Whether it was a tortilla, chip, bread, soda, popcorn, oil, or cereal, chances are you ate something with corn in it recently.
From salads to soups and corn tortillas, this food easily finds its way into the refrigerator — but is it actually good for you?
Here, Able walks you through everything you need to know about corn — from what it is, to what it comprises, to health benefits and risks — to help you understand this food staple as part of your larger diet.
Corn is a plant, and it is unique because you can classify it as both a vegetable and a grain. The plant’s seeds, called kernels, are edible parts: the corn you cook and eat is a vegetable, while the dry kernels you put in the microwave or over the fire to make popcorn are whole grain.
As a vegetable, corn is very young because when it matures, the kernels dry out and become less tender, eventually becoming too hard and thus inedible. In addition to its classification as both a vegetable and a whole grain, corn is unique because you can use all parts of the plant.
We process corn into many different products, including starch, sweeteners, oil, beverages, glue, industrial alcohol, and fuel ethanol.
As the edible part of the corn plant, the kernel has four main parts: the endosperm, germ, pericarp, and tip cap. The biggest part is the endosperm, which comprises a thin outer protein matrix that covers a larger starchy inside.
Scientists genetically modify the endosperm to yield different kernel tastes in agriculture and food science. For example, just one gene change can alter kernel taste from sugary to starchy.
Germ is the next biggest kernel part, comprising a high amount of fat, B complex vitamins, and antioxidants. Oil made with corn kernel germ has a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acid, which is heart-healthy and helps lower bad LDL cholesterol.
Two smaller kernel parts are the pericarp, also known as the bran, and the tip cap. The bran is the outermost layer that covers the endosperm and germ; it has a lot of fiber and some vitamins and minerals. The tip cap is the kernel’s tiny cap.
One cup of cut unsalted sweet or yellow corn is around 164 grams. Whether you leave it uncooked or boil and drain it, it comprises around 82% starchy carbohydrate, 10% protein, and 8% fat.
If you leave corn on the cob, a single ear is around 90 grams and is 72% starch, 10% protein, and 4% fat. One ear has 3 grams of sugar, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fat, 2 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein.
Corn has many nutritional benefits, and there is no present evidence that corn as a staple in your diet is detrimental to your health. Corn is gluten-free even though its dry kernels classify as whole grain.
Additionally, as it is high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein, corn has valuable macronutrients that help give you sustainable energy to fuel your body.
Corn also has many antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to help your body maintain its natural physical processes and pathways. In addition, corn is heart-healthy and may even help manage diabetes.
While you might see high carbohydrate content as solely a negative factor for foods, remember that carbohydrates provide your body with fuel to sustain your energy levels throughout the day. Luckily, corn has a higher amount of carbohydrates when you compare it to other vegetables, so it’s a good vegetable option to give your body energy.
One serving of sweet corn on the cob has 19 grams of carbohydrates, which is a large amount considering the recommended dietary guidelines of at least 130 grams of daily carbohydrates.
However, remain conscious that carbohydrates mean calories; stick to the appropriate serving size for both optimum energy and adequate calorie supply without overeating, which can contribute to weight gain.
Corn contains fiber, which means that it helps you regulate your blood sugar, maintain your weight, and avoid constipation.
One cup of cut corn has around 18.4% of your daily recommended fiber intake, which is particularly beneficial to help you maintain or lose weight. Fiber slows digestion to make you feel full sooner; in turn, fiber helps prevent you from overeating, aiding weight loss goals.
High fiber content’s slow digestion also means that fiber does not contribute to blood sugar spikes, which allows corn to claim a label as a low-glycemic index dietary choice.
Corn is also relatively high in protein content compared to other vegetables. High protein content may help you with weight loss or maintenance goals. Many studies implicate that protein-rich diets aid in hunger reduction and metabolizing and burning additional calories.
Corn is rich in a particular type of antioxidants called carotenoids. This antioxidant group helps you maintain good vision and skin health and supports your immune system.
Carotenoids may also help fight many different types of chronic diseases.
Corn is a rich source of vitamin B, and contains vitamins A, E, and K. Corn has many essential minerals, including zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium. These vitamins and minerals help your body carry out its natural processes, nurture your growth and development, and help you fight diseases.
Corn is a good choice as part of a heart-healthy diet because it is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. In addition, corn oil is high in polyunsaturated fat, which contributes to lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Corn has phenolic phytochemicals, which help regulate your body’s insulin release and absorption rates. Higher corn consumption may help you regulate and reduce drastic insulin changes, which is greatly beneficial if you have type-2 diabetes.
One “corn con” is that while corn itself is high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, when you compare it to other fruits and vegetables, it has an overall lower amount regarding the recommended daily intakes.
In addition, while corn has many beneficial nutrients, this vegetable and whole grain is often altered to produce different manufacturing products that are all less nutritional. This is especially true when manufacturers degerminate corn to produce grits, meal, and flour or when processing yields other refined products such as oil, syrup, and chips.
These production methods make corn high in added fat, sugar, or salt content and thus high in calories, while at the same time decreasing corn’s beneficial nutrient content such as less fiber.
Corn that you cook at home may also become unhealthy, especially if you cook it with butter or oil. Two of the main health concerns around corn’s nutritional value are that corn is high in carbohydrates and is often processed to yield high fructose corn syrup.
While corn is high in fiber, which does not contribute to spikes in blood sugar levels, corn is also a starchy vegetable. Most of corn’s carbohydrate content comprises starch, and high starch content does, unfortunately, mean a high risk for blood sugar spikes.
In addition, while carbs are a good source of fuel, just as any other food, they are only good in moderation. In other words, carbohydrate content is both a pro and con of corn, and you should thus not consume corn as the only food item to help fuel your body during a meal.
Exclusively employing corn as a carbohydrate source puts you at risk for weight gain because it fills you up as a high-calorie food before leaving room for other nutrient-rich foods. Remember that while carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient that your body needs as fuel, they are also rapidly filling high-calorie foods.
However, corn is still rich in other nutrients and has many health benefits; just be conscious to eat the appropriate serving amount.
High fructose corn syrup, a cornstarch derivative, is a highly refined corn product that many sodas and other sugary drinks contain as a sweetener. Like any added sugar, high fructose corn syrup becomes a proponent for weight gain and health problems like hypertension and high cholesterol.
You should always try to limit your sugar intake to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet.
While corn presents health risks when processed or altered, corn itself has many different nutritional benefits.
If you consume the appropriate serving size for corn as part of your staple diet, you can benefit from its nutritional advantages while avoiding many of its risks.
It is perfectly okay to include corn as part of a well-balanced diet, and Able is here to help you every step of the way when it comes to dietary plans, nutrient tracking, and self-care to work towards a well-balanced lifestyle that makes you feel good.