The Health Benefits of Grits

Grits, like corn, are rich in leucine, an amino acid that benefits your muscles.
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Native Americans have been eating hominy, the product of de-hulled, de-germed corn, for thousands of years. Grits, a staple of traditional southeastern United States fare, are simply ground hominy that is cooked in water and eaten as a cereal or side dish. A bowl of grits provides a combination of B-complex vitamins and protein that work together to give you energy and keep you alert.

Satisfies Your Appetite

A cup of cooked grits can give you quick energy that lasts for hours. It provides more than 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber, helping to fill you up and keep your appetite satisfied until your next meal. With 1.5 milligrams of iron, it helps your body deliver oxygen to your tissues, helping to keep you energized. At 182 calories, grits are comparable to other cereals that do not provide as much protein and may leave you feeling hungry before lunch.

Leucine and Muscle

The Institute of Medicine recommends that you take in 55 milligrams of the essential amino acid leucine for every gram of protein you consume. Corn is rich in leucine, and a bowl of grits gives you 542 milligrams of it. If you normally take in 50 grams of protein a day, grits provide 20 percent of your daily requirement for leucine.

Leucine is particularly important for the elderly and people at risk for losing muscle mass. Researchers who published a study in "Clinical Nutrition" in 2012 found that people who ate reduced-protein meals but took a leucine supplement for two weeks experienced improved protein synthesis, indicating that a diet rich in this amino acid may help prevent loss of muscle.

B Vitamins

Grits help your body metabolize the food you eat by providing B-complex vitamins that play a role in converting fat, carbohydrates and protein into energy. A cup of cooked grits contains 25 percent of the folate, 20 percent of the thiamin and one-sixth of the niacin you need each day. Folate is particularly important for pregnant women, who need more folate than other people, because an adequate intake reduces the risk of neural tube defects in developing fetuses.

Keeping Grits Healthy

Eaten plain, grits are a low-calorie, nutritious addition to your breakfast or any other meal. However, in the South, grits are traditionally served with a generous dollop of butter or margarine, sometimes topped with grated cheese. Sausage gravy, bacon and fried eggs often accompany them as well. To keep your grits healthy, skip the butter and use vegetable-based oils, such as olive oil, and use cheese in moderation, if at all. Avoid fatty, high-cholesterol breakfast foods; choose fresh fruit and whole grains instead.

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