Corn: A Vegetable Rooted in Controversy
The corn controversy is real and has become very problematic in today’s food chain. The American diet is filled with corn and not the good stuff. Today, people are unknowingly eating more corn every day in one way or another, more than they would ever know or believe, and many have no idea what the implication means.
Confused about the nutritional value of corn and whether or not it’s bad for you? Well, you’re not alone. Here’s the situation…
Unprocessed, organic, “real” corn isn’t really bad for you, in and of itself. In fact, it’s been eaten for thousands of years and actually has some health benefits to it. Sadly, the kind of corn we’re talking about is widely consumed today and is where the controversy comes in. We are referring to genetically modified (or GMO) corn. That means modified (overly modified) corn (corn byproduct) found in things like fried corn chips, tortilla chips, buttery popcorn, even french fries and other junk foods with high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, corn flour and other packaged food products are filled with this manufactured “corn product” and it’s very bad humans or animals to consume. These corn additives can wreak havoc on our bodies and contribute to a myriad of major illnesses and health problems.
The Pros and Cons of Eating Corn
Corn or Maize has been a staple ingredient in South, Central and North America for thousands of years. First domesticated over 8,000 years ago, corn has been a traditional food for Native Americans and is now included in the diets of people living around the world — including many populations in India, Mexico, Italy and nearly every nation in Central America.
Real, traditional corn is grown throughout the warm summer months on stalks of “ears,” and can come in far more colors than the standard bright yellow! Corn can be found in different color varieties, including red, pink, black, purple, multicolored and blue. Although it’s most popular as the staple ingredient used to make tortillas (tortilla chips), tacos or burritos, corn is also used around the world to make polenta, flour, fritters, soups and sauces, and is even used as a base mix for other foods like french fries.
When combined with other plant foods like beans, vegetables and avocados, the nutritional value of corn has helped support growing populations, especially catering to low income and impoverished areas. As a “staple crop,” corn can provide a high amount of important vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates and important calories.
When eaten unprocessed and properly prepared, non-GMO whole corn kernels actually have some impressive nutrients to offer. Keep in mind, corn is a vegetable, therefore there is some nutritional value if you know what to look for.
Organic corn is a vitamin C rich food. It’s also rich in magnesium and contains B vitamins and potassium. It also supplies a good dose of two antioxidants linked to eye and skin health called Zeaxanthin and Lutein. Eating fresh corn on the cob also gives you a good amount of the daily dietary fiber you need, along with some complex carbohydrates that are a good energy source.
Unfortunately, GMO foods are produced by companies like Monsanto in order to be able to grow in depleted soils that hold less nutrients. Therefore, you definitely want to go organic and check for GMO labeling when buying corn or any corn-containing products. GMO corn does not contain the same level of beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that organic corn has, so be sure to buy it organic if you want to eat it.
In the U.S and most other western developed nations, eating fresh, organic corn on the cob is not the problem that most people face. The real problem is avoiding highly processed foods that have multiple chemically engineered ingredients derived from corn is.
Sad Fact: The problem is that nearly all of the corn available in standard American supermarkets today is genetically modified, plus it’s usually also unrecognizable considering how much processing it’s gone through. So if you are a junk food eater or a tortilla (tortilla chip) eater, do your utmost to locate organic, non-GMO ingredients if at all possible. If you can’t find them, you are better off not eating them.
The Nutritional Value of Corn (from the stalk)
One large ear of corn on the cob has about:
5 grams protein
2 grams fat
4 grams fiber
27 grams of carbohydrates
0.1 milligram thiamine (7 percent DV)
0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (7 percent DV)
19.5 milligrams folate (5 percent DV)
3 milligrams vitamin C (5 percent DV)
158 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)
18.3 milligrams magnesium (5 percent DV)
47.2 milligrams phosphorus (5 percent DV)
5 Health Benefits of Unprocessed Non-GMO Corn
(Real) Corn is Rich in Antioxidants
The different color varieties of corn kernels signify various types of phytonutrient combinations and nutritional values of corn. The most popular type, yellow corn, is particularly a good source of carotenoid antioxidants, especially Lutein and Zeaxanthin (also found in squash, carrots and other deeply colored fruits or vegetables). Other types of corn supply antioxidants such as Anthocyanins, Protocatechuic Acid and Hydroxybenzoic Acid, Beta-Carotene, Caffeic Acid, and Ferulic Acid.
Carotenoid antioxidants, Found most in corn kernels, are known to support the immune system and defend the eyes and skin against oxidative stress. Many antioxidants are heat-sensitive cooking on lower heat is preferable. It has also been found that drying corn slowly at low temperatures — much like traditional populations did to preserve the kernels during colder months — preserves a high percentage of the nutritional value of corn, especially the beneficial antioxidants.
Corn is High in Fiber
Like all vegetables and whole plant foods, corn is a food that provides a nice dose of filling fiber, with about 4.5 grams of fiber per cup of kernels. It has a high ratio of insoluble-to-soluble fiber, which means it has various beneficial effects on the digestive system because it is a food that while rich in carbohydrates, is still very light.
