Grits are a popular dish widely consumed across the Southern United States.
They’re made from dried, ground corn (Maize) cooked in various liquids — including water, milk, or broth — until the mix reaches a thick, creamy, porridge-like consistency.
While grits are incredibly popular, many people wonder whether they’re good for you.
This article reviews grits, including their nutrition, benefits, and whether they’re healthy.
What are grits?
Grits are a popular Southern American dish made from crushed or ground corn.
They’re most commonly served as a breakfast or side dish and usually made from a variety of corn called dent corn, which has a softer, starchy kernel (1).
The crushed corn granules are typically cooked in either hot water, milk, or broth until they reach a thick yet creamy consistency that is similar to porridge.
Grits are often paired with flavorful ingredients, such as butter, sugar, syrups, cheeses, and meats like bacon, shrimp, and catfish.
You can purchase several varieties of grits, including:
- Stone-ground. These are made from whole, dried corn kernels that are coarsely ground in a mill. This type is harder to find in grocery stores because it has a short shelf life and takes 30–60 minutes to cook on the stove (2).
- Hominy. These are made from corn kernels soaked in an alkali solution to soften the tough pericarp (outer shell or hull). The pericarp is rinsed, then removed, and the corn kernels undergo further processing to make hominy (3).
- Quick and regular. These types undergo processing, which involves removing the pericarp and germ (nutrient-rich embryo), so they have a longer shelf life. Regular versions are medium ground while quick are finely ground (2).
- Instant. This precooked, dehydrated version has had both the pericarp and germ removed. They’re widely available in grocery stores.
SUMMARY Grits are a popular Southern American dish made from ground, dried corn. They are typically cooked in milk, water, or broth until they reach a thick, creamy consistency.
Grits nutrition facts
Grits contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
One cup (257 grams) of cooked, regular grits provides the following nutrients (4):
- Calories: 182
- Protein: 4 grams
- Fat: 1 gram
- Carbs: 38 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Folate: 25% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Thiamine: 18% of the RDI
- Niacin: 13% of the RDI
- Riboflavin: 12% of the RDI
- Iron: 8% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 7% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 5% of the RDI
- Zinc: 4% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 4% of the RDI
What’s most impressive about grits is that they’re high in iron, which is essential for red blood cell production. They also include many B vitamins, such as folate and thiamine, as well as trace amounts of potassium, pantothenic acid, calcium, and vitamin E (5).
However, regular versions contain fewer vitamins and minerals — like calcium and vitamins A and C — than the stone-ground varieties made from whole corn kernels (4).
That’s because they undergo several stages of processing, which removes nutritious parts of the corn like the pericarp and germ (2).
SUMMARY Grits provide a variety of nutrients and are especially high in iron and B vitamins. Stone-ground varieties are more nutritious, as they don’t have the pericarp and germ removed.
Health benefits of grits
Because grits are highly nutritious, eating them may offer some impressive health benefits.
Pack a variety of antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that protect your cells against free radical damage.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules that can interact with your cells and cause damage that has been linked to chronic conditions, including heart disease and certain cancers (6).
Grits contain powerful antioxidants — including lutein, zeaxanthin, caffeic acid, 4-OH benzoic acid, and syringic acid — which have been linked to powerful health benefits (7).
Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley, spelt, and rye.
Most people can eat gluten-based foods without adverse effects. However, people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience side effects, such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, and fatigue (11, 12).
Grits are naturally gluten-free, which means they’re a suitable carb alternative for people who have to avoid this family of proteins.
Still, if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, read the label for warnings of gluten contamination. Some manufacturers process corn in the same facilities as gluten-based products.
May protect against degenerative eye disorders
Grits contain lutein and zeaxanthin — important antioxidants for eye health.
Both are found in high concentrations inside the retina — the part of your eye that converts light into signals your brain can understand (13).
What’s more, these antioxidants may protect your eyes against damage by potentially harmful blue light (14).
Blue-wavelength light helps your body know it’s daytime by suppressing the production of melatonin — a hormone that helps your body relax so it can get deep sleep.
However, too much blue-wavelength light exposure can damage the cornea — your eye’s outermost layer (15).
May help combat anemia
Anemia is a condition in which your muscles and tissues don’t receive enough oxygen to work effectively. Symptoms include fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath (16).
A common cause of anemia is iron deficiency. Without iron, your body cannot make enough hemoglobin — a substance that helps red blood cells carry oxygen (17).
