polenta vs grits

Polenta vs. Grits: What Are The Differences?

Have you ever tried polenta before? What about grits? While you might be tempted to think they are the same, these two foods are not equal and will not add the same properties to your dish.

Keep on reading to learn more about the difference between polenta and grits. These two foods are delicious in their way, but not the same.

What Is Polenta?


Polenta is a dish made with cornmeal and served as a hot porridge. It can also be fried, baked, or grilled. Yellow corn is the cereal of choice, but buckwheat or white corn can also be part of polenta.

The texture depends on the grind used to ground the grains. Coarser grinds create a thicker, harder polenta, while a smaller one results in a creamy, light texture. Polenta is a staple of the Balkan region and Northern Italy but can also be in nearby countries, like Switzerland.

Before corn was readily available everywhere, polenta came from other starchy grains, such as farro, millet, spelt, chickpea, and chestnut flour. This food takes time to prepare as the grains need lots of water and time to soften. Simmering various times and stirring often helps evenly gelatinize the starch for a better-tasting polenta.

Since it is cumbersome to prepare, newer versions of polenta are quick-cooking. This product is a pre-cooked or instant polenta that takes only a few minutes to be ready. It comes from unprocessed cornmeal, and the texture is not as creamy.

Polenta has a slightly sweet taste since it comes from corn. However, the cornmeal absorbs most flavors depending on what you cook with it. Your polenta will taste like broth, milk, butter, or cheese.

Although many think of polenta as a side dish, it can also be the main item and breakfast food. You can serve it with beef, chicken, meatballs, and fish. You could also prepare it as you would oatmeal with some nuts, maple syrup, or eggs.

Nutrition Facts

One cup of polenta (240 g) has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 170 calories
  • 2.66 g protein
  • 4.37 g fat
  • 29.3 g carbohydrate
  • 1.44 g fiber
  • 0.6 g sugar
  • 9.6 mg calcium
  • 1.54 mg iron
  • 14.4 mg magnesium
  • 36 mg phosphorus
  • 50.4 mg potassium
  • 199 mg sodium
  • 86.4 µg folate
  • 40.8 µg vitamin A
  • 7.2 mg cholesterol

Is Polenta Healthy?

For the most part, polenta can be a healthy choice. However, its nutrient content varies depending on its preparation and how much you eat. Be mindful of how you pair your polenta as well.

On the one hand, polenta is high in carbohydrates, which is not always healthy. This food has some fiber, but not enough to counterbalance the number of carbohydrates. The fat content varies depending on how you cook the polenta.

Most of the nutrients in cornmeal are in the germ, which is the inner part of the corn. Most pre-cooked or instant polenta does not have the germ or the hull. Without this part, most of the vitamins and fiber are gone.

Although it is mostly carbohydrate, polenta is not absorbed too quickly and will not raise your blood sugar levels. This is likely because it has a low glycemic index of 68, which measures how quickly your body will digest this food and raise blood sugar levels. However, that is still in the medium range, and you should consider the portion sizes before you have this food.

Since it is a good source of vitamin A, polenta is high in antioxidants. This food contains a good amount of carotenoids and phenolic compounds. These compounds have proven benefits in reducing damage to your cells and tissues and preventing chronic illnesses.

It is also relevant to know that polenta is naturally gluten-free since it comes from corn. However, always look at food packaging labels to ensure that your food is not processed in a facility that processes gluten. If done right, polenta is a safe food for Celiac disease and gluten sensitivities.

To make your polenta the healthiest, consider preparing it with water or broth. Adding things like milk, cream, or butter will certainly increase the caloric content and fat. You can also pair it with a lean protein, like chicken or vegetables, and have a better nutrient profile.

See more: What to serve with polenta

What Are Grits?


Grits are porridge made from cornmeal that you boil when cooking. The origin of the dish dates back to the Native American tribe Muscogee. The corn used in this first dish was similar to hominy.

This dish is considered a traditional Southern delicacy, but you can find it everywhere in the United States. Although it is served for breakfast, it can also be a side dish or a main entree. Common additives include maple syrup, chives, cheese, and butter.

Most grits consumed in the US come from a region known as the “grits belt.” This region extends from Texas to Washington, DC. The state of Georgia officially named grits its state food.

You can find yellow or white grits depending on what type of corn is in the processing. Like polenta, you can also see quick grits everywhere, which do not have the hull or germ and cook much faster. The traditional grain takes longer to prepare and might be called speckled.

