Grits and Their Health Benefits

Grits and Their Health Benefits

Grits are well-known in the Americas, especially the Southern United States. They are widely consumed in this region.

They are produced from ground corn (also known as maize). The corn is dried before it is ground then cooked in a variety of liquids including milk, water, and broth. It is cooked until it attains a creamy and thick consistency, like porridge.

The Rich Heritage and Nutritional Spectrum of Grits

Grits, a Southern American staple, transcend mere breakfast fare. It is a rich cultural tapestry steeped in tradition and flavor. 

It originates from Native American culinary practices.  Grits are made from dent corn, known for its soft starch-filled kernels, offering a hearty base for a variety of dishes. 

This humble cornmeal, once a simple sustenance, now graces dining tables in various forms, from the sunlit breakfast nooks of cozy kitchens to the grand spreads of festive Southern feasts.

The journey of grits from kernel to table

Dried corn undergoes transformation, meticulously ground and simmered into a velvety concoction that pairs well with a myriad of garnishes. 

Whether paired with the sweetness of syrups and sugar, the savory richness of butter and cheese, or the robust flavors of shrimp and bacon, grits become a versatile base for culinary creativity.

The cultural delight of grits

As dawn breaks over Southern landscapes, families and individuals alike find solace and sustenance in bowls of warm grits, a symbol of comfort and communal connection. 

But beyond their cultural significance, grits offer a nutritional profile that caters to modern health-consciousness, packed with essential vitamins and minerals

Let’s look into the world of grits- from a staple grain to a beloved culinary icon, and the secrets behind their enduring charm and nutritional benefits.

Varieties and Nutritional Content

Grits come in several forms, including stone-ground, quick, and instant versions.

There are different varieties of grits – you can purchase whichever you like. They include:

  • Stone-ground. Stone-ground grits are produced from whole corn kernels – well dried. These kernels are coarsely ground in a mill. It is difficult to find stone-ground grits in a grocery store because of its short shelf life. Besides, it has a very long cooking time – roughly 30-60 minutes on a stove.
  • Hominy. To prepare hominy, corn kernels are immersed in an alkali solution. This is done to make the pericarp soft. The pericarp is the hull or the outer shell. After rinsing and removing the pericarp, the kernels are further processed to make the hominy.
  • Quick and regular: Quick and regular grits are processed. The germ and the pericarp are removed, thus giving it a prolonged shelf-life. The quick versions are well-ground while the regular version is finely ground.
  • Instant: Instant grits are a dehydrated and precooked version of grits. Like the quick and regular version, both the germ and pericarp are removed. You will not have any trouble finding this one in a grocery store as they are widely available.

Most store-bought options undergo a process where the pericarp and germ are removed, resulting in a mainly starchy endosperm product. While this process extends shelf life and reduces cooking time, it also strips away significant nutrients, particularly fiber, found in the whole corn kernel.

The stone-ground variety, which retains the germ and pericarp, offers a richer nutrient profile, including more fiber, which is pivotal for digestive health, cholesterol management, and overall satiety. 

However, these traditionally processed grits might be harder to find outside the Southern U.S. and generally require longer cooking times.

Nutritional Facts about Grits

Grits are rich in macro and micro nutrients including antioxidants, minerals and vitamins.

  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Calories: 182
  • Carbs: 38 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Folate: 25% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Niacin: 13% of the RDI
  • Thiamine: 18% of the RDI
  • Iron: 8% of the RDI
  • Riboflavin: 12% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 5% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 7% of the RDI
  • Zinc: 4% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 4% of the RDI

One outstanding thing about grits is that they are rich in iron. Iron plays a vital role in the production of red blood cells. Grits are also rich in B vitamins, like thiamine and folate. There are small amounts of pantothenic acid, potassium, vitamin E, and calcium.

Nevertheless, the regular versions of grits do not contain much vitamins and minerals – such as vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. The stone-ground version of grit has a higher content of these nutrients owing to the fact that they are produced from whole corn kernels.

