Sorghum’s robust nutrition profile positions it as a novel approach to combat and mediate various diseases using a “food as medicine” approach, which is top of mind for national leaders in agriculture, healthcare and policy discussions.
Investments by the sorghum industry and outside organizations have resulted in a substantial amount of research looking at sorghum’s impact on various diseases, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Sorghum’s robust nutrition profile positions it as a novel approach to combat and mediate various diseases using a “food as medicine” approach, which is top of mind for national leaders in agriculture, healthcare and policy discussions.
Whole grain sorghum provides more than 20 percent of what adults need each day for 12 essential nutrients, including protein, fiber and iron. In fact, a half-cup serving of whole grain sorghum provides more than double the protein as the same amount of quinoa, nearly double the iron as a 3-ounce sirloin steak, and you would need to eat more than 7 cups of raw spinach to get the same amount of vitamin B6.
In addition to its nutrition, sorghum provides exceptionally unique, abundant and diverse antioxidants, which research has linked to a variety of health and nutrition functional attributes.
The gut microbiome, or the tiny organisms that live in the intestines, is an area of study that has gotten a tremendous amount of attention lately due to the discovery of how it affects health. Research has shown that sorghum bran contains a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, which positively impact gut microbiome ecology, resulting in improved immunity and decreased obesity.
Whole grain sorghum is an excellent source of both fiber and protein, both of which lead to lower body weight. Beyond whole grain, polyphenols from pearled grain have been shown to decrease fat absorption due to their ability to inhibit fat and carbohydrate digestion. In a real-world scenario, a Randomized Control Trial (RCT) found that including extruded sorghum snacks in the diet reduced body fat percentage in overweight men. Oxidative stress Oxidative stress is often the culprit for inflammation, diabetes and cancer. Research has shown that a diet that includes sorghum can help to protect against oxidative damage associated with diabetes. Selenium is a mineral that helps to decrease oxidative stress in sorghum grain when it is under high temperature and stressful growing environments by enhancing its antioxidant defense system. Similarly, once sorghum is consumed, the selenium works as an antioxidant to help protect cells from damage in the body.
Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s response to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can lead to illness and disease. Therefore, it is recommended to include foods in the diet that have anti-inflammatory properties. Sorghum has higher antioxidant levels and anti-inflammatory properties than blueberries.
Diabetes plagues nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population with an annual price tag of nearly $330 billion spent nationally to care for those with diabetes. Looking to the diet to help prevent or treat diabetes is a strategy the federal government has acutely focused its attention. Whole grain sorghum is an excellent source of fiber that contains a high level of resistant starch, which slows digestion and regulates blood sugar levels. Additionally, research shows that sorghum bran polyphenol extract improves blood glucose to a similar effect as diabetes medication.
The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease, which has led to a large focus on ways to both prevent and treat the disease. Sorghum can be part of that solution, as research has shown that the main storage protein in sorghum provides ACE-inhibitory properties, meaning it relaxes blood vessels resulting in decreased blood pressure. Additionally, sorghum extract has been shown to improve dyslipidemia, increasing good cholesterol and decreasing bad cholesterol.
It is because of this notable research that the Sorghum Checkoff announced its work with the American Heart Association® this year focusing on including sorghum in a heart-healthy diet.
There are many studies showing sorghum’s role in decreasing the risk for and progression of various cancers, including colorectal, breast, liver, esophageal, lung and leukemia. One of the proposed mechanisms outlined in the literature is that the phytochemicals from sorghum bran fight cancer by inhibiting the growth and spreading of the cancer.
An exciting area of research is looking at sorghum polyphenol-modulated antimicrobial properties in both airborne (Legionella pnuemophila) and foodborne illnesses (Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Campylobacter jejuni, and Campylobacter coli).
Each time research is conducted, the picture of how sorghum contributes to health becomes clearer. To spread the word about current sorghum science, the research will be compiled and published as a supplement to the Journal of Food Science later this year. Looking to the future, we will be exploring human clinical trials to further bring the science to life. There is no lack of interest in sorghum science, and we are just getting started.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2023 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.