What Are Grits and Are they Gluten-Free?

What Are Grits? Grits are a classic dish that has been very popular in the Southern United States and Northern Italy for centuries. This famous porridge was around long before it became a southern staple. This dish originated in the 16th century with a native American tribe.

Grits are made from corn and are a rich source of carbohydrates, magnesium, thiamin, and vitamin B6. and are commonly used as a base for toppings like shrimp, roasted vegetables, fish, and green. They can also be made into sweet dishes like breakfast porridge. 

However, I love to prepare a Vegan Grits recipe that is very delicious without any animal products. Also, check out, Cornmeal Porridge and Turned Cornmeal.

What Are Grits?

Grits are a popular dish that is made from ground or crushed corn. They are commonly served as breakfast or side dishes but can also be used to make desserts and other recipes. 

Grits are similar to other foods made from dried corn and can be cooked in many different ways. When they are cooked with water, they make a porridge-like consistency. There is a wide variety available these days. You can also get instant grits or mixed grits with added seasoning. Here are some varieties of grits that you can easily purchase:

  • Stone-ground: These grits are made from whole, dried corn kernels. This type cannot be easily found at supermarkets or grocery stores because of its short shelf life. These grits take a half-one hour to cook on the stove.
  • Hominy: These grits are made of corn kernels soaked in an alkali solution to soften the outer shell. Then the pericarp is rinsed and removed. The corn kernel goes through further processing to make hominy.
  • Quick and Regular: Tese types of grits are also made by processing corn kernels. This process involves removing the pericarp and embryo to increase their shelf life. The quick versions are finely ground, while regular ones are medium ground.
  • Instant Grits: this is the precooked and dehydrated version of grits. In which both the pericarp and embryo are removed. These are readily available at grocery stores and can be cooked in 10-15 minutes.

Grits in a wooden bowl on a wooden background

Nutritional Value of Grits:

Grits contain a large number of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. One cup of cooked grits can provide:

  • Calories: 182
  • Carbs: 38 grams
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Fat: 1 gram
  • Fiber: 2 grams
  • Iron: 8% of the daily recommended value
  • Folate: 25% of the daily recommended value
  • Niacin: 13% of the daily recommended value
  • Vitamin B6: 7% of the daily recommended value
  • Riboflavin: 12% of the daily recommended value
  • Thiamine: 18% of the daily recommended value
  • Phosphorus: 4% of the daily recommended value
  • Magnesium: 5% of the daily recommended value
  • Zinc: 4% of the daily recommended value

According to research (Huihui Li, 2010), the most impressive thing about grits is their high amount of iron, which is essential in producing red blood cells. Grits also contain B vitamins like thiamine and folate. These also have a small amount of calcium, potassium, pantothenic acid, and vitamin E.

The amount of nutrients highly depends upon which version of grits you are using; for example, the regular version contains fewer amounts of calcium and vitamins than the stone-ground varieties. This is because of the processing of corn kernels in the regular version, which removes the nutritious part of corn like pericarp and embryo.

Are Grits Always Gluten-Free?

Traditional grits are made from corn, not wheat, rye, or barley. Therefore, they are gluten-free and safe to eat for people on a gluten-free diet. But there is no guarantee about the grits made by different brands, whether they are gluten-free or not because some brands of grits are processed in facilities where some gluten-containing grains are also processed.

No matter if the purest form of girts is gluten-free when they have been cross-contaminated with gluten during processing, they are no longer safe for people with gluten sensitivity. So, it is essential to check the grits brand to ensure it is safe.

