Understanding corn: the benefits, risks and tips for you

January 22, 2019

Corn – widely known as sweet yellow corn – is a large form of maize. It is found in various foodstuffs and is sometimes eaten on its own.

Selective breeding has domesticated this simple grain and changed the size, color, and flavor of corn from the early crops of our indigenous ancestors; now to a healthy addition to our diet.

Corn is in everything from soda to cereal. According to the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, Americans consume about 160 pounds of corn per person each year. This widespread use of corn in food products has led to much debate.

It is known that corn has several health benefits to the consumer.Certain varieties are bountiful in carotenoids – an antioxidant, which is a useful combatant to the aging process and chronic illness. But when compared to many other fruits and vegetables, it has a low concentration of vitamins and minerals, and is high in carbohydrates instead. Also high in protein, corn is a good substitute for vegans and vegetarians alike and a safe option for those with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, because it is a gluten-free grain. The dietary fibre content of corn, although low, helps with digestion and constipation. Studies suggest that fibre intake may also lower the risk of premature death. For people with low incomes, corn is cheap and a ready source of needed calories, carbohydrates, and protein.

The primary health concern with corn is that it may act as a filler, causing people to eat too many carbohydrates and too few of more nutrient-dense foods. According to studies in the US, more than a third of corn consumed is in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This sugar – a derivative of cornstarch – has triggered numerous other debates about the addition of sweeteners to food.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) state that there is no compelling evidence that HFCS is more harmful than other sugars. However, the FDA also recommends that everyone limit their daily consumption of all added sugars, including HFCS and regular sugar.

Other concerns include:

  • Genetically-modified organism (GMO) corn – it is argued to be dangerous, though its use is still widespread. According to a 2015 article from Harvard University’s Science in the News, both the World Health Organization and the American Medical Associationhave concluded that GMO crops are safe for human consumption.
  • Corn is high in sugar – it does contain naturally occurring sugars, although slightly higher in concentration than most plants.
  • The body cannot digest corn – it contains cellulose which is not readily digested. Chewing corn for longer can help the digestive system break down cellulose walls to access more of the nutrients.
  • Corn is high in fat – it is prepared in such a way that increases the fat content. Adding butter and other fats or oils to corn can turn it into a high-fat, high-calorie food.

However, there is no concrete evidence that it corn is harmful to health. It can still be a part of a healthy diet. Careful preparation and consumption of corn should be observed:

  • It is safe to eat raw.
  • The kernels can add texture to salads, soups, and casseroles.
  • It can be stored in the refrigerator uncooked for up to 5 days.
  • It is safe to freeze cooked corn for up to 6 months.
  • When using prepackaged corn, check for the “best by” or “best if used by” date.

Corn is tasty to eat, though not particularly nutritious or fibrous than other complex carbohydrates; it can be eliminated from the diet if necessary. But, many processed food products contain corn and its byproducts, so be aware and remember to check ingredient labels thoroughly.

It is best to eat corn in moderation, and further health concerns about corn – notably for special needs diets – should be referred to an expert.

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Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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