Quick & Healthy Italian Polenta Recipe & Corn: It's Not as Bad as You Think

Corn gets a bad rap, but it’s actually a nutrient dense food. Although it is technically a vegetable it is most often considered a 'cereal' grain. In the last few years it has become a hot topic among health professionals about whether or not it's healthy. Most of those following a paleo, low carb or keto diet cut it out completely.

Scroll to the bottom if you're just here for the recipe!

I'm not here to debate corn syrup, but corn close to it's natural state is something I've been including in my diet for years! Fresh roasted corn on the cob, street corn, corn tortillas, tortilla chips, popcorn, polenta (or grits as they're called in the south) are all affordable and healthy in moderation foods to grab on your next trip to the store.

Let's take a look at it's nutrient breakdown:

Healthline states that 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of boiled yellow corn contains:

  • Calories: 96

  • Water: 73%

  • Protein: 3.4 grams

  • Carbs: 21 grams

  • Sugar: 4.5 grams

  • Fiber: 2.4 grams

  • Fat: 1.5 grams

Corn is commonly genetically modified (genetically engineered to express agriculturally-desirable traits, including resistance to pests and to herbicides) so look for organic varieties when possible and if your budget allows.

Corn has several varieties and is processed and eaten in many different forms:

  • Popcorn

  • Sweet Corn

  • Grits / Polenta

  • Corn on the Cob

  • Corn Flakes

  • Corn (Vegetable) Oil

  • Corn Syrup

Here are some of the benefits!

Low - medium on glycemic index: meaning it’s slower digesting and it won’t spike your blood sugar as fast as say white table sugar.

Fiber: a medium bag of movie theater popcorn contains 16 grams of fiber (about half the recommended daily value). The fiber in corn is insoluble so it speeds up our digestion and adds bulk to our stools. Important for preventing constipation.

Protein: Fair source of protein, but is lacking in some essential amino acids.

Fat: corn is a low fat food, corn oil (vegetable oil) contains a significant amount of vitamin E and q10 but is also highly refined - not the best source of fat in your diet

Vitamins and minerals: Great source of B Vitamins, Folate, potassium, copper, magnesium and phosphorus. Also high in manganese and zinc but absorption is low.

Antioxidants: Contains higher amounts than many other cereal grains, and is high in eye healthy carotenoids.

Here are some of my favorite ways to eat corn:

Air Popped Popcorn makes a great snack, you can have a large amount of it for very few calories and its very filling due to the high fiber content.

Corn grits or polenta make a great alternative to pasta or even as a swap for oatmeal. Lighten it up by adding an equal amount of riced cauliflower, carrots, zucchini or broccoli.

Nothing says summer quite like fresh roasted corn on the cob (Olathe Sweet Corn, from Olathe, Colorado is my all time favorite if you can find it)! Go easy on the butter & salt and try fresh herbs, spices, lime or lemon juice. I also love it in my Elote Salad, a quick and easy side dish (you can use frozen or canned corn in a pinch).

Y’all know I LOVE TACOS so it’s no surprise that I eat a fair amount of corn tortillas look for ones with minimal ingredients (traditional ones are made only from maize (hominy corn flower) and water. Opt for street taco or the smallest size you can find and load em up with fillings. These Bang Bang Tacos have been on repeat lately!

I don’t recommend highly processed vegetable oils, refined cereal grains or products that use corn as a ‘filler’. Eat it as close to its natural state as possible. And don’t sleep on blue corn varieties: blue corn tortillas contain 20% more protein than their white corn counterparts. They also have less starch and a lower glycemic index (GI)!

Now the real reason you're here, the POLENTA RECIPE!! I took an Italian favorite, lightened it up and snuck in some veggies. You'll never guess the difference, even my pseudo Italian husband couldn't tell! Topped with marinara, fire roasted peppers & onions (from the freezer) and precooked Italian chicken sausage you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes with just a handful of ingredients!

Italian Polenta with Sausage & Peppers

For the Polenta

1 cup dried corn grits or polenta

2-3 cups vegetable or chicken broth low sodium (sub water or milk if needed)

1 cup water

2 cups riced cauliflower

Salt & pepper to taste

Bring 2 cups vegetable broth and water to a low roiling boil over medium high heat. Turn heat to medium and slowly pour in dried corn grits, whisking continuously, continue stirring until smooth. Add in riced cauliflower and continue cooking, stirring fairly often for 20 minutes. Add additional water or broth if mixture is too think. While the cauliflower will release a fair amount of water you want it thick, like applesauce or pudding but not watery like soup. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Sausage & Peppers

1 package Chicken Italian Sausage, precooked and rough chopped or sliced

1 package frozen mixed peppers & onions (I use the fire roasted mix from Trader Joes)

2 cups marinara sauce (I love Rao's Homemade)

Red Pepper flakes & Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Olive Oil

While polenta is cooking, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat, when hot add pepper & onion mixture. Cook 3-5 minutes until soft and warm, add sausage and continue cooking another 3-5 minutes. Lower heat to low, add marinara and stir to combine. Heat covered for several minutes. To serve, add 1 cup polenta mixture to bowl, top with 1/4 of the sausage/pepper mixture. Garnish with red pepper flakes (if you like a little spice) and parmesan cheese.

I also added shrimp here! BUT you can use any meat, sausage or vegan meat replacement.

Are corn grits and polenta the same thing?! Technically YES! In the south they are called grits, and in Italy it's called polenta, both are made from stone ground corn and cook up nearly the same. If you don't have broth on hand you can use plain water. Some add cheese, milk or cream to theirs, but I used veggie broth for a flavor boost and to make it richer without adding cream or butter!

If you make this be sure to tag me in your posts! I love seeing you recreate my recipes!

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©2020 Briana Ottinger Fitness, LLC 


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