Diabetes management revolves around healthy food choices that help control blood sugar levels. For those with diabetes, understanding which foods are suitable and which are best avoided is crucial. Grits, a popular Southern dish made from ground corn, often come into question for people with diabetes. So, can diabetics eat grits? 

Grits are high in carbohydrates. Hence, people with diabetes can only eat them in the right proportion and with diets rich in healthy fats, lean proteins, and fibers. Eating grits as part of a balanced diet will reduce or even prevent blood sugar spikes.

Key Takeaways

  • Grits are high in carbohydrates, with one cup containing 24 grams of carbs. These carbs break down into sugars during digestion, which can lead to blood sugar spikes.
  • People with diabetes should limit their intake of high-carb foods like grits and focus on balanced meals that include carbs, protein, and fat.
  • Grits should be eaten in small portions and paired with other nutritious foods to minimize their impact on blood sugar levels.

Can a Diabetic Eat Grits?

People with diabetes can eat grits, but it's essential to consider their carb content and eat it in moderation.

When you eat grits, try to balance them with protein and fat. For example, if you eat grits for breakfast, try eating them alongside some eggs or bacon to balance the carbs in the meal. You can also pair your grits with low-fat cheese with no carbs! This will be a great way to get healthy fats into your diet while keeping it balanced.

Always consider the processing method of your grits before you buy and eat them. For example, instant grits usually have added sugar and other ingredients that turn them into processed food, which you should avoid when buying foods for your diabetes diet.

Diabetes and Its Impact on Food Choices

Diabetes is a chronic health condition characterized by high blood sugar levels resulting from the body's inability to produce or utilize insulin effectively. There are two main types of diabetes:

Diabetes Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, the body cannot produce sufficient insulin, a hormone crucial for regulating blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes must rely on daily insulin injections, or insulin pumps to control blood sugar.

Diabetes Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder characterized by the body's inability to use insulin effectively, known as insulin resistance. This results in elevated blood sugar levels, which can cause various health complications over time. Type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1 and is often associated with lifestyle factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, and an unhealthy diet. In many cases, type 2 diabetes can be managed through lifestyle modifications, including weight loss, increased physical activity, and a balanced diet.

With over 400 million people affected worldwide, diabetes is a significant global health concern. Managing diabetes involves carefully monitoring blood sugar levels, and one of the critical aspects of this management is making informed food choices. People with diabetes must be mindful of their foods, as different foods can impact blood sugar levels differently.

The Glycemic Index and How It Relates to Diabetes

To make appropriate food choices, diabetics need to understand the glycemic index (GI) – a ranking system that measures how quickly a particular food raises blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI cause a rapid spike in blood sugar, while those with a low GI result in a slower, more gradual increase. Diabetics are advised to consume foods with lower GI values to maintain better blood sugar control and reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes.

What Are Grits?

Grits are a traditional Southern dish made from ground, dried corn, specifically a type of corn called hominy. To make grits, the hard outer hull and germ are removed from the corn kernel, leaving the starchy endosperm behind, which is then ground into varying textures.

Grits come in three variants: stone-ground, regular, and instant. Stone-ground grits are the least processed and retain a more natural texture and flavor, while instant grits are precooked and dehydrated for quicker preparation. To prepare grits, they are typically boiled in water, milk, or a combination of both until they reach a creamy, porridge-like consistency.

The Nutritional Composition of Grits

Grits provide a source of carbohydrates and contain small amounts of protein and fiber. They are low in fat and offer some essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. However, the nutritional value of grits can vary depending on the type and how they are prepared. Whole grain, unprocessed grits have a higher nutrient content compared to refined or instant grits, which often lose some nutrients during processing.

The Pros and Cons of Including Grits in a Diabetic Diet

Benefits Of Grits

The Pros

Whole grain source

Grits, particularly the whole grain and stone-ground varieties, can be a source of whole grains in a diabetic diet. Whole grains are beneficial for overall health and may help with blood sugar control, as they contain the entire grain kernel, which includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. This makes them richer in nutrients and fiber compared to refined grains.

Fiber content

Although grits are not as high in fiber as other whole grains, they still provide some fiber, especially in the unprocessed and stone-ground varieties. Fiber can help slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, preventing rapid spikes in blood sugar levels and promoting better blood sugar control.

Versatility in meal preparation

Grits are a versatile ingredient that can be incorporated into various meals, allowing diabetics to create a wide range of dishes with differing nutrient profiles. By combining grits with high-fiber, low-glycemic foods and lean proteins, diabetics can create balanced meals that support blood sugar management.

The Cons

High glycemic index

Grits, particularly the instant and refined varieties, have a high glycemic index (GI). High-GI foods can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, which is undesirable for diabetics. While stone-ground and whole-grain grits have a slightly lower GI, they may still impact blood sugar levels significantly.

Potential blood sugar spikes

Due to their high GI, consuming large portions of grits or combining them with other high-GI foods could lead to significant blood sugar spikes for diabetics. It is essential to be mindful of the overall glycemic load of a meal containing grits and monitor blood sugar levels accordingly.

Serving size and portion control

Grits can easily be overconsumed, and larger portions can contribute to increased blood sugar levels and potential weight gain. Diabetics should practice portion control when incorporating grits into their meal plans and consider combining them with other nutrient-dense, low-GI foods to create a more balanced meal.

What Are The Different Kinds of Grits?