Corn is an insoluble fiber. In the digestive system unabsorbed and metabolized, it really serves as an intestinal “broom” meaning, it can make you have to use the bathroom! Certain types of fiber, especially soluble fiber, reach the lower part of our large intestines, where they are metabolized by intestinal bacteria and turned into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). This is beneficial for supporting the”good bacteria” in your gut and creating a healthy microbiome.
SCFAs from high-fiber foods also supply energy to the cells that line our large intestines and keep the digestive tract in good shape, helping us produce regular bowel movements and flushing our body of waste and toxins. That’s why SCFAs are linked to better intestinal cellular function and, therefore, might be beneficial for preventing cancer of the digestive organs, including colon cancer.
Natural Source of Carbohydrates
Corn is high in starch, which is a type of complex carbohydrate that supports steady energy levels. Unlike refined carbohydrates, which zap us of energy and aren’t filling for long, foods high in starch and fiber are beneficial for controlling blood sugar levels because the fiber slows down the rate at which glucose (sugar) is released into the bloodstream. Corn, in moderation can be very beneficial as well as great tasting.
Aside from supplying fiber, corn also has a decent amount of protein for a vegetable, with five to six grams per ear. Fiber and protein together help fill us up better than carbohydrates alone because they stabilize the passage of food through our digestive tract and help prevent drastic blood sugar fluctuations. Plus, protein foods have their own list of benefits.
Corn is also relatively low in calories while still providing nutrients. A large ear of corn only has about 125 calories, making it a reasonable addition to a healthy meal. In fact, this is less than most grains and is roughly equivalent to eating a nutritious banana, except the corn actually has much less sugar and more protein and fiber.
There’s usually nothing wrong with otherwise healthy people having organic, non-GMO corn when they’d like, especially compared to refined carbohydrates like pasta or bread, sweetened baked goods, and gluten-containing grains.
Yes, Corn is a Vegetable (and is Gluten Free)
Although corn is usually grouped together with other grains and used in similar ways, it’s actually not a “grain” and doesn’t contain any gluten. What’s the deal with gluten? In short, consuming gluten is not good for you. It is linked to many different negative symptoms, including digestive issues like bloating, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and skin problems. Since gluten is problematic for many people — even those who don’t have celiac disease or a confirmed gluten allergy — corn or corn flour makes a good stand-in for wheat or other gluten-containing foods. (We discuss gluten free in greater details throughout this website.)
The Death of the Traditional Diet
Today, levels of obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance are high among indigenous communities living in North America that have veered away from their traditional diets and began adopting a standard “western diet.” Sadly Americans (and now other cultural populations) are falling into the high-calorie junk food trap, consuming more sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined grain flour and sweetened beverages and other garbage resulting in more health risks than their previous diet based primarily on corn, legumes, rice and vegetables. A return to a traditional dietary regime needs to occur if humans want to stay healthy.
When to Avoid Eating Corn:
• When It’s Genetically Modified (GMO) Don’t Buy It or Eat It
Reports show that roughly 80 percent of the foods in the standard American diet have some sort of GMO corn-derived ingredient in them. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know when a product contains GMOs because the United States Department of Agriculture still doesn’t require that GMO foods be labeled as so (not the case in the European Union, where GMO food must be clearly labeled). If it is NOT labeled “Organic, Non-GMO,” don’t buy it!
Corn is the No. 1 grown crop in the Unites States and currently the second most genetically modified ingredient in the world (second to soy). About 88 percent of all corn grown in the U.S each year is genetically modified.
• When Corn is Created in a Lab it’s GMO
GMO seeds are manufactured. Before being planted, with the intention of making them resistant to predators like weeds, insects and rodents. Essentially, the purpose of GMOs is to create crops that have built-in defense mechanisms against things that normally threaten them, however, GMO hurts the environment. If it’s “killing predators” it is NOT good for humans or animals of any kind. The link between allergies, stomach issues and even cancer has been connected to GMO exponentially. It’s a bad thing to eat, period. If it doesn’t say “Organic, Non-GMO,” don’t buy it. Don’t eat it.
Other health concerns with GMO corn (and other GMO foods) include:
- Changes in the gut (stomach) environment
- Increased risk for antibiotic resistance
- Problems with hormonal (endocrine system) function
- Disorders of the reproductive system
- Increases in aging symptoms
• When and Where Corn Oil is Involved
Corn is also commonly used to make a genetically modified oil that is a strong inflammatory and highly likely to become rancid (or “toxic”) when used in cooking. In fact, because corn oil contains delicate fatty acids that are highly susceptible to heat and light, there’s a good chance that most of the bottled corn oil sitting on grocery store shelves is not only bad, it’s downright toxic. Don’t buy it or eat it.
• When It’s Used to Make High Fructose Corn Syrup
Despite what manufacturers and marketers try to spin, high fructose corn syrup IS NOT NATURAL. It’s made in a lab. High fructose corn syrup (known as HFCS) is a fructose-glucose liquid sweetener alternative to sucrose (common table sugar). It’s completely man-made, highly processed, and was first introduced to the food and beverage industry in the 1970s as a cheap way to sweeten processed foods.
