Carbs in Cornmeal, Popcorn, Grits, and Tortilla Chips

Cornmeal annotated

Photo: Alexandra Shytsman 

Foods derived from corn, like popcorn, cornmeal, polenta, grits and masa flour, which is made from dried and ground corn kernels, vary in carb counts. Including popcorn and cornmeal into a low carbohydrate eating plan is possible by practicing portion control. Popcorn is low in carbohydrates and rich in fiber and while cornmeal is higher in carbohydrates, it does contain a decent amount of vitamins and minerals.

The corn plant is a grass, and corn can be considered a grain when used for its kernels. Carb information about fresh, frozen or canned corn as a vegetable is different than dried corn.

Cornmeal, grits, polenta, and corn flour all have very similar amounts of carbohydrates. They seem to vary more by brand than by type. The USDA FoodData Central database provides nutrition information for different corn-based foods.

Corn-based food Carbs, fiber, and calories
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal  24g carbs, 2.3g fiber, 111 calories
1/2 cup cooked grits (no added fat) 9g carbs, 0.5g gram fiber, 39 calories
1 cup air-popped popcorn 6.2g carbs, 1.2 gram fiber, 31 calories
1 cup oil-popped popcorn 6.4g carbs, 1.1g fiber, 55 calories
1 ounce tortilla chips 19g carbs, 1.5g fiber, 132 calories

Health Benefits of Corn-Based Food

Whole grain cornmeal is a fair source of thiamin and magnesium. It is also a good source of selenium. Cornmeal products made from dried corn, such as grits, polenta, and masa flour are also a good source of vitamin B6 and folate

Selection

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. Getting the best cornmeal is all about where it came from and whether it is stoneground or de-germinated. Stoneground is less processed and therefore has more nutrients and a richer taste than de-germinated cornmeal. However, some de-germinated corn meal is enriched with added vitamins and minerals that give it a nutritional boost.

Storing Corn-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.

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 zip-closing bag to prevent spoilage.

How Do Other Food Groups Stack Up Carb-Wise?

Some choices are wiser than others in terms of selecting low-carb food options. Leafy vegetables and nuts and seeds seem to fare the best. Bringing up the rear are most fruits, grains and some legumes and milk and dairy products.

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  1. USDA FoodData Central. Updated April 1, 2020

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