The reason for this is that they are thoroughly processed, thus they lose the nutritious parts of the corn – which is the germ and the pericarp

Health Benefits of Grits

Grits are laced with a lot of nutrients. Because of this, one is sure of numerous health benefits, and very impressive ones at that.

Grits are rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the cells of the body against the deleterious effects of free radicals.

Free radicals are molecules with a very high reactivity rate. Its interaction with the body’s cells and tissues causes chronic health conditions such as cancers and heart disease.

Some of the antioxidants that are present in grits include caffeic acid, lutein, 4-OH benzoic acid, zeaxanthin, and syringic acid. These antioxidants have powerful health benefits.

Zeaxanthin and lutein for example protects against cataracts and other eye disorders. They also protect the skin from the dangerous ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Grits are gluten-free

Gluten is a term that describes a family of proteins found in grains such as barley, rye, wheat and spelt.

Most people are not allergic to gluten-based foods. 

However, some people may experience side effects of gluten-based foods. Mostly, these are people suffering from non-celiac gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Side effects experienced include diarrhea, stomach pain, bloating, fatigue, and constipation.

Naturally, grits are gluten-free. This implies that they are a suitable alternative for people who are allergic to gluten-based carbs.

  • People who suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or celiac disease, should study the labels for warnings of gluten contamination. 

Why? Well, some food manufacturers may process their maize in the same machinery used for processing gluten-based products. Not good huh?

Grits protect against the degenerative eye conditions

We have already established that grits are rich in antioxidants. Some of these offer protective functions against eye conditions – chief among which are zeaxanthin and lutein.

Zeaxanthin and lutein are present in the retina in very high concentrations. The retina is a tissue in the eye that converts light rays into signals that the brain can read.

Studies have shown that a high concentration of zeaxanthin and lutein reduces the risk of degenerative eye defects such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Also, these antioxidants also offer protective benefits against the harmful effects of blue light.

Blue light, or more appropriately, blue-wavelength light, suppresses the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that works in tandem with the biological clock – circadian rhythm, informing the body when it is daytime and nighttime.  Thus melatonin relaxes the body so it can get a deep sleep.

Excessive exposure to blue-wavelength light causes damage to the cornea. The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye.

Grits protect against anemia

Anemia is a defective health condition. In anemia, oxygen supply to the tissues and muscles are not sufficient, and so these tissues fail to work at optimal conditions. Symptoms of anemia include shortness of breath, fatigue, and pale skin.

Iron deficiency is one of the commonest causes of anemia. If you do not have enough iron in your body, your body will be unable to produce hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that helps the cells to transport oxygen to the cells, tissues and organs of the body.

Grits offer protection against iron deficiency anemia. They are rich in plant-based iron. A cup of grits will give you around 8 percent of the recommended daily intake.

Anemia may also arise as a result of folate deficiency. Folate assists in the production of red blood cells. Grits are heavily laced with folate. A cup of grits will give you around 25 percent of the recommended daily intake of folate.

The Health Considerations of Grits: Pros and Cons

While grits are cherished in many diets for their nutritional benefits, it’s essential to consider both sides of the coin.

What is the downside of grits?

For beginners, grits are available in varieties, all of which are widely available. These include regular, quick, or instant – these varieties are all produced by a similar process – the pericarp is removed together with the germ (embryo), leaving behind just a starch component.

The nutrients in grit reside in the germ and the pericarp, so the instant, quick and regular varieties are deprived of some of the nutrients that you will find in the stone-ground version of grit. The stone-ground versions are produced using whole corn kernels.

Let us use fiber as an example. Processed grits do not contain as much fiber as the stone-ground grit. 

Why? Because the pericarp has been removed. This pericarp is the main source of fiber.

Fiber cannot be digested by the body. However, it has a load of health benefits including reduction of blood cholesterol, weight loss, improved digestion, and the feeling of fullness.

Even though the stone-ground version may be the best version of grit, you cannot easily find them in groceries, especially for those residing outside the Southern USA.

