Is Sorghum a Healthy Grain?

Is Sorghum a Healthy Grain?
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How does sorghum compare with other grains in terms of protein, antioxidants, and micronutrients? And the benefits of red sorghum compared to black and white varieties.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Sorghum is “The Forgotten Grain.” The United States is actually the #1 producer of sorghum, “but it is typically not used to produce food for American consumers.” Instead, it’s produced mainly for feeding livestock, or as pet food, or even building materials. But it’s actually eaten as a staple in other parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where it’s been eaten for thousands of years, making it currently the fifth most popular grain grown after wheat, corn, rice, and barley, beating out oats and rye.

Because sorghum is gluten-free, because it can be definitively considered safe for people with celiac disease, we’re starting to see it emerge as actual human food in the U.S., so I decided to look into just how healthy it might be. Protein-wise, it’s comparable to other grains. But since when do we have to worry about getting enough protein? Fiber is what Americans are desperately deficient in, and sorghum does pull towards the front of the pack.

The micronutrient composition is relatively unremarkable; here’s how it rates on minerals, for example. Where sorghum shines is on polyphenol content. Polyphenols are plant compounds associated with reduced risk of a number of chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and even all-cause mortality. And if you compare different grains, sorghum really does pull ahead, helping to explain why its antioxidant power is so much higher.

Now, sorghum gets its grainy little butt kicked when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but in terms of compared to other grains, a sorghum-based breakfast cereal, for example, might have like eight times the antioxidants than a whole wheat-based cereal. But, what we care about is not antioxidant activity in a test tube, but antioxidant activity within our body.

If you measure the antioxidant capacity of your blood after eating regular pasta, it goes up a little. If you replace 30 percent of the wheat flour with sorghum flour, it doesn’t go up much more. But if you eat 30 percent red sorghum flour pasta, the antioxidant capacity in your bloodstream shoots up like 15-fold. See, there are multiple types of sorghum. There’s black sorghum, white sorghum, and red sorghum. This is how they look in grain form (there’s evidently a yellow sorghum too). And red sorghum, and especially black, have like legit fruit-and-vegetable-level antioxidant activity.

The problem is, I can’t find any of the colored ones. I can go online and buy red or black rice; purple, blue, or red popping corn; and purple or black barley––but I can’t find red or black sorghum. Hopefully, someday. But you can find white sorghum for about four bucks a pound. Does it have any unique health-promoting attributes? It’s promoted as “…An Underutilized Cereal Whole Grain with the Potential to Assist in the Prevention of Chronic Disease.” But, what is the effect of sorghum consumption on health outcomes?

An epidemiological study in China found lower esophageal cancer mortality rates in areas that ate more millet and sorghum, compared to corn and wheat. But that may have been more due to avoiding a contaminating fungus than from benefit in the sorghum itself. Though, it’s possible. Just as “oats are the only source of avenanthramides,” which give oats some unique health benefits, sorghum, even white sorghum, contain unique pigments known as 3-deoxyanthocyanins, which are strong inducers of some of the detoxifying enzymes in our liver, and can inhibit the growth of human cancer cells growing in a petri dish compared to red cabbage, which has just regular anthocyanin pigments. But, note that white sorghum didn’t do much worse than red or black, which have way more of the unique 3-deoxyanthocyanins. So, maybe it’s just a general sorghum effect. You don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Sorghum was found to suppress tumor growth and metastasis in human breast cancer xenografts. What does that mean? The researchers conclude that sorghum could be used as “an inexpensive natural cancer therapy, without any side effects…strongly recommend[ing] [the use of sorghum] as an edible therapeutic agent…possess[ing] tumor suppression…and anti-metastatic effects on human breast cancer.” But xenograft means human breast cancer implanted in a mouse. Yes, the human tumors grew slower in the mice fed sorghum extracts, and blocked metastasis to the lung, and did the same for human colon cancer. That, again, was in mice, which can’t necessarily be translated to how human cancers would grow in humans, since, for example, not only do these mice not have a human immune system, they hardly have any immune system. They’re bred without a thymus gland, which is where cancer-fighting immunity largely originates. I mean, how else could you keep the mouse’s immune system from rejecting the human tissue outright? But, this immunosuppression makes these kinds of mouse models that much more artificial, and that much more difficult to extrapolate to humans.