There are a lot of gluten-free diets in which grits are not considered to be safe. This is because they have been processed through the equipment, which also processes the gluten grains. Most of the manufacturers use shared equipment to process their different grain products. for their financial support. This means the final product may have so much gluten cross-contamination that it cannot be considered gluten-free.

white grits in a wooden bowl

How to Choose Gluten-Free Grits

Buying gluten-free grits can be complex because if you buy cross-contaminated grits, they might be gluten, even if the grits label is pure corn grit. And sometimes grits are made from unsafe grains like barley. This means you cannot just pick any packet of the grits, considering it is safe. Always check the ingredients list to ensure your choice is exactly what you


Always choose a certified gluten-free brand to ensure that the grits you buy are safe. By buying from a reputable brand, the risk of getting gluten in your grains can be reduced up to 95%. There is a 5% chance that there could be little gluten present in them, which you may not know how it will affect until you try them.

So, keep a record of symptoms you feel after consuming the grits, even if it’s gluten-free certified. This will help you in understanding which girts brand is better.

Health Benefits of Grits

Because of the high nutritious value of girts, these can provide impressive health benefits.

1-High Amount of Antioxidants:

Antioxidants are the substances that protect the cells from free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules and can interact with cells and cause damage which is linked with chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. (Nemat Khansari, 2009)

Certain antioxidants like lutein, caffeic acid, syringic acid, and zeaxanthin can provide fantastic health benefits. For example, different human studies (Vijaya Juturu, 2016) (Ma, 2012) have shown that antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein can reduce the risk of degenerative eye disorders like cataracts and also protects skin from sun damage.

2-Naturally Gluten-free:

Gluten is the type of protein that is mainly found in grains like barley, spelled wheat, and rye. Most people can easily eat foods containing gluten without any side effects. But some people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may experience side effects. According to a study (David H Dewar, 2012), these side effects can be bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, and fatigue.

Grits can be an excellent option for gluten sensitivity patients, as they are naturally free. But still, you have to be careful while choosing the grits. Because some manufacturers process corn in the same equipment in which they process gluten-based products. So, always read the label if it has a warning of gluten contamination.

3-Protect Against Degenerative Eye Disorder:

Girts contain lutein and zeaxanthin; these antioxidants are essential for eye health and present in high concentrations inside the retina, the part of the eye which converts light into signals to make it more understandable for the brain.

According to a human study (Liu, 2014), zeaxanthin and lutein are linked with a lower risk of degenerative eye disorders such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Moreover, these antioxidants can also protect the eyes against the damage caused by harmful blue light.

Blue wavelength helps in knowing that it’s daytime by suppressing melatonin production, a hormone that makes the body relax so that it can get proper sleep. But too much exposure to this blue wavelength light can damage the eye’s outermost layer, called the cornea.                          

4-Protect Against anemia:

Anemia is a medical condition in which muscles and tissues cannot work properly as they don’t get proper oxygen. The most common symptoms are pale skin, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Iron deficiency is one of the biggest causes of anemia.

Iron is an essential mineral without which the body cannot make enough hemoglobin, a substance that plays a vital role in carrying oxygen to red blood cells. Grits are a great source of iron, so they can protect the body from iron deficiency anemia. One cup of grits can provide 8% of the daily recommended value of iron.    

According to research (Elzen, 2008), folate deficiency can cause anemia. Folate takes part in the production of red blood cells. Girts can provide a large amount of folate as well. One cup provides 25% of folate’s daily recommended value.

How to Add Grits to Diet

Grits can be added to the diet in many different ways. The most common way is to make grits porridge. Moreover, Quick or instant grits are available in the market these days, which are easier and quicker to cook.

  • They can be eaten on their own with simple seasoning
  • They can be used as s base for protein and vegetables
  • Popular mix-ins include plant milk, vegetable stock, garlic, salt, vegan cheese, and vegan butter.
  • Various famous grit protein toppings are vegan sausage,  tofu, soy curls, other vegan protein replacements, and beans.
  • Vegetables can also be used as grits topping. Vegetable toppings are spinach, mushroom, collard green, okra, corn kernels, and peppers.
  • Girts are also used as sweet dishes to add variety to breakfast. Sweet grits can be topped with apples, peaches, pears, and coconut. 

prepared white grits in a white bowl

Healthier Ways to Prepare Grits

Grits are primarily prepared with some ingredients that have high calories, but you can also prepare grits in healthier ways by following these simple tips:

  • Omit butter and cheese
  • Add a large number of vegetables
  • Use fresh fruits instead of sugar and syrups
  • Use olive oil or coconut milk instead of butter
  • Use more water in porridge than in milk

Here are some healthy recipes as well, which you can easily try at home

1-Berry and Maple Breakfast Grits:

Berry and maple breakfast grits are a delicious recipe that you can have for a warm winter breakfast.


