Corn, also known as maize, is one of the most popular cereals in the world. It is a part of the staple diet in many countries. Corn has been a part of the Native American meals for thousands of years. In the US corn is consumed as popped corn or as sweet corn. Refined corn is also used in the number of dishes like tortillas, cornmeal, corn syrup, and corn oil.
If you alone talk about corn nutrition then corn is rich in carbohydrates, fibre, antioxidants, protein, vitamin and minerals. But still, people are often sceptical about the nutritional value of corn and its health benefits. This leaves me with only one question – Is corn good for you?
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Is corn good for you? – GMO vs Non-GMO corn
The answer depends on what version of corn are you eating. Is it GMO (Genetically modified organism) or non-GMO corn? Non- GMO corn or organic corn is highly nutritious when it is consumed in an unprocessed form.
This traditional organic corn is rich in fibres, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Other than the typical yellow, different varieties of corn like red, orange, purple, blue, white and black corn are also grown in the US.
On the other side, GMO corn is genetically engineered to resist insects and tolerate herbicide. Herbicide-tolerant property helps a farmer to control weeds, and insect resistant fends off insects which are common in non-GMO or organic corn.
Although, several studies have revealed that GMO corn has a lower content of mycotoxins, fumonisins and thricitecens, which are potentially harmful to human health.
But at the end of the day, GMO corn is processed food, and you can never predict how much it is processed. It is safe to read the label containing the nutritional value of corn before you purchase non-GMO corn.
Nutritional value of corn (1)
One cup of yellow, boiled corn (100 grams) contains:
- Calories: 96
- Proteins: 3.4 grams
- Sugar: 4.5 grams
- Fibre: 2.4 grams
- Carbs: 21 grams
- Fat: 1.5 grams
- Omega 3: 0.02 grams
- Omega 6: 0.59 grams
Good source of carbohydrates
Corn is a good source of healthy carbs. Starch is the main type of carb found in corn, and this complex carbohydrate helps maintain energy levels in the body. Foods that are rich in starch help control the blood sugar in the body as they slow down the rate at which sugar is released into the body.
Corn also contains a small amount of sugar (2). Sweet corn contains lower amounts of starch (28 %) and higher amounts of sugar (18 %). In spite of this sweet corn is not a high-glycemic food and is beneficial for health.
High fibre content
One cup of corn contains 4.5 grams of fibre. This makes it a highly-beneficial food for the digestive system. Corn provides a healthy ratio of soluble and insoluble fibres.
The insoluble fibres like hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin pass through the digestive system unabsorbed. The soluble fibre, on the other hand, is metabolised by the intestinal bacteria and turned into short-chained-fatty-acids. The SCFAs are known to prevent colon cancer.
Rich source of antioxidants
Corn is a rich source of many antioxidants. In fact, it contains more antioxidants than many other grains (3). Here are some of the antioxidants in corn:
Lutein: This carotenoid antioxidant is found in the human eye, and it protects the eyes from damage by the blue light (4). This antioxidant is also present in rich coloured vegetables like carrots, etc.
Zeaxanthin: Like Lutein, Zeaxanthin also plays an essential role in improving eye health (5).
Ferulic acid: Corn is a rich source of this polyphenol antioxidant.
Anthocyanins: These antioxidants are responsible for the different colours of blue, purple and red corn.
Has vitamins and minerals
Corn also contains many vitamins and minerals. While sweet corn is an excellent source of many vitamins, popcorn is richer in minerals. Sweet corn is a rich source of many B vitamins like vitamin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin B3 and folic acid.
Vitamin B6 helps the brain produce serotonin and norepinephrine, the chemicals that affect the mood. It also contains potassium. Popcorn contains minerals like manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and copper.
Corn is a good vegetarian source of protein. One cup of corn has about 5 to 6 grams of protein. Corn contains a protein known as zeins. Unfortunately, zeins lack some essential amino acids like lysine and tryptophan (6).
