Medical News Today: What are the nutritional benefits of polenta?

Polenta is cooked cornmeal that can be eaten as a side or used in a variety of recipes, from bread to desserts. It is a versatile food that can be served chilled or warm.

Polenta is a healthful food choice with several nutritional benefits. In this article, we look at eight of the nutritional benefits of polenta, as well as how to use it.

What is polenta?

Polenta on a wooden chopping board, with sweetcorn and corn grain on wooden table.
Polenta is a versatile ingredient that can be cooked in many different ways.

Traditionally, polenta was associated with Italy and used in a variety of dishes from that country.

Now, however, it is also commonly eaten in many parts of the world, including elsewhere in Europe and the United States. 

Polenta is usually made from yellow corn. The corn is coarsely ground into cornmeal to make polenta. Finer grinds make a soft polenta while coarse grinds make a firm polenta.

After grinding, the cornmeal is boiled in water, milk, or broth. Usually, the ratio for cooking polenta is 4 cups of liquid to 1 cup of cornmeal. When cooked, it has the consistency of a thick porridge.

The traditional method of making polenta involves stirring it in a pot for about 40 to 50 minutes, which can be time-consuming. For those looking for something easier, polenta is also sold in quick-cooking or instant varieties.

Quick-cooking polenta is precooked and re-dried before being sold, so it only takes about 5 to 10 minutes to prepare.

Fully-cooked polenta is also available in grocery stores. It is usually sold in tube-like packages. Since it tends to be firm, it can be sliced and then fried or baked.

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Nutritional benefits of polenta

Certain varieties of polenta are enriched with minerals and vitamins to increase the nutritional value. Making polenta with milk instead of water can add valuable nutrients. 

In general, polenta is a good food choice due to the following benefits:

1. Source of fiber and protein

Polenta contains both protein and fiber to help a person feel full. Fiber is also recommended to keep the digestive system functioning properly, to feed healthy gut bacteria, and to prevent constipation.

2. Polenta is gluten-free

For people looking for gluten-free dishes, polenta is a good option. Many sources of fiber, such as wheat, couscous, and rye, contain gluten.

Polenta is usually safe to be eaten by people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. But people should check the ingredient list for other additives.

3. Rich in complex carbohydrates

Polenta in a bowl with a garnish.
Polenta contains complex carbohydrates, which provide long-lasting energy and help to maintain steady blood sugar levels.

Polenta is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates are broken down fast and can cause a person’s blood sugar levels to spike. Often, simple carbohydrates do not contain many nutrients either. Cakes, cookies, and white bread are examples of simple carbohydrates.

The complex carbohydrates in polenta are broken down slowly, which means they take longer to digest. This slow release can keep blood sugar levels steady.

4. Contains vitamin A

Although it does not contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals, polenta does contain some vitamin A.

According to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin A is necessary for the proper functioning of the kidneys, lungs, and heart.

5. Source of carotenoids

Polenta contains milled corn, which is a good source of carotenoids.

Carotenoids are thought to decrease the risk of certain diseases, such as some types of eye conditions and some cancers.

6. Low in fat

Polenta is naturally low in fat and can be eaten as part of a heart-healthy diet.

A person looking to reduce their saturated fat intake should cook polenta with water, plant milk, or broth instead of dairy milk, and avoid adding cheese or butter.

7. Contains essential minerals

Iron, magnesium, and zinc are all essential minerals. Although polenta does not provide large amounts of these minerals, they still count towards a healthful diet.

8. Low calorie

Polenta is low calorie, similarly to other whole grains that are cooked in a liquid. It provides about 70 calories per 100 grams (g) cooked serving.

Nutritious, whole foods that are low in calories, such as polenta, can be a good choice for people looking to lose or maintain weight.

How to use polenta

Grilled or baked polenta strips.
Polenta may be grilled or baked, and can be used as a main dish or as a side.

Polenta has a mild corn flavor, making it a good base to add herbs, vegetables, or cheese. It can be used as a side dish and eaten along with fish or other meats.

Although polenta has a porridge-like consistency when cooked, it can be firm enough to slice when it is chilled. The slices can be placed on the grill or in the oven with various toppings, including cheese or sauces.

Uncooked polenta can also be used when baking cakes and bread in place of some of the flour in specific recipes. Using polenta in baked recipes can add nutritional value and a moist consistency.


Polenta can be eaten during brunch or as a side, for example, with a kale, mushroom, and tomato sauté. Or it can be used in place of pizza dough in a skillet margarita polenta pizza.

To make a simple and creamy polenta base to eat on its own or in other dishes, a person can follow the recipe here.

For a rich and filling main course, polenta can be used to make this pesto lasagna.

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Polenta is a healthful alternative to other side dishes, such as potatoes, pasta, and rice. Because it does not have a strong flavor, it can accompany a variety of foods.

To get the most nutritious polenta, a person should consider buying cornmeal that is stone ground. The stone ground process allows more of the nutrients to be retained.

People with celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity, or who are on an elimination diet may find polenta to be a good substitute for wheat dishes. It can also sometimes be used as a substitute for wheat flour when baking.

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