  • One cup of stone-ground grits
  • Two cups of plant milk
  • One tablespoon of vegan butter
  • One cup of water
  • ¼ tablespoon of salt
  • One tablespoon of pumpkin seeds
  • Two tablespoon maple syrup
  • Half cup of fresh berries


  • Take a large pot. Add water, grits, and salt to it. Now let it boil.
  •  Reduce the heat and let them cook for 30 minutes on low flame until it becomes thick and creamy. Stir in the maple syrup and vegan butter
  • Turn off the flame, and pour the creamy mixture into the serving bowl. Top it with pumpkin seeds and fresh berries.

2-Healthy Tofu and Grits:

Tofu and grits is a healthy and delicious dish containing many nutrients but low calories.


  • One cup of stone-ground grits
  • Two cups of vegetable broth
  • Two tablespoons of minced garlic
  • One cup of chopped onion
  • Half cup vegan cheddar cheese shredded
  • Two cups water
  • Four tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Three tablespoons of olive oil
  • One tablespoon paprika
  • One pound of tofu drained and pressed
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos


  • Add water, salt, and grits to the large bowel. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  • Add olive oil, reduce the heat and let it cook for 30 minutes on low flame until the mixture gets creamy.
  • Turn off the heat and add vegan cheese to it. And stir it thoroughly.
  • Cut tofu into cubes, place into a large bowl, and toss with soy sauce.  Pan-fry until golden brown. Add onion, garlic, paprika, and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  • Now pour the cooked grits into the serving bowl. Place the sautéed tofu on the top and serve it.

You can also use fresh herbs like parsley or scallions according to taste. You can also serve vegetables like zucchini alongside to make it healthier.

Downside of Grits

No doubt, grits contain a large number of nutrients and can also provide a lot of health benefits, but they also have some downsides. The biggest downside is their widely available varieties, like quick, regular, or instant grits, which are made when the outer skin and embryo are removed, containing all the nutrients.

Processed girts contain less amount of fiber as compared to whole corn kernels. This is because of the removal of pericarp in the processed kind processed. This pericarp is the primary fiber source, providing many health benefits like improved digestion, managing blood cholesterol, and weight loss.

Another downside is that they are mostly served with high-calorie ingredients like butter, milk, bacon, fried catfish, syrups, and cheese. These high-calorie foods can lead to weight gain, related to many chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Bottom Line

Grits are the type of grains that are made from corn. They are very popular in southern areas and used in various forms from breakfast to desserts. They are not only delicious but also contain many nutrients, making them a healthy food choice.

Grits are gluten-free and a good option for people following a gluten-free diet or suffering from gluten sensitivity. But only traditional grits are gluten-free. The packaged or instant grits which the brands manufacture are not completely gluten-free. Because of the processing method of corn. Which used the same equipment for both the gluten-containing grains and grits.

So, always check the brand if it is gluten-free certified. And choose the right version that contains the nutrients because some versions are made by removing the pericarp and nutritious embryo.

You can add this delicious gluten-free food into your diet in many different ways: you can make breakfast porridge or make dessert with different toppings of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and sweeteners.

Other Vegan Southern Dishes To Prepare

  1. Vegan Dirty Rice
  2. Vegan Stewed Okras and Tomatoes
  3. Southern Green Beans And Potatoes
  4. Vegan Collard Greens
  5. Southern Style Black-Eyed Peas
  6. Vegan Chicken and Dumplings
  7. Gluten-Free Vegan Cornbread

close up cooked grits in a bowl, vegan, gluten-free

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