Wonder grain ragi sees an urban resurgence
“On the whole, people are more conscious these days about the need for fibre in the diet and the harmful effects of simple carbs,” says Dr Usha Ravindra, Assistant Professor, Food and Nutrition, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore and an expert on ragi. The slower digestion and gradual release of energy associated with ragi make it an ideal food for diabetics, she says.
Ragi is also one of the richest natural sources of calcium, containing 344 mg of calcium per 100 gm — the highest among cereals and millets.
Ragi is also considered an excellent weaning food for infants, and in the past few years, paediatricians in Bangalore have started recommending it to young parents, even those who have not been traditionally familiar with ragi, such as those from north and eastern India. This could have contributed to its increasingly popularity in the urban milieu, acknowledges Dr Kishore Kumar,
Consultant Neonatologist at Cloudnine (previously Cradle, Bangalore). “The reason many paediatricians recommend ragi for babies just starting on solid food is its high iron content. It is one of the best natural sources of iron. Of course, green leafy vegetables and lamb are also good sources of dietary iron, but they are unsuitable for infants just starting on solids,” says Dr Kumar.
The traditional method of cooking ragi for infants is soaking the seeds in water till they sprout, which gives it the additional benefit of a very high vitamin B12 content, says Dr Kumar. The sprouted seeds are then sun-dried and powdered, and the powder cooked in milk to make a porridge. “These days, however, there are several ready-to-consume ragi powders in the market that just have to be boiled in milk, and modern parents prefer that, although without sprouting, the B12 content is missing,” says Dr Kumar.