Another demerit of grit is that they are garnished with ingredients that have a high calorie content, such as cheese, milk, syrups, fried catfish and bacon.

Eating large amounts of calories can lead to obesity-related health issues such as heart disease.

Balancing Taste and Health

For those integrating grits into a balanced diet, it’s advisable to:

  • Opt for stone-ground varieties when possible for their nutrient density.
  • Be mindful of toppings – consider healthier options like fresh herbs, spices, or a dollop of Greek yogurt.
  • Remember moderation, especially if consuming grits with high-calorie additives.

While grits can be part of a healthy diet, the choice of variety and accompanying garnishes can profoundly impact their nutritional value and health effects. 

Making informed choices can help you enjoy this Southern staple without compromising your health goals.

1. Healthier Grits Recipes 🍲

Upgrade Your Morning Ritual

Transform traditional grits into a powerhouse of nutrition with these healthier recipe tweaks:

  • Avocado and Tomato Grits: Swap out butter for creamy avocado, topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of chia seeds.
  • Almond Milk and Berry Grits: Cook your grits in unsweetened almond milk and top with mixed berries and a drizzle of honey for a touch of sweetness.
  • Savory Spinach and Mushroom Grits: Stir in sautéed garlic mushrooms and spinach for a savory, nutrient-packed breakfast bowl.
  • Turmeric and Black Pepper Grits: Infuse your morning grits with anti-inflammatory turmeric and black pepper to enhance absorption.

2. Comparing Grits with Other Breakfast Foods 🍳

See how grits stack up against other breakfast favorites:

  • Grits vs. Oatmeal: While both are grain-based and offer fiber, oatmeal typically has more fiber and protein per serving. However, grits can be enriched with iron and B vitamins.
  • Grits vs. Quinoa: Quinoa is a protein powerhouse and contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein, unlike grits. However, grits are lower in calories and can be easier to digest.
  • Grits vs. Cereal: Many cereals are sugar-laden and highly processed, while stone-ground grits offer a whole-grain, less processed option. Always check the labels!

4. Cultural Significance of Grits 🌽

A Southern Staple: The rich history and cultural significance of grits finds its way in the American South. 

Originally derived from Native American Muskogee cuisine, grits have evolved from a simple porridge to a versatile culinary component in Southern breakfasts, symbolizing comfort, tradition, and family.

Summary

Grits, a staple in Southern American cuisine, are more than just comfort food. Crafted from dried corn, they offer a generous dose of B vitamins and iron, essential nutrients that fuel our bodies and minds.

🌾 The golden rule? Opt for stone-ground grits when available. This less-processed variant retains the rich, natural goodness of whole corn, providing you with an authentic taste and enhanced nutritional benefits.

It’s crucial to remember: The health advantages of grits can be compromised when paired with high-calorie, high-fat garnishments. But, you can still savor the delightful essence of grits while maintaining a balanced diet. 

  • Swap out heavy creams and sugars for fresh fruits, water, or broth to keep your meal both nutritious and delicious.

Struggling to find stone-ground grits in your local market? No worries! The digital world brings the South to your doorstep. Explore online stores to discover a variety of grits that can complement your dietary preferences and lifestyle.

Take Action! Dive into the world of grits. Explore, experiment, and enjoy the diverse culinary landscape they offer. 

The right choices lead to a healthier, happier you. Don’t just take our word for it; start your grits journey now and transform ordinary meals into extraordinary experiences. 

Click here to learn more about incorporating healthy grains into your diet.

All About Grits❓

Your Grits Questions, Answered:

Yes, pure grits are gluten-free as they are made from corn. However, cross-contamination can occur, so always check packaging if you have a gluten sensitivity.

Absolutely! Opt for stone-ground grits and be mindful of your toppings to keep your breakfast calorie-conscious.

Stir in Greek yogurt, sprinkle with nuts or seeds, or top with a poached egg.

Grits can be part of a balanced diet for diabetics, especially when paired with protein and fiber to minimize blood sugar spikes.

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