While causes of cancer are multi-factorial, the association of food with cancer is strong, and according to estimates, more than two-thirds of cancers are diet-related. Among the communities with the lowest cases of cancer in the world, compared to industrialised nations, is the Bantu community in rural Africa near Johannesburg.
What protects the Bantu community from cancer could be, among other factors, the high consumption of locally-grown millets as a staple.
Bantu, a community which originated from West Africa around 4,000 years ago, consists of 400 different ethnic groups, united by a common language family (the Bantu language) and common traditions and rituals.
The origin of their diets is primarily from hunting and agriculture. The hallmarks of the diet include grains (in the form of millets), cassava flour, lentils, peanuts, green vegetables such as spinach and cabbage, beans, sweet potatoes, bananas, water, and grain beer (which contains very little alcohol).
Rich in plant food, Bantu diets have exceptionally high levels of iron that primarily comes from two sources – food and traditional iron cooking ware.
The diets of the Bantu community are not high in dairy, meat, and fish. Millets surely seem to offer high nutritional value and contribute to a cancer-protecting effect.
Millets are the cheapest and the oldest cultivated crops known to humans. They are possibly the first cereal grains used for domestic purpose.
They can boast of some unique health benefits, quite distinct from the staples — wheat, rice and corn. Apart from having good-quality protein (10-12%), Millets are a potentially important source of nutraceuticals and antioxidants like phenolics, tannins, and phytates, and cholesterol-lowering waxes, especially in Sorghum.
A study also reports that dietary phytate helps prevent dental caries, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease, as well as against a variety of cancers. In addition, it is also beneficial for preventing kidney stones, and diabetes.
All in all, millets are highly digestible, high-nutrient, gluten-free, hypo-allergic grains.
It’s time to revise traditional wisdom and restore these forgotten grains into their rightful places in our diets.
Going the Bantu way — adding a variety of root vegetables, coloured fruits and vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables, and adequate protein from lentils and nuts, combined with active lifestyles — will surely be a way to be protected from diseases like cancer, and will also improve well-being.