Grits: Health Benefits and Nutrition

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on March 13, 2024
6 min read

Grits are a popular porridge dish in the American South, often served at breakfast. They can also be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes, which can be enjoyed at any time of the day.

What are grits made of?

Grits are made from ground corn, usually from varieties known as dent corn. They are typically boiled with water, broth, or milk until they reach a creamy consistency.

What do grits taste like?

Since grits are made from corn, they taste like corn, plus whatever you cook them with, which can make them sweet, salty, spicy, or bland. Stone-ground grits (because they keep the whole grain intact) may be more flavorful than more processed varieties.

Grits vs. polenta

Polenta, popular in Italian cooking, is made from a different type of ground corn that produces a less creamy texture than grits do.

Grits vs. Cream of Wheat

Cream of Wheat is a brand name for a kind of ground wheat called farina, which can be cooked as a breakfast porridge, much like grits. Because it's made of wheat, its taste and texture differ from those of grits.

Grits vs. cornmeal

Cornmeal and grits are made from the same type of corn. But cornmeal is ground into a finer flour-like texture. It's good for baking cornbread or muffins, or for breading chicken or fish.

Grits, like all whole grains, have kernels with three main components: the hull, germ, and inner starch. There are several types of grits available, each of which treats the whole kernel a little differently.

Stone-ground grits

Sometimes known as old-fashioned grits, these grits are the most nutrient-dense and high in fiber. They qualify as whole grains because the entire kernel is ground without further processing, leaving the germ and hull in the final product. They cook the slowest and spoil the quickest. You can make them last longer by putting them in the freezer.

Quick or regular grits

Both quick and regular varieties are processed to remove the hull and germ, leaving behind only the inner starch. Without the oily germ, this refined-grain product can last much longer on shelves. Because they lose much of their nutritional value, these grits are sometimes fortified or enriched with vitamins and minerals.

Quick grits are ground fine, making them much quicker to cook than medium-ground regular grits.

Instant grits

Instant grits are quick grits that have been cooked and dehydrated. As a result, they can be reconstituted quickly and cooked in a couple of minutes.

Hominy grits

Hominy grits leave the germ intact but use an alkaline solution (for example, a mixture of baking soda and water) to remove the hull. As a result, they keep the nutrients found in the germ but lose the fiber content of the hull.

Yellow grits

Just as you can get white or yellow corn chips, you can get white or yellow grits. The color comes from the corn.

Grits are naturally gluten-free, making them a good option for people who have gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Grits also have vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can provide health benefits, including:

Reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer

Corn, in general, is high in plant compounds known as carotenoids and polyphenols that help regulate the immune system and act as antioxidants. Antioxidants help reduce cell damage from free radicals, which are unstable atoms in the body. A diet high in antioxidants can help reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, infections, and other health problems.

Grits, especially in their whole-grain form, hold on to many of these helpful plant compounds, even when you boil them.

Grits, as whole grains or enriched varieties, also contain folate, which helps prevent birth defects and may also lower your risk of heart disease and cancer.

Eye health

Two of the antioxidants found in grits, lutein and zeaxanthin, are known to contribute to better vision and eye health, protecting against age-related eye diseases. However, be aware that lutein easily dissolves and is lost in heating oil. So, frying grits will reduce their lutein content.

Reduced risk of anemia

Whole grain and enriched grits can be good sources of iron, which helps prevent iron deficiency anemia, which is most common in people who menstruate, children, vegetarians, and frequent blood donors.

 Grit can be an excellent source of multiple B-complex vitamins, including:

Nutrients per serving 

While nutrients can vary by brand and processing methods, a typical 1/4 cup serving of dry unenriched grits (about a cup when cooked) contains:

  • Calories: 130
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 0.5 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 27grams
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Sugars: 0 grams 
  • Iron: 1.44 milligrams (8% of recommended daily value)

Things to consider

In order to get the whole-grain benefits of grits, choose stone-ground, old-fashioned grits. Keep in mind that processing methods can increase or decrease the availability of certain nutrients. Read labels to see what's in your grits.

Also, consider what you eat with your grits. If you are watching your fat or sugar intake or trying to cut down on processed meats, avoid frequently loading your grits with butter or cheese, covering them in mounds of sugar, or eating them with bacon. And you might want to consider ideas such as:

  • Cooking your grits with low-fat milk or water
  • Topping breakfast grits with fruit, instead of sugar
  • Eating them with beans or roast vegetables
  • Replacing cheese and butter with nutritional yeast, which has a cheesy flavor

Grits are usually boiled with water, milk, or stock until creamy. That can take 30-45 minutes for some stone-ground varieties, but 10 minutes or less for quick-cooking types.

Grits-to-water ratio

Read labels to see how much water or other liquid you need to prepare the grits you're using. Typically, it's 4 cups of liquid for 1 cup of grits, but some products will call for different amounts. Also, some recipes call for mixing water with milk, buttermilk, cream, broth, or stock to get the best flavor and consistency.


Grits can be eaten just like oatmeal or other hot breakfast cereals, or they can be put on a breakfast plate as a side item. They can also be added to many other dishes. Here are some of the most popular ideas.

Shrimp and grits

You can make multiple versions of this classic Southern dish. It can be as simple as cooking up a pot of grits with a little milk, sugar, salt, and butter, then topping each portion with your favorite spicy shrimp recipe. Or try grits mixed with parmesan cheese, topped with lemon and garlic shrimp.

Fish and grits

Try cooking your grits in vegetable broth and adding a little cheese and butter at the end. Then top with seasoned, breaded fish fillets.

Cheese grits

Cook your grits in broth and milk, perked up with a little cayenne pepper. Once they're thickened, stir in sharp cheddar cheese and butter. Some recipes add parmesan cheese. You can also find recipes for baked cheese grits.

Grits and gravy

Grits are often served with gravy made with sausage or the drippings from bacon or ham (red-eye gravy). You might want to consider passing on the gravy if you're watching salt, fat, and cholesterol.

Grits come in many forms and can be used in many ways, but they're all made from ground corn. That means they can be a good source of nutrition and part of a balanced diet. Just pay attention to how you cook and serve them because some traditional add-ons can be high in fat, sugar, salt, and calories.

Are grits healthier than oatmeal?

It depends, partly on the kind of grits or oatmeal and partly on how you cook and serve them. Like grits, oatmeal comes in lightly processed versions, such as steel-cut oats, and much more processed versions, including instant oatmeals loaded with sugar. Oatmeal can also be cooked in water or milk, affecting nutrition. In general, oatmeal has more protein and fiber than similarly processed grits. For example, a 1/4 cup serving of steel-cut oats (the kind that takes 30 minutes to cook) has 4 grams of fiber, while a similar serving of stone-ground grits has 3 grams. Old-fashioned oats that cook in 5 minutes also have about 4 grams of fiber, which is twice as much as grits that cook that quickly.

Why don't Northerners eat grits?

They do -- just not as often as Southerners. The usual explanation boils down to tradition. Grits and similar corn porridges are part of the food traditions of Native Americans as well as Southerners whose ancestors came from Africa and Europe.