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 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, like gluten free teff, likely due to the 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 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 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 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 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 to other glands as well. For example, those suffering from adrenal fatigue many times have thyroid issues as well.
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. 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.
Millet bread consumption is fine in moderation 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.
Healthy Alternatives to Millet
If you have thyroid issues and need alternatives to millet, here are the healthiest options to consider with associated benefits outlined in detail:
- Einkorn Benefits (contains “good gluten“)
- Teff Benefits
- Yuca Root Benefits
- Arrowroot Benefits
- Wild Rice Benefits
- Farro (great if only modern wheat is the problem)
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.