Water and milk are usually the liquid in which you cook grits. The process is done over low heat and requires constant stirring. Afterward, this type of porridge might come on its own, with cheese, bacon, onions, gravy, or seafood.

While many consider grits a breakfast item, some classic savory dishes contain this cornmeal dish. Some of these include shrimp and grits or bacon and grits. You can also fry leftover grits into something called grit cakes, or you can learn different ways to reheat grits.

Nutrition Facts

One cup of grits prepared with water (240 g) has the following nutritional content (*):

  • 156 calories
  • 3.31 g protein
  • 0.96 g fat
  • 35.5 g carbohydrate
  • 1.92 g fiber
  • 35.5 g sugar
  • 35.5 mg calcium
  • 35.5 mg iron
  • 14.4 mg magnesium
  • 33.6 mg phosphorus
  • 62.4 mg potassium
  • 516 mg sodium
  • 79.2 µg folate
  • 0 µg vitamin A
  • 0 mg cholesterol

Are Grits Healthy?

Grits can be nutritious depending on how you prepare them. The nutrient density depends on the type of grits you choose. No matter the reason, grits are a good choice for a side dish or quick meal.

To obtain the most fiber and nutrients, you should go with traditional and slow cooking grits. These are whole grains and still contain the germ and hull. This grit is the most fibrous and has the most vitamins.

On the other hand, the processing of hominy grits happens in an alkaline solution that removes the hull. This means that these grits lose the fiber in the hull but might have some vitamins and minerals. They are still a good option, but the carbohydrate content is higher.

Instant grits do not have either the hull or germ, and that is why they cook quickly. Still, this means that they are the least nutritious of the grits out there. They work in a pinch, but you should not consider them the best choice.

In their whole-grain form, grits can be high in antioxidants. These are compounds that occur naturally in foods of plant origin and can prevent oxidative damage. Eating grits is not the best source of these compounds, but it can provide some of them.

For those wondering whether grits are a prohibited food with diabetes, this is not true. Grits can be high in fiber and thus are a good carbohydrate. However, limit the amount of fat and dairy you use in your grits to make them healthier.

What Are The Key Differences Between Polenta and Grits?

The first and most important difference between these two foods is what type of corn they come from. Polenta is almost always made from yellow corn, although it might contain a mixture. Grits are usually white, and that is because they contain hominy.

Because they come from different types of corn, the texture of these two cornmeal products is different. Polenta tends to have a coarser and denser texture that results in a chewier product. Grits are usually ground very finely and thus are lighter and mushier.

Since they are processed differently, these two also have somewhat different flavors. Polenta is usually sweet and a bit smoky. Grits can have a stronger corn flavor, and they are a bit bland if you do not season them.

The color of polenta and grits is also somewhat varied. Polenta has a rich, deep yellow color. Grits are white to light cream in color because they come from hominy corn.

These two cornmeal foods also do not come from the same place. The polenta was first created in Italy and expanded from there. Grits are traditionally American, remain most popular in this country, and are not very well known internationally.

One final key difference between these two foods is how they are served. Polenta is almost always a savory dish that you can serve with cheese, meat, or fish. Grits are often served for breakfast, although they can be served with shrimp, bacon, cheese, and veggies.

Polenta vs Grits Main DifferencesPolentaGrits 
Origin Italy The United States  
Source Yellow cornmeal Hominy (white corn) cornmeal 
Taste Sweet and slightly smoky Intense corn flavor and somewhat bland 
UseThe main dish, side dish, and sometimes for breakfast  Mostly breakfast but can be served as a side dish 
Cost$2.29 to 6.99 per 24 oz container $2.12 to 3.79 per 24 oz container 
Calories per cup    170 calories 156 calories 

Is Polenta or Grits Healthier?

Both these cornmeal products are tasty, but they are not necessarily the healthiest. Your best bet is to find a product that is whole grain. Choosing the whole grain will give you more fiber and nutrients.

For the most part, polenta can be denser in carbohydrate content and calories. However, it also has more vitamins and minerals than grits. Preparing it in broth or water and adding olive oil will boost its nutrient profile.

Grits can be a good option in certain cases, particularly when you want a quick breakfast. Choosing long-cooking grits is the best way, although it takes more time. Preparing your grits in water instead of milk and adding little butter can make them healthier.


Do not make the silly mistake of confusing polenta and grits ever again. While both foods come from corn, their qualities are very different. When it comes to grits vs polenta, choose wisely next time you see either of these foods!

*image by bit245&rose.mosteller@gmail.com/depositphotos

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