Grits may help protect against iron-deficiency anemia. They’re a great source of plant-based iron, with one cup (257 grams) providing around 8% of the RDI (4).
SUMMARY Grits may help combat anemia and protect against several degenerative eye disorders. They’re also naturally gluten-free and a good source of antioxidants.
Downsides of grits
While grits offer some impressive potential benefits, they have several downsides.
For starters, the widely available varieties — such as quick, regular, or instant — are made by a process that removes the corn kernel pericarp (outer skin) and germ (embryo). This leaves just the endosperm, the starchy component (2).
The pericarp and germ are loaded with nutrients, so quick, regular, or instant varieties don’t include all the nutrients you would expect from the stone-ground versions, which are made from whole corn kernels (2).
For example, processed grits contain less fiber than whole corn kernels, as they’re made from corn with the pericarp removed. The pericarp is a major source of fiber.
Fiber is a type of indigestible carbohydrate that has been linked to health benefits like improved digestion, lower blood cholesterol, increased feelings of fullness, and weight loss (19).
While stone-ground versions are a more nutritious choice, they’re more difficult to find in grocery stores — especially if you live outside the Southern United States.
Another downside of grits is that they’re typically made with or served alongside high-calorie ingredients, such as milk, butter, cheese, syrups, bacon, and fried catfish.
SUMMARY Quick, regular, and instant grits have fewer nutrients than the stone-ground variety. Additionally, they’re typically paired with high-calorie ingredients, which may lead to weight gain if eaten too frequently.
Healthier ways to prepare grits
Though grits are typically paired with calorie-rich ingredients, you can prepare them in many healthier ways.
Here are a few tips to make your grits healthier:
- Use less cheese and butter.
- Use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter.
- Add more vegetables.
- Add fresh fruit instead of sugar or sweet syrups.
- Use less milk and more water or broth.
Here are some healthy grit recipes you can try at home.
Honey and berry breakfast grits
This honey-sweetened recipe makes for a delicious warm winter breakfast alternative.
- 1 cup (240 grams) of stone-ground grits, dry
- 2 cups (470 ml) of whole milk
- 1 cup (235 ml) of water
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) of unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (40 ml) of honey
- 1/2 cup (75 grams) of fresh berries
- 1 tablespoon (8 grams) of pumpkin seeds
- In a large pot, add milk, water, salt, and grits. Bring the mixture to a boil.
- Stir in the honey and butter. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 20–30 minutes, or until thick and creamy.
- Remove from heat and ladle into serving bowls. Serve warm topped with fresh berries and pumpkin seeds.
Healthy shrimp and grits
This healthy seafood dish is delicious — yet low in calories.
- 1 cup (240 grams) of stone-ground grits, dry
- 2 cups (470 ml) of water
- 2 cups (470 ml) of chicken broth
- 1/2 cup (60 grams) of cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 cup (150 grams) of chopped onion
- 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
- 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of paprika
- 3 tablespoons (45 grams) of unsalted butter or 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of olive oil
- 1 pound (450 grams) of raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Optional: thinly sliced green onions, for garnish
- In a large pot, add water, broth, salt, pepper, and grits. Bring to a boil.
- Stir in the butter or oil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 20–30 minutes, or until thick and creamy.
- Remove from heat, add cheese, and stir thoroughly.
- Rinse the shrimp, pat dry, and pan fry until they turn pink. Add onions, lemon juice, garlic, and paprika, and sauté for 3 minutes.
- Ladle the grits into a serving bowl. Spoon the shrimp on top and serve warm. Top with fresh herbs like scallions or parsley and serve alongside vegetables, such as zucchini for an even healthier meal.
SUMMARY There are many simple ways to make grits healthier. Try following the tips above or use one of the healthy recipes provided.
The bottom line
Grits are a staple Southern American dish made from ground, dried corn and particularly rich in iron and B vitamins.
Stone-ground varieties are more nutritious, as they undergo less processing than quick, regular, or instant types.
Though grits are fairly healthy, they’re typically served with high-calorie ingredients. These may include milk, cheeses, syrups, sugar, bacon, and other fried or processed meats.
Choosing healthy, lower-calorie alternatives, such as fresh fruit, in place of sugar and syrups or using more water and broth instead of whole milk is a simple way to cut back on calories.
If you have trouble finding more nutritious stone-ground versions locally, you can purchase them online.