Even though calorie-for-calorie, HFCS might not provide more than regular organic sugar does, it has more of the type of sugar known as Fructose and it’s terrible on the body.
Regardless of these facts, we know that high-sugar diets of any kind raise the risk for poor health, obesity and various diseases. Different studies conclude a wide variety of findings, but the fact is high sugar of any kind is not good for us.
Sadly, it is estimated that today approximately 25 percent of the average American’s caloric intake comes from sugars, and the largest portion is in the form of fructose, usually found in packaged sweet products and sweetened drinks. It is TERRIBLE for your body. If you don’t find a way to stop this habit you increase your own health risks by a marked 85%. Those are very high odds.
Much better options are unprocessed natural sweeteners like regular fruit, raw honey, blackstrap molasses or a small amount of pure (non-GMO) maple syrup. But, even these natural sweeteners should be used in moderation and shouldn’t provide a substantial amount of calories to your diet each day.
• When Corn is Found in Other Forms of Processed Foods
GMO corn is used to make dozens of different ingredients added to packaged, processed foods. Before you buy any food product, always read the entire food label to make sure the product is safe and generally free from anything you can’t pronounce. Also, remember that food manufacturers change ingredients in packaged foods all the time as well as preparation methods, so even things you wouldn’t suspect have GMO corn ingredients in them still might. If you aren’t sure, DON’T buy it. Steer clear!
According to the Live Corn Free website, some of these to look out for on package ingredient labels include: citric acid, confectioner’s sugar, corn flour, caramel flavor, corn fructose, corn meal, corn oil, corn syrup, dextrin and dextrose, fructose, lactic acid, malt, malodextrin, mono/diglycerides, monosodium glutamate, and sorbitol.
(For a more complete list with over 50 corn-derived modified ingredients, you can refer to the Corn Allergens website.)
If you want vibrant health, only shop the outer aisles of the grocery store. Stay away from the boxed, canned and packaged aisles or sections.
• If You Have a Sensitive Digestive System
Even though corn is gluten-free and technically not a grain, it’s possible for corn to still aggravate your digestive system and cause stomachaches, especially if you suffer from other common food allergies, stomach issues or colon disorders. Corn tends to ferment in the gut, which can cause trouble.
All of this being said, fiber-rich corn can be good for you in moderation, but corn also contains Cellulose, which is a type of fiber that humans really can’t break down easily. This happens because we lack a necessary enzyme to fully digest it, and therefore, some people experience gas and other discomfort from it. If you are going to eat corn consider eating it pureed or blended. Also make sure to really chew it thoroughly to help it break down better in the body.
Corn allergies are pretty rare, but if you suffer from any issues when eating corn (bloating, changes in stool, diarrhea or gas, for example) you might be corn sensitive. The only real treatment option is to avoid corn and all corn derivatives as much as possible.
To cut out GMO corn products from your diet altogether, you can try substituting: pureed fruit or pure fruit juice, raw honey, coconut palm sugar, pure maple syrup, potato starch, rice starch, coconut flour, almond flour or tapioca.
The Bottom Line on Corn
Organic, non-GMO corn can be a part of an otherwise balanced and healthy diet, but the same CANNOT be said for GMO corn and processed corn-derivative ingredients. Like we said earlier, if it isn’t labeled Organic, Non-GMO, don’t buy it. Don’t eat it!
Here are some recommendations for keeping GMO foods, including corn, out of your body as much as possible:
- Look for and buy foods that are labeled Organic, Non-GMO (GMO free). Organic foods by law cannot contain more than 5 percent GMO-derived ingredients.
- Check ingredients carefully whenever buying packaged foods so you know exactly what’s going into your food.
- Avoid all corn oils. Even other oils like safflower oil and certain vegetable oils can be GMO and may even have a corn base! Be sure you learn what you’re buying. Go for olive oil, avocado oil or coconut oil instead.
- Avoid any foods made with high fructose corn syrup.
- Shop at your local farmers market and ask about the quality of the corn.
- If you have the room, consider growing your own corn, using non-GMO seeds. There is a huge organic non-GMO seed movement. Learn more about what seeds are safe to buy!
When shopping, keep in mind that there’s a difference between “sweet corn” and “field corn” (in most cases). Sweet corn is the type that most people eat whole, while field corn is usually the genetically modified stuff.
Sad Fact: Field Corn is made into livestock feed and used to make a multitude of processed chemical ingredients. In other words, when you buy and eat meat, there is a good chance that poor animal was force fed GMO corn based products. Additionally, when you buy and eat GMO based corn products (like tortilla chips and other junk food), you are being force fed GMO field corn. It’s disgusting, it’s wrong and it’s potentially deadly.
Consider Sweet Corn as a Solution
The silver lining is while nearly all field in the U.S. is GMO, most sweet corn is not. Some reports show that only 3 percent to 4 percent of the sweet corn grown in the U.S. each year is GMO, so you have a good chance of finding the real deal.
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