Examination of why millet should optimally be eaten in moderation as a gluten-free whole grain in order to avoid disrupting hormone health.
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. It is the indisputable, primary staple of the Western diet. Wheat is also the very foundation of the controversial 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: Ancient Gluten-free Whole Grain
Enter millet. This ancient grain was cultivated in East Asia as far back as 10,000 years ago, according to archaeologists. Surprisingly, the 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 years cultivating 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, like gluten-free teff, likely due to the drought-prone climate.
Millet Bread: Logical Substitute for Wheat
The protein structure of millet is quite similar to wheat. The one glaring exception is that millet is a gluten-free grain. Wheat contains copious amounts of this hard to digest plant protein.
When plain millet flour is used for baking bread (as opposed to homemade gluten-free flour or a healthy gluten-free flour mix from the store), 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 health food 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 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!
While millet does not contain gluten, it does contain goitrogens. These are substances that suppress thyroid activity and can lead to goiter. This condition involves enlargement of this very important gland which resides in the throat. Low iodine intake can also lead to goiter for those who rely on millet as a staple according to the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Hypothyroidism is a serious and sometimes debilitating condition. It 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. (1)
Goitrogens in foods that contain them are usually reduced by cooking such as cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. However, cooking actually increases the goitrogenic effect of millet! Incidentally, the same effect occurs when fermenting soy.
Therefore, when folks begin eating large amounts of millet bread with a wholesale switch over from wheat, the thyroid suppressing effects of this simple dietary change can be profound. Injuring the thyroid can have a cascade effect on other glands as well. For example, those suffering from adrenal fatigue many times have thyroid issues as well.
Moderation is Critical
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. Alternatively, use another grain that is both gluten-free and non-goitrogenic such as rice, oats or teff. Be sure to get quality, though, as rice is frequently high in arsenic.
Alternatively, try using grain-like gluten-free foods such as highly nutritious buckwheat, amaranth, or the starchy tuber cassava. They are excellent for baking too!
Millet bread consumption is fine in moderation if your thyroid is healthy – just don’t overdo it!
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.
For example, they did not have to contend with pollution of their food, water, air and overall environment.
Therefore, we must be overprotective of our thyroid health. This includes avoiding regular consumption of foods that might impair it in any way.
Millet Alternatives That Preserve Thyroid Function
If you have thyroid issues and need alternatives to millet, here is a list of the healthiest options to consider.
- Einkorn Benefits (contains “good gluten“)
- Teff Benefits
- Yuca Root Benefits
- Arrowroot Benefits
- Wild Rice Benefits
- Farro (great if only modern wheat is the problem)
Dr Jack A Zeller
I am. a retired pathologist. The laboratory screening test which is extremely sensitive to a partial diminution of thyroid function is called “TSH” and is commonly tested as a screen for thyroid under or oven function. I presume as a member of the medical community you make reference to this test in support of your contention?
Good point about testing. Anyone who is thinking of eating millet regularly or has been eating it frequently for some time should have their thyroid tested in my lay opinion. Glad you chimed in as a medico. Many many anecdotal reports of women (in particular) having thyroid issues within a few months of introducing goitrogenic millet as a staple in the diet.
Hi All, I am sure no one has a clear answer but would request suggestions.
Can I wash away possible gluten contamination from the Millet grains by soaking and drying them after finding few Wheat grains in the Millet grain packet?
I bought a millet grain packet to prepare its flour at home to ensure gluten contamination and when I opened it I can easily see few Wheat grains in it. Should I throw it away to keep my kitchen celiac friendly or try soaking for 8 hours drying in sun and then grinding to make flour and have something else to eat which do not hurt my bones (yeah I have celiac affecting my bones inflammation and burning pain and recently eggs have started giving me stomach pain)
Yeah, I worry that this article will cause a false alarm when there are so many other potent goitrogens out there namely the cruciferous veggies which people are now consuming in place of millet, rice, and other carbs. How many people are now going to vehemently avoid millet after reading this. I really wish you would edit it, the nurse and botanist in me cringes at the pseudoscience here. The populations of people in India that have the highest goiter incidence rates in the world also have a diet devoid of Iodine and live in severe poverty. To make a correlation like this is dangerous.
Sarah Pope MGA
Note that some cultures tend to be more resistant to goiter than others. And, in India, they eat a lot of ghee that is loaded with iodine. Even the poor people.
Those of Western European origin tend to be more prone to goiter it seems. Interestingly, millet isn’t a traditional European food either. It seems those cultures where millet is a staple historically tend to be most resistant to its thyroid suppressing effects.
People need to make their own judgment, but if one has thyroid issues or they run in the family, choose another gluten free grain!
Glossing over the dangers is not the answer!
Anecdotal story here–which is not as good as research, but oh well. I was given cooked millet for breakfast 6 days a week (on Sundays, we had pancakes-yay!) as a child from as young as I can remember until I was a teenager (at least 10 years) when I quit eating breakfast altogether. I’m a 51-year-old American of German and English descent, and I have never had trouble with my thyroid function, having had it tested several times throughout my life. I was also an extremely healthy child. I am not saying that millet is perfect, but probably most people could eat it regularly without worries.
Yeah, so, please check your sources. Have you been to Africa? Places where millet is a staple? People don’t have goiters in any regularity there. Also, you mention that, “By some estimates, hypothyroidism is at epidemic proportions in Western society. (1)”. Very, very few Americans eat millet at all, let alone regularly so it would seem millet has nothing to do with this current American health issue. Many if the places I have found this info sourced are racist. Also, most if not all grains are best absorbed if soaked first. Probably the same with millet? Jeez. Do more of your homework!
Sarah Pope MGA
Those of European descent seem to be far more prone to goitrogenic issues from millet than those who genetically had this food in their traditional diet and ancestry.
Also, those living in Western countries are bombarded with thyroid reducing exposure to chemicals that weaken the thyroid and otherwise make them more susceptible to effects of goitrogenic foods like millet. Examples include pesticides, fluoridated water to name just a couple.