Are Grits Healthy to Eat?

Grits, considered a classic southern food, are made of hominy -- small, ground chips of dried corn. The texture resembles a loose polenta; both regular and instant-type grits are available, and common preparation includes water or milk. You can eat them plain, the healthiest way to consume them, although a more typical grits dish incorporates cheese and salt, which can add unhealthy levels of sodium and fat.

A bowl of shrimp and grits. (Image: bonchan/iStock/Getty Images)

Calories and Fat

A 4-oz. serving of plain grits contains 103 calories. Whether you eat this food for breakfast or as a side dish, you need more calories than this at a single meal — ideally your meal plan has meals of 300 to 500 calories for women or 400 to 600 calories for men, according to The Diet Channel. Of these calories, 20 to 35 percent should derive from fat. A serving of grits has 5.1 g of fat; only 1.2 g are saturated, the potentially dangerous type of fat. Adding 1 oz. of cheddar cheese to grits contributes an additional 9.4 g of fat, 6 g of which are saturated.

Carbohydrates and Fiber

As a grain, grits provide healthy carbohydrates. One serving has 13.5 g of this macronutrient, or 4.1 to 6 percent of the carbohydrates you need in your meal plan each day. The carbs in grits give you energy needed for your body to function at optimal levels. You also get 0.7 g of fiber, a type of carbohydrate your body does not process for fuel.

A study published in the August 2010 issue of the "Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism" indicates that high-quality grits are a good choice for diabetics or those with high cholesterol due to this food's low glycemic response in comparison to other grains. Researchers theorize this may relate to the fiber content. Look for whole grain varieties of grits for optimal health benefits. Regular grits, made from refined grains, are less beneficial than those made from the whole corn grain.

Protein

Grits do not provide a high quantity of protein, but each serving contains 1.4 g per serving. Your daily meal plan requires 46 to 56 g of protein daily, but you can still get protein by eating grits by adding shrimp, chicken or clams. By incorporating seafood, meats and poultry, you take in complete protein, the type that contains all essential amino acids.

Vitamins and Minerals

One serving of grits has 14 percent of the daily recommended intake of iron, a mineral important for adequate oxygen levels in your body. In addition, you take in 5 percent of the vitamin A and 3 percent of the vitamin C you require each day. This makes grits good for your eyes and your immune system.

Sodium

Eating plain grits adds 127.5 mg of sodium to your diet; however, the common practice of salting grits means this dish is likely to include more. In an effort to keep your sodium intake to recommended levels — 1,500 mg for those with a heart problem or 2,300 mg for healthy people — consider using salt substitutes, herbs or spices to flavor your grits.

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