), and malting, the bioavailability of iron increases threefold, and during germination (sprouting) doubles. This means that with all these forms of processing, the influence of the anti-nutrients can also be reduced. For example, the content of tannins (an anti-nutrient) drops by half when sprouting and by only 5 percent when cooking alone.
There is so much iron in millet
In some of the millets examined, special millet varieties were used in which the iron content was increased through breeding/genetic engineering, but not in all studies, so it can also be assumed that millet with a normal iron content can contribute to normalizing the iron level.
Conventional millet that you can buy from us contains about 6.9 mg of iron per 100 g in raw form. However, 50 g of millet is more than sufficient for one portion, which then weighs at least 100 g after cooking and contains around 3.5 mg of iron.
With an iron requirement of 10 to 15 mg, that would already be a quarter. If you combine your millet meal with foods rich in vitamin C, then you increase the bioavailability of iron even further, such as B. in the following recipes. But you can also simply take your vitamin C supplements with food or drink a small glass of freshly squeezed OJ.
Diagnosis of iron deficiency
Four values are usually used to diagnose iron deficiency: the ferritin value, the transferrin saturation, the Hb value, and possibly the CRP value, an inflammation value.
Ferritin: For ferritin, values between 15 and 100 µg/l (women) and between 30 and 100 µg/l (men) are sometimes given as normal values. But sometimes it is also said that all values between 40 and 160 µg/l are normal. There is a defect if the value falls below 15. If it is already below 10, then one assumes iron deficiency anemia. The ferritin (or serum ferritin) is the storage iron.
CRP level: When there is inflammation in the body, ferritin remains elevated, although there may be an iron deficiency. Inflammation thus falsifies the ferritin value. So if you have elevated levels of inflammation (including CRP) and symptoms of iron deficiency, your ferritin levels may appear fine when you are actually iron deficient. For further clarification, the following two values can also be taken into account in this case: transferrin saturation and hemoglobin (Hb).
Transferrin saturation: Transferrin is a protein that is responsible for transporting iron in the blood. The transferrin saturation now indicates what percentage of the transporters are loaded with iron. Normal is a value of 20 to 50 percent. A low value (below 20 percent) means few transporters are laden with iron, indicating an iron deficiency. Transferrin saturation is not affected by inflammation.
Hemoglobin: A hemoglobin value of 12 to 13 g/dl is considered normal. Values below 12 indicate an iron deficiency. But even this value only drops when the iron stores are already empty. Hemoglobin is the red blood pigment that is responsible for transporting oxygen.
Iron: The iron value in the serum, on the other hand, is not meaningful because it can remain normal for a long time when the stores have long been empty and the patient has long had symptoms of deficiency.