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Are Grits Healthy?

Is This Southern Classic a Low-Fat Alternative to Oatmeal?

When most of us think of grits, we think of traditional Southern cooking, a cuisine known more for flavor and heartiness than for health. Despite that stereotype, this simple porridge made from ground corn has attracted some buzz as a healthy food. Simple and versatile, if not exactly quick to cook, grits can actually be a healthy choice for some meals. As with most things, however, the health value of grits depends on how they're served and what they might replace.

The Numbers

In their simplest form, simmered in water without any additions, grits are a relatively low-calorie, low-fat food. A 1/2-cup serving of grits contains 70 calories, 2 grams of protein, 16 grams of carbohydrate and 0.5 grams of dietary fiber. A more typical breakfast serving of grits might measure 1 cup.

By contrast, oatmeal is slightly higher in calories but significantly higher in calories from fat. If you're looking to reduce fat in your kids' diet or your own, then grits can make a small but noticeable difference as a substitute for oatmeal at breakfast. Like other cereals, grits are fortified with iron, folic acid, niacin, thiamine and riboflavin, vitamin D and calcium.

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Of course, grits aren't just a breakfast food. They appear in many forms in traditional Southern cooking, and not all of these are as healthy as a simple bowl of grits at breakfast. A 1-cup serving of cheese grits, for instance, contains 282 calories, 44 percent of which come from fat. Grits are prized for their ability to absorb flavor from additional ingredients; the nutritional value of a given dish will usually depend on what ingredients are added.

The Verdict

Grits can be a healthy addition to your diet if they're included in the right way. If you're concerned about cutting down on fat, they can be a good substitute for oatmeal. Just like anything else, though, they can be healthy or unhealthy – depending on the dish they're included in. Many traditional dishes that involve grits can be high in calories; you'll need to judge on a case-by-case basis.