Are Grits Healthy? Here's What a Dietitian Says
We took a look at the nitty-gritty nutrition details of this popular Southern dish.
Grits are a popular Southern dish made from ground corn that can be enjoyed sweet or savory and simple or complex. You can eat them at breakfast, as a side dish at dinner or as a main course, such as shrimp and grits. Grits are easy to make and have some surprising nutrition benefits. Keep reading to learn more about grits, including the different types of grits, how they stack up compared to oatmeal and if can eat them if you have diabetes.
What Are Grits?
Grits are made from dried, ground dent corn, which has a higher starch content than other corn varieties. The ground corn is boiled with milk, water or broth to reach a creamy, porridge-like consistency.
The simplest way to enjoy grits is typically with butter and milk. However, they can also be served with cheeses, spices, sauces, vegetables, meat and seafood.
Similar to oatmeal, there are different varieties of grits. To better understand them, it helps to first break down the anatomy of a grain. A whole grain kernel is made up of the hull (the tough, outer layer), bran (the next fiber-filled layer, which is high in B vitamins), endosperm (the starchy carbohydrate middle layer) and germ (the nutrient-packed core).
The varieties of grits include:
- Stone Ground: These are the least processed form of grits and have the most fiber. Whole dried corn kernels are coarsely ground, which means all the whole-grain nutrients are maintained, including fiber and B vitamins. This variety usually has a heartier texture and strong corn flavor.
- Hominy: The corn kernels are soaked in lime or lye, which softens the outer hulls. The outer hull is then removed, taking fiber with it. This retains the germ, which is filled with nutrients like B vitamins and vitamin E.
- Quick & Regular: These grits are very finely ground and have the hull and germ removed so they cook more quickly. They have a longer shelf life but unfortunately lose most of their nutritional value in processing. Often vitamins and minerals are added back in, so you may see "enriched" on the ingredients list.
- Instant: These grits are processed, precooked and dehydrated so they are ready to eat simply by adding boiling water. The outer layer and germ of the kernel are removed, taking most of the nutrients with them.
Are Grits Good for You?
While stone-ground grits provide all the nutrients of a whole grain, the most commonly consumed grits are regular and instant versions that have been processed. Therefore, they have less fiber, vitamins and minerals. One cup of instant grits made with water has 2 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. Contrast that with 1 cup of cooked rolled oats, which has 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein.
Like other fortified cereals, enriched grits are a good source of iron, with one serving delivering 100% of the recommended Daily Value. Pair them with fruit in the morning for optimal absorption—vitamin C helps increase absorption of plant-based iron. Grits are also high in B vitamins, such as niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and folate, either naturally occurring in the corn kernel or added back in after processing. B vitamins help keep metabolism, cells and energy levels healthy. Grits are also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that keep eyes healthy. Plain grits are also naturally low in calories and fat.
Grits Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 cup cooked grits (enriched instant grits, prepared with water)
Total fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 0 mg
Total carbohydrate: 36 g
Fiber: 2 g
Total sugar: 1 g
Protein: 3 g
Iron: 18 mg (100% Daily Value)
Can you eat grits if you have diabetes?
It's a myth that people with diabetes can't eat carbohydrate-rich foods, like grits. As long as they fit within your carb range, you can enjoy grits if you have diabetes. Pair them with protein and fat to slow the spike of blood sugar. On their own, grits have a low amount of fiber and protein. They can become more or less healthful, depending on how you prepare them. Grits are often served with high-calorie, less-nutritious add-ins like whole milk or cream, butter, cheese, maple syrup, bacon or fried fish. However, swapping these traditional toppings for more nutritious versions like skim milk, olive oil, fruits and/or vegetables can boost the nutritional value. These Shrimp-&-Grits-Stuffed Peppers are a balanced dinner option and are diabetes-friendly.
Grits are an easy, versatile dish that can be good for you depending on the variety and how they are prepared. To give your grits a healthier makeover, opt for stone-ground grits and swap butter and cream for more nutritious toppings like olive oil and fresh whole foods.