And that’s a lot of what we see in the sorghum literature—in vitro data, like in test tubes and petri dishes, and rats and mice. There had just been this critical missing piece of the puzzle needed to link laboratory data to actual benefits in humans. Missing, that is, until now. Thankfully, we now have human interventional studies, which we’ll explore next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Sorghum is “The Forgotten Grain.” The United States is actually the #1 producer of sorghum, “but it is typically not used to produce food for American consumers.” Instead, it’s produced mainly for feeding livestock, or as pet food, or even building materials. But it’s actually eaten as a staple in other parts of the world, such as Asia and Africa, where it’s been eaten for thousands of years, making it currently the fifth most popular grain grown after wheat, corn, rice, and barley, beating out oats and rye.

Because sorghum is gluten-free, because it can be definitively considered safe for people with celiac disease, we’re starting to see it emerge as actual human food in the U.S., so I decided to look into just how healthy it might be. Protein-wise, it’s comparable to other grains. But since when do we have to worry about getting enough protein? Fiber is what Americans are desperately deficient in, and sorghum does pull towards the front of the pack.

The micronutrient composition is relatively unremarkable; here’s how it rates on minerals, for example. Where sorghum shines is on polyphenol content. Polyphenols are plant compounds associated with reduced risk of a number of chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and even all-cause mortality. And if you compare different grains, sorghum really does pull ahead, helping to explain why its antioxidant power is so much higher.

Now, sorghum gets its grainy little butt kicked when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but in terms of compared to other grains, a sorghum-based breakfast cereal, for example, might have like eight times the antioxidants than a whole wheat-based cereal. But, what we care about is not antioxidant activity in a test tube, but antioxidant activity within our body.

If you measure the antioxidant capacity of your blood after eating regular pasta, it goes up a little. If you replace 30 percent of the wheat flour with sorghum flour, it doesn’t go up much more. But if you eat 30 percent red sorghum flour pasta, the antioxidant capacity in your bloodstream shoots up like 15-fold. See, there are multiple types of sorghum. There’s black sorghum, white sorghum, and red sorghum. This is how they look in grain form (there’s evidently a yellow sorghum too). And red sorghum, and especially black, have like legit fruit-and-vegetable-level antioxidant activity.

The problem is, I can’t find any of the colored ones. I can go online and buy red or black rice; purple, blue, or red popping corn; and purple or black barley––but I can’t find red or black sorghum. Hopefully, someday. But you can find white sorghum for about four bucks a pound. Does it have any unique health-promoting attributes? It’s promoted as “…An Underutilized Cereal Whole Grain with the Potential to Assist in the Prevention of Chronic Disease.” But, what is the effect of sorghum consumption on health outcomes?

An epidemiological study in China found lower esophageal cancer mortality rates in areas that ate more millet and sorghum, compared to corn and wheat. But that may have been more due to avoiding a contaminating fungus than from benefit in the sorghum itself. Though, it’s possible. Just as “oats are the only source of avenanthramides,” which give oats some unique health benefits, sorghum, even white sorghum, contain unique pigments known as 3-deoxyanthocyanins, which are strong inducers of some of the detoxifying enzymes in our liver, and can inhibit the growth of human cancer cells growing in a petri dish compared to red cabbage, which has just regular anthocyanin pigments. But, note that white sorghum didn’t do much worse than red or black, which have way more of the unique 3-deoxyanthocyanins. So, maybe it’s just a general sorghum effect. You don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Sorghum was found to suppress tumor growth and metastasis in human breast cancer xenografts. What does that mean? The researchers conclude that sorghum could be used as “an inexpensive natural cancer therapy, without any side effects…strongly recommend[ing] [the use of sorghum] as an edible therapeutic agent…possess[ing] tumor suppression…and anti-metastatic effects on human breast cancer.” But xenograft means human breast cancer implanted in a mouse. Yes, the human tumors grew slower in the mice fed sorghum extracts, and blocked metastasis to the lung, and did the same for human colon cancer. That, again, was in mice, which can’t necessarily be translated to how human cancers would grow in humans, since, for example, not only do these mice not have a human immune system, they hardly have any immune system. They’re bred without a thymus gland, which is where cancer-fighting immunity largely originates. I mean, how else could you keep the mouse’s immune system from rejecting the human tissue outright? But, this immunosuppression makes these kinds of mouse models that much more artificial, and that much more difficult to extrapolate to humans.

And that’s a lot of what we see in the sorghum literature—in vitro data, like in test tubes and petri dishes, and rats and mice. There had just been this critical missing piece of the puzzle needed to link laboratory data to actual benefits in humans. Missing, that is, until now. Thankfully, we now have human interventional studies, which we’ll explore next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Video production by Glass Entertainment

Motion graphics by Avocado Video

Doctor's Note

Stay tuned for The Health Benefits of Sorghum.

Should we all be seeking gluten-free grains? See:

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