Eating Cornmeal Based Foods in a Low Carb Diet

Carbs and Glycemic Info for Cornmeal, Grits, Polenta, and Popcorn

Corn Harvest. Photo: Don Farrall/Getty Images

Foods derived from corn, such popcorn, cornmeal, polenta, grits and masa flour are made from corn kernels which are dried and ground. The corn plant is a grass, and corn can be considered a grain when used in this way. For carb information about fresh, frozen or canned corn as a vegetable, see this page.

Carbohydrate and Fiber Counts for Cornmeal and Popcorn

Cornmeal, grits, polenta, and corn flour all have very similar amounts of carbohydrate -- they seem to vary more by brand than by type.

  • ¼ cup raw cornmeal (about one ounce): 21 grams effective (net) carbohydrate plus 2 grams fiber and 111 calories
  • ½ cup cooked grits: 18 grams effective (net) carbohydrate plus 2 grams fiber and 87 calories
  • 1 cup air-popped popcorn: 5 grams effective (net) carbohydrate plus 1 gram fiber and 31 calories
  • 1 cup oil-popped popcorn: 5 grams effective (net) carbohydrate plus 1 gram fiber and 55 calories

  • 1 ounce tortilla chips: 18 grams effective (net) carbohydrate plus 1 gram fiber and 138 calories

Glycemic Index for Cornmeal and Popcorn

Two studies of the glycemic index of cornmeal report an average GI of 68.

More Information about the Glycemic Index

Estimated Glycemic Load of Cornmeal and Popcorn

  • ¼ cup raw cornmeal (about one ounce): 13
  • ½ cup cooked grits: 11
  • 1 cup popped popcorn: 3
  • 1-ounce tortilla chips: 11

More Information About the Glycemic Load

Health Benefits of Cornmeal Based Foods

Whole grain cornmeal is a fair source of thiamin and magnesium.

Cornmeal products made from dried corn, such as grits, polenta, and masa flour are also a good source of vitamin B6 and folate. However, popcorn has very little to offer nutritionally.

Selecting Cornmeal Based Foods

Most corn-based products are prepackaged as they are derived from dried corn. You would be hard pressed to find corn kernels to pick yourself.

So getting the best corn meal is all about where it came from and whether it is stone ground of de-germinated. Stone ground is less processed and therefore has more nutrients and a richer taste than de-germinated corn meal. However, some de-germinated corn meal is enriched and added vitamins and minerals give it a nutritional boost.

Storing Cornmeal Based Foods

Stone ground cornmeal should be refrigerated no longer than four months, but de-germinated cornmeal can be kept in the cabinet in a cool dry area for up to eight months. Cornmeal can also be frozen and last up to two years if so. Polenta, a cooked cornmeal dish famous in Italy can be cooked into a porridge much like grits, or it can be fried, baked or grilled and turned into firm wedges and used as bread or as a side dish to accompany fish, meat or stews. Grits, like regular cornmeal, can be kept in a cool dry place, however, once grits are opened they should be transferred to an airtight container or the entire package should be added to an airtight Ziploc bag to prevent spoilage.

More Nutritional Information About Corn at Calorie Count.

More Carb Profiles:


Leroux, MarcusFoster-Powell, Kaye, Holt, Susanna and Brand-Miller, Janette. "International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 76, No. 1, 5-56, (2002).

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21.

Continue Reading