Though many consider corn to be a grain, it is not a grain and is gluten-free. This makes corn or corn flour an ideal gluten-free alternative for those with gluten allergies. Gluten allergy is linked to bloating, cramping, diarrhoea, constipation and fatigue.
Health benefits of non-GMO corn
Apart from having healthy nutrients like vitamin, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, corn is also a good source of carotenoid antioxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, anthocyanins and ferulic acid. These antioxidants help in improving eye health.
1. Helps improve digestive health
As mentioned earlier, corn is a rich source of fibres. In fact, one cup of corn can provide 18.4 percent of the daily recommended amount of fibre.
Dietary fibre helps keep digestive problems like constipation and haemorrhoids away and is also known to lower the risk of developing colon cancer (7). Fibre can also reduce the chances of irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhoea.
2. Lowers chances of diverticular disease
Diverticular disease or diverticulosis leads to pouches on the colon. Its symptoms include cramps, flatulence, bloating, bleeding and infection.
Though traditionally one is told to avoid high fibre foods like popcorn to prevent diverticular disease, this is not the correct solution. According to a study on 27,228 men, popcorn consumption does not increase the risk of diverticular disease.
In fact, the study found that men who ate popcorn regularly had 28 % fewer chances of developing this disease (8).
3. Helps prevent cancer
According to researchers at Cornell University, corn is a rich source of antioxidants which help fight cancer. Corn contains ferulic acid, an anti-carcinogenic agent that prevents tumours that lead to breast and liver cancer. Anthocyanins found in purple corn act as scavengers for cancer-causing free radicals.
4. Promotes healthy growth
Deficiency in folic acid in pregnant women can lead to underweight babies and also neural tube defects in babies. Corn is a rich source of folate and thus can help in preventing this condition.
The kernels of corn contain vitamin E which helps protect our body from illnesses.
5. Lowers cholesterol
Consumption of corn oil husk lowers bad cholesterol by reducing cholesterol absorption in the body (9). This reduction in LDL cholesterol does not make a difference to the good cholesterol as it helps in prevention of atherosclerosis and reduction in heart disease.
6. Promotes eye health
Corn is an excellent source of carotenoids like zeaxanthin and lutein. Also known as macular pigments zeaxanthin and lutein are found in the retina. They play an essential role in saving our eyes from the damage caused by blue light (10). High levels of these carotenoids prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
One study found 43 percent reduction in risk of macular degeneration in older adults with high levels of zeaxanthin and lutein as compared to those with low intake (11).
Some reasons why corn may not be the best food
1. GMO corn leads to health issues
Corn is one of the most genetically modified (GMO) foods in the world. GMO foods can lead to antibiotic resistance, change our gut environment, cause problems in the reproductive system and our hormones and increase ageing symptoms.
GMO corn is also used to make cooking oil that is highly likely to become rancid very fast.
2. Corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup is unhealthy
This highly processed liquid sweetener was introduced in the 1970s as a cheap way to sweeten processed food. Diets that are rich in sugars are known to increase the risk of obesity and various other related diseases.
3. Contains phytic acid
Whole grain corn contains phytic acid, which is known to impair the absorption of iron and zinc (12). This may not be a reason to worry about those people who eat meat but can cause a deficiency in those people for whom cereal grain and legumes are a staple food. Soaking or fermenting corn can reduce the levels of phytic acid in corn.
4. Susceptible to mycotoxins
Stored corn is vulnerable to contamination by fungi which can produce toxins known as mycotoxins (13). Consumption of contaminated corn can increase the risk of cancer in the oesophagus and neural tube defects.
In 2004, 125 people died from aflatoxin poisoning caused by eating contaminated corn (14).
Final words on the nutritional value of corn
High nutritional value of corn is undeniable. Consumption of organic non-GMO corn is good for health as it contains many antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
However, GMO corn and products made from it like corn oil and high fructose corn syrup are not that good for your health. So, make sure you buy organic corn and check the ingredients of the processed foods before you buy them.