Gluten allergies are clearly on the increase in our modern society. It seems like practically every other person I know these days has some sort of digestive issue that avoiding gluten would probably improve.
At the top of the list of gluten containing foods is wheat, the indisputable, primary staple of the Western diet and the very foundation of the hopelessly misguided USDA Food Pyramid. Given how important bread and other wheat based carbohydrates are to our society’s basic food requirements, it’s no wonder that folks seek a quick and easy substitute for wheat bread and wheat based snacks when a gluten allergy or celiac disease has been diagnosed.
Millet: An Ancient Whole Grain
Enter millet. This ancient grain was cultivated in East Asia as far back as 10,000 years ago, according to archaeologists. Surprisingly, cultivation of millet in prehistoric times was more prevalent than even rice, particularly in what is now China and the Korean peninsula.
Millet’s resistance to drought is perhaps the reason for its popularity in ancient times and its spread to Europe by 5000 B.C.
Despite the 5000 year difference in adapting this whole grain as a staple food, millet porridge is considered a traditional food in Russia as well as China! Use of millet is also widespread in Africa, known for its drought prone climate.
Millet Bread: A Logical Substitute for Wheat
The protein structure of millet is quite similar to wheat. The one glaring exception is that millet is a non gluten grain. Wheat contains copious amounts of this hard to digest plant protein.
When millet flour is used for baking bread, the resulting loaf is light, white, and quite similar in texture to wheat bread. As a result, people who wish to avoid gluten tend to immediately gravitate to millet bread as the most logical and palatable substitute.
Millet bread is extremely popular in healthfood stores. Sami’s Bakery and Deland Bakery are two local bakeries that sell an absolute ton of millet bread to these stores around my local metro area. I recently corresponded with a person up the East Coast of the USA who was consuming a lot of the millet/flax chips from Sami’s Bakery as an alternative to wheat based snacks and had no idea of the potential health risks from consuming so much millet.
It was this discussion that led me to write this blog and warn folks about the dangers of consuming too much millet!
Beware of Millet – A Potent Goitrogen
While millet may not contain gluten, it does contain goitrogens. Goitrogens are those substances in food that suppress thyroid activity and can lead to goiter, an enlargement of this very important gland which resides in the throat. Low iodine intake can also lead to goiter.
Hypothyroidism is a serious and sometimes debilitating condition that accompanies a weak or enlarged thyroid such as what occurs with goiter. Depression, difficulty losing weight, loss of hair, cold hands/feet, and fatigue are common hypothyroid symptoms. By some estimates, hypothyroidism is at epidemic proportions in Western society.
While the goitrogens in foods that contain them are usually reduced by cooking (such as cruciferous vegetables), cooking actually increases the goitrogenic effect of millet! Therefore, when folks begin eating large amounts of millet bread with a wholesale switch over from wheat, the goitrogenic effects of this simple dietary change can be profound.
Eat Millet in Moderation
Protect your thyroid at all costs! It is a real challenge to unwind the effects of hypothyroidism once this vital gland is weakened or enlarged. Don’t take any chances with your thyroid health by consuming large amounts of millet bread or millet based snacks. If gluten and/or wheat is a problem, then simply reduce bread consumption or use another grain that is both non gluten containing and non goitrogenic such as rice or oats. Occasional millet bread consumption is fine if your thyroid is healthy – just don’t overdo!
Given how difficult it is in modern society to maintain thyroid and overall glandular health, taking a chance by eating a lot of millet bread is a risky proposition indeed. Traditional peoples did not have the constant stresses and strains on their glands like modern people do with the pollution of our food, water, air and overall environment. Therefore, we must be overprotective of our glandular health and avoid regular consumption of foods that might impair it in any way.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist