Is Polenta Keto Friendly? (No, Here’s Why)

Is Polenta Keto

The ketogenic diet, most often referred to as just keto, has increased in popularity over recent years. The ketogenic diet first gained popularity in the 1970s as a treatment for epilepsy, a seizure disorder. Since then, the keto diet has been embraced for its weight loss benefits. The keto diet is very high in fat while being much lower in carbs than the traditional Western diet. Adopting a keto diet is a big lifestyle change for most people, especially because most grains and other carb staples are avoided.

Polenta is not keto. It’s a porridge made from cornmeal which is high in carbohydrates. 1/4 cup of polenta contains 32 grams of carbohydrates. This is more than an entire day’s worth of carbs for strict keto dieters. For keto-friendly alternatives, consider Alexia Foods Mashed Cauliflower with Sea Salt or Thrive Market Wonder Rice – Shirataki Rice.

If you’ve never had polenta, you probably have some questions about it. For the full scoop on polenta, as well as details on keto-friendly alternatives, read on.

What is polenta?

Polenta is a porridge made of boiled cornmeal. It originated from Northern Italy. The term ‘polenta’ can sometimes be used interchangeably with cornmeal in recipes.

Polenta is similar in taste and texture to grits, which are also made from cornmeal. Polenta is sometimes referred to as corn grits because they are essentially the same things. The main difference between polenta and grits is the coarseness of the cornmeal. Grits use finer cornmeal which results in a finer, smoother texture. Cornmeal used to make polenta is flakier and more coarse, resulting in a slightly chewy texture.

Is polenta healthy?

Polenta isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but it’s not exactly nutrient dense either. Polenta isn’t a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Polenta can be a good side dish to accompany nutrient-rich foods, though. Choose stone-ground whole-grain polenta for a healthier, high-fiber option compared to degermed cornmeal.

What are the benefits of polenta?


Corn doesn’t contain gluten, so neither does polenta. Polenta is safe for people with wheat and gluten allergies or sensitivities.

Because polenta lacks gluten, it’s also a good option for people following a low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that some people don’t digest well, leading to stomach upset and digestive issues. Some examples of FODMAPs are high-fructose fruits, gluten, lactose, and legumes/lentils.

Contains some antioxidants

Yellow cornmeal contains antioxidants like carotenoids and phenolic compounds. Antioxidants help protect against cell damage and can fight inflammation.

Carotenoids give yellow cornmeal its color. Carotenoids are especially beneficial for promoting eye health and supporting immune system functioning.


Cornmeal doesn’t cost much, making it a good option for people with a strapped food budget. While cornmeal doesn’t offer significant health benefits on its own, it can be combined with nutrient-dense foods to help meet calorie needs.

What are the nutritional downsides of polenta?

Potentially low in fiber

Polenta is often made from degerminated cornmeal, meaning the germ of the grain is removed during processing. 1/4 cup of dry degerminated polenta contains two grams of fiber, which isn’t much compared to whole grains like oatmeal and barley.

For a healthier option, choose stone-ground polenta or one that specifically says it’s a whole grain.

Not a good source of vitamins and nutrients

Polenta isn’t a good source of many vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, vitamin D, and more.

How is polenta used?

Polenta can be used as a grain/starch in place of rice, potatoes, or pasta. You can also use it in baking, as fries, and as breadcrumbs, among many other uses.

You can buy dry polenta, which is otherwise called corn grits or cornmeal. You can also purchase pre-cooked polenta in a tube. Precooked polenta is convenient for slicing and topping with your favorite foods.

How do you make polenta?

You can easily make polenta at home. All you need is cornmeal (medium or fine grain), water, and a stovetop. You can add butter, salt, and other spices depending on your preferences.

Here are the steps to make soft polenta (porridge-style):

  1. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil in a medium-size pot or saucepan.
  2. Add one teaspoon of salt to the water.
  3. Pour one cup of dry cornmeal into the boiling water slowly, using a wooden spoon or wire whisk.
  4. Continue to stir for 2-3 minutes as the mixture thickens.
  5. Turn down heat to low and cook for at least 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so.
  6. If the polenta is too thick, add 1/2-1 cup additional water, stirring as you go.
  7. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

A quick refresher on the ketogenic diet

The ketogenic (keto) diet is a very low carbohydrate diet. Most keto diets contain fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, while stricter keto diets might limit carbs to around 20 grams per day.

The ketogenic diet is high in fat (70-80% of total calories) and moderate in protein. When you restrict carbohydrates and rely on fat for your energy, your body goes into ketosis. Ketosis is a metabolic state where your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs.

Potential benefits of following a keto diet include weight loss, improved blood sugar levels, and increased insulin sensitivity. However, the long-term benefits of the ketogenic diet have yet to be studied.

Is polenta keto?

Polenta isn’t keto because it’s a significant source of carbohydrates. Cornmeal, like other grains, usually doesn’t fit into a ketogenic diet because they contain natural carbohydrates.

1/4 cup of polenta contains around 30 grams of carbohydrates, which is too high for a ketogenic diet. Many keto dieters limit carbohydrates to 50 grams or fewer per day. The strictest keto dieters limit their carbs to less than 20 grams a day.

What happens if you eat too many carbs on a keto diet?

If you eat too many carbs on a keto diet your body will no longer be in a state of ketosis, which occurs when carb intake is very low. The purpose of the keto diet is to keep your body in ketosis so it burns fat for fuel.

Polenta Nutritional Information

Bob’s Red Mill Organic Medium Grind Cornmeal

This cornmeal is stone ground and whole grain, making it rich in fiber.


  • Organic Whole Grain Corn

Nutrition Information (per 1/4 cup)

  • Calories: 140
  • Total Fat: 1.5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate: 30 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 4 g
  • Total Sugars: 1 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 3 g

Bob’s Red Mill Organic Corn Grits


  • Organic Corn

Nutrition facts (per 1/4 cup):

  • Calories: 130
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate: 32 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 3 g

Ancient Harvest Traditional Precooked Italian Polenta

This polenta is precooked, which saves time.


  • Water
  • Organic Yellow Corn Meal
  • Salt
  • Tartaric Acid
  • Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
  • Beta Carotene (Vitamin A)

Nutrition facts (per 2.5 slices)

  • Calories: 70
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 310 mg (13% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 15 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 1 g
  • Sugars: 1 g
  • Protein: 2 g

Keto-friendly polenta alternatives

There are several recipes for low-carb “polenta” using non-starchy vegetables. However, a ready-made keto-friendly polenta doesn’t exist, making it difficult to find keto alternatives that are similar to polenta’s taste and texture. Instead, here are some alternatives to use instead of polenta that are keto-friendly.

Alexia Foods Mashed Cauliflower with Sea Salt

The best type of mashed cauliflower is homemade using whole cauliflower. If you’re wanting a convenient premade mashed cauliflower, this is a decent keto-friendly option with 5 grams of net carbs per serving. It’s higher in sodium because it’s pre-made, so making your own would likely result in less salt.


  • Cauliflower
  • Organic Cream
  • Less Than 2% Of:
    • Corn Starch
    • Water
    • Organic Unsalted Butter (Organic Cream)
    • Sea Salt

Nutrition facts (per 1/2 cup):

  • Calories: 70
  • Total Fat: 3.5 g
  • Saturated Fat: 2 g
  • Sodium: 460 mg (20% DV)
  • Total Carbohydrate: 7 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 g
  • Sugars: 2 g
  • Added Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 1 g

Thrive Market Wonder Shirataki Noodles

Polenta is a grain, similar to traditional pasta. These noodles are very low in carbohydrates, making them suitable for a keto diet.


  • Purified Water
  • Konjac Flour
  • Organic Brown Rice Flour
  • Pumpkin Powder
  • Calcium Hydroxide

Nutrition facts (per 3.5 oz):

  • Calories: 20
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate: 4 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 g
  • Total Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

Thrive Market Wonder Rice – Shirataki Rice

This keto-friendly rice is made with flour from Konjac, a starchy plant. Even though the plant is starchy, shirataki rice has 0 grams of net carbs per serving.


  • Purified Water
  • Konjac Flour
  • Calcium Hydroxide

Nutrition facts (per 3.5 ounces):

  • Calories: 20
  • Total Fat: 0 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 0 mg
  • Total Carbohydrate: 2 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 2 g
  • Total Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

Related Questions

Is polenta gluten-free?

Polenta is made from cornmeal. Corn is a grain but doesn’t contain gluten, which makes polenta gluten-free.

What is polenta served with?

Polenta is versatile and can be served in many ways. Use it in place of potatoes or rice, stir butter and cheese into it for a simple dish, or fry pieces of solid polenta to eat like French fried potatoes.

What does polenta taste like?

Polenta tastes like corn because it’s made of cornmeal. It has a similar taste to cornbread.

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Diana Gariglio-Clelland

Diana Gariglio-Clelland is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. She obtained her Bachelor's in Nutrition from the University of Idaho in 2012 and has worked in clinical, community, and primary care nutrition settings. She currently works as a freelancer on various health- and nutrition-related projects.

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