Grits are a type of porridge made from corn, often served as a hot breakfast meal. They’re rich in several of the B vitamins and fiber, and they also add some iron to your diet. Don’t rely too much on grits to meet your iron intake though. The type of iron in grits isn’t easy for your body to absorb.
Recommendation vs. Amount in Grits
Women need 18 milligrams of iron every day, the Office of Dietary Supplements states. During pregnancy, you’ll need even more – 27 milligrams per day. If you breast-feed your little one after birth, you’ll only need 9 milligrams of daily iron while nursing. One cup of grits prepared with water has nearly 1.5 milligrams of iron. This is only 8 percent of the recommendation if you aren’t pregnant or nursing.
Importance of Iron
You need iron to transport oxygen in your blood. It delivers oxygen to cells, tissues and to all of your organs. Without enough iron in your system, you’ll suffer from iron deficiency – the No. 1 nutritional deficiency in the world. When your iron levels drop, you’ll feel fatigued and cold and have pale skin. Your immune system weakens as well, leaving you open to catching a bug.
Iron in grain, fruit or vegetable-based foods, like grits, is called nonheme iron. This type of iron isn’t very bioavailable, meaning your body has a hard time absorbing it. Only 2 to 20 percent of the nonheme iron you get from these foods is utilized, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Better sources of iron come from animal foods, like meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs. The iron in these foods is called heme iron, which absorbs at a rate of 15 to 35 percent.
You can improve the amount of iron you absorb from grits and other nonheme sources, helping you get the maximum possible amount. Nonheme iron absorption is very dependent on other components of your meal. Top your bowl of grits with fresh berries. Berries are rich in vitamin C, which improves nonheme iron absorption. Drink a glass of orange juice or have an apple with your breakfast to get more vitamin C. Enjoy a slice of Canadian bacon or a piece of turkey bacon with a serving of grits. The protein and heme iron from these meats helps boost nonheme iron absorption.
Melodie Anne Coffman specializes in overall wellness, with particular interests in women's health and personal defense. She holds a master's degree in food science and human nutrition and is a certified instructor through the NRA. Coffman is pursuing her personal trainer certification in 2015.