Grits are made from dent corn with a softer and starchier kernel. The kernels are processed to remove the hull, dried, and ground into tinier bits. When cooked, the texture resembles oatmeal but looks more like white rice. Grits are typically prepared by boiling and mixing with butter and milk. They can be served hot or cold, depending on personal preference.

Coarse Ground grits

Also known as "old-fashioned" - it has a slightly larger grain than other kinds.

Stone Ground Grits

These are medium ground grits - this is the most common kind of stone-ground varieties sold in America today, and it's also known as stone-ground grits, which are usually less processed than instant. For people with diabetes, this is an excellent choice as they keep your blood sugar steady.

Hominy

These are made from the kernels of corn that have been treated with lye to remove the hull and germ.

Instant (quick) grits

These tend to be more finely milled and resemble white rice when cooked, but they're not 100% identical since there can be differences depending on how much processing was done before packaging them.

Always consider the label when buying packaged foods like this! It may say that it contains no added sugar, but if you read carefully, you'll notice that it might contain corn syrup solids instead. As a diabetic, it is best that you consume stone-ground varieties. Other grits will likely increase your blood sugar levels.

Tips for Incorporating Grits Into a Diabetic-friendly Meal

Choosing whole grain, unprocessed varieties

When incorporating grits into a diabetic meal plan, opt for whole grain or stone-ground varieties over refined or instant grits. These less processed options retain more nutrients and fiber, which can help support better blood sugar management. Look for products labeled as whole grain or stone ground to ensure you're getting the most nutritious option.

Combining with low GI foods and healthy fats

Pairing grits with low-glycemic index (GI) foods, such as non-starchy vegetables, legumes, or lean proteins, can help balance the overall glycemic load of a meal. Additionally, adding healthy fats like avocado, nuts, or olive oil can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, leading to a more gradual rise in blood sugar levels. This combination can help mitigate potential blood sugar spikes associated with consuming grits alone.

Monitoring portion sizes

Portion control is crucial when incorporating grits into a diabetic-friendly meal. Stick to recommended serving sizes (usually around 1/4 to 1/2 cup cooked) and avoid overconsumption, which can lead to increased blood sugar levels and potential weight gain. Using smaller plates or measuring tools can help keep portions in check.

Being mindful of added sugars and unhealthy toppings

Grits are relatively low in sugar and fat, but adding unhealthy toppings or sweeteners can quickly change their nutritional profile. Avoid excessive amounts of butter, salt, or sugar, and opt for more nutritious options like sautéed vegetables, lean proteins, or a small amount of cheese. By being mindful of the ingredients you add to your grits, you can create a more diabetic-friendly and nutrient-dense meal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are grits healthy?

Grits can be considered healthy when incorporated into a balanced diet and prepared using nutritious ingredients. Made from ground, dried corn (specifically hominy), grits are a source of carbohydrates and provide some essential vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. However, they are relatively low in protein and fiber compared to other whole grains.

To make grits healthier, choose whole-grain, unprocessed varieties over refined or instant types, which often have fewer nutrients and higher glycemic indices. When preparing grits, avoid adding excessive amounts of butter, salt, or sugar, and instead opt for healthier toppings like sautéed vegetables, lean protein, or a small amount of avocado or nuts for added flavor and nutrition.

While grits can be part of a healthy diet, other whole grains like quinoa, barley, bulgur, and steel-cut oats generally offer more fiber, protein, and a wider range of vitamins and minerals. These grains also tend to have a lower glycemic index, which can enhance blood sugar control. As with any food, moderation and balance are crucial to ensuring grits contribute to a healthy and nutritious meal plan.

What is the glycemic index of grits?

A glycemic index is a number that reflects how much your blood sugar levels will increase after you eat a particular food. The lower the index, the less impact it's likely to have on your body. The American Diabetes Association states that any food with a glycemic index below 55 is considered a low-glycemic food that you can eat as part of your diabetes diet without worrying too much about it impacting your blood sugars.

Grits are primarily carbohydrates, typically 12 grams of carbs per 100g (based on instant grits).

Grits have a glycemic index (GI) of 69 and a high glycemic load (GL) of 14. Based on these numbers, which are above average, grits will raise your blood sugar levels.

Conclusion

Grits are a great source of carbohydrates but also good sources of other nutrients such as fiber, iron, magnesium, manganese, and selenium! Most grits contain little or no sugar since they are not usually added during processing unless you buy instant grits, which often have added sugars.

People with diabetes should always aim to eat stone-ground grits which are less processed and have a lower glycemic index. Stone-ground varieties are great for people with diabetes because they contain low-fat proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, fiber and so much more!

Sources

At Diabetic Me, we are committed to delivering information that is precise, accurate, and pertinent. Our articles are supported by verified data from research papers, prestigious organizations, academic institutions, and medical associations to guarantee the integrity and relevance of the information we provide. You can learn more about our process and team on the about us page.

  1. National Library of Medicine Glycemic index and disease
  2. National Library of Medicine Glycemic responses to maize flour stiff porridges prepared using local recipes in Malawi
  3. USDA Cereals, corn grits, white, regular and quick, enriched, cooked with water, without salt

About the Author

Ely Fornoville

Hi, I'm Ely Fornoville, and I am the founder of Diabetic Me. Being a type 1 diabetic since 1996, I developed a passion to help people learn more about diabetes. I write about diabetes and share stories from other diabetics around the world. I currently use a Medtronic Guardian 4 CGM and a MiniMed 780G insulin pump with Humalog insulin.

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