What is corn?
That's why registered dietitian Kim Melton, RD, is here to set the record straight. She firmly believes corn absolutely has a place in a healthy diet, especially when it's in season and readily available at the farmers' market. "Corn is part of the grass family, is a whole grain and can be eaten as polenta, popcorn, corn on the cob, or cornmeal," Melton says. The most popular variety is sweet corn (it's the yellow kind you'll most likely find at the grocery store) but Melton says there are other varieties including red, orange, blue, and purple. Keep reading for everything you need to know.
Is corn good for you?
Many believe corn is high in sugar—especially sweet corn—and therefore unhealthy, but Melton says this isn't the case. "Although corn is high in sugar, it does not cause an unhealthy spike in blood sugar as some believe," she says. "It is actually a low to medium glycemic index food and can be a part of a healthy diet when eaten in reasonable portions." In general, one medium ear of sweet white corn has 2.4 grams of sugar; meanwhile, sweet yellow corn has about 6 grams.
Nutritional information for corn
Besides not spiking blood sugar, Melton says corn is full of nutrients, too. "In about half a cup of corn, you get four grams of protein [out of a recommended 50 to 75 grams a day], two grams of unsaturated fat, and 2.4 grams of fiber [out of the recommended 25 grams a day]," she says. The numbers may seem small, but they're still a nice drop in the bucket—especially if you're incorporating corn into other nutrient-dense meals like salads, Southwestern-style protein bowls, or quinoa.
What are the health benefits of eating corn?
Research shows that corn contains tons of nutrients, vitamins, and phytochemicals that help lower the risk of developing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and can help improve digestive health. The fiber in corn is great for digestion, adds dietitian Vanessa Rissetto, MS, RD. "That [corn] is high in fiber means it aids in gut health," says Rissetto, who works with Align. "It's considered a prebiotic which is a compound in food that enhances the activity of good bacteria and helps probiotics do their job. "
"Corn also has manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, potassium and some B vitamins," Melton adds. Of these, it offers the most potassium, with a medium ear containing 275 milligrams (just about 10 percent of your recommended daily intake.) Because corn has potassium and carbs, it makes for a great—and totally underrated—post-workout recovery snack. On average, a medium ear of corn has 19 grams of carbohydrates, and these whole grain carbs play an important role in providing energy and even boosting happiness.
What are the disadvantages of eating corn?
Corn is overall a great addition to your diet. However, that is unless you have an allergy to this golden veg. If that's the case, Rissetto says to steer clear of corn. While it's a relatively uncommon allergy, some groups might be sensitive to the vegetable and can experience symptoms like hives, itching, wheezing, or in severe cases, anaphylaxis when consumed. Additionally, corn is considered a starchy vegetable that can potentially raise blood sugar levels. Thus, like most things in life, it should be consumed in moderation.
Another potential disadvantage of eating corn is that it can contain an antinutrient called phytic acid (phytate), that can hinder your body from absorbing other essential nutrients, like iron and zinc, as well as it should. However, soaking the vegetable can help remove and reduce the levels of phytate present. Corn is also susceptible to contamination by fungi that release toxins called mycotoxins. However, proper food safety regulation and sourcing should prevent this type of corn contamination in most cases.
Wait, but what about corn's GMO problem?
In Melton's opinion, the fear over GMOs is unfounded (in corn and otherwise). "There is no need to avoid GMO corn," she says. "The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that GMOs are safe to eat and the same conclusion has been reached many large scientific organizations. We have had GMOs in our food system for over 20 years and there has never been any negative health issues associated with them." Indeed, a 2018 study in Europe looked at 20 years of research on GMO corn and concluded that it was likely safe because of the higher quality of grain compared and the "reduction in human exposure to mycotoxins," which are harmful, naturally-occurring chemicals created by fungus and mold in certain foods. (Insects often carry fungus or facilitate fungal growth; because the GMO corn was insect-resistant, the study found it had less insect damage, which was associated with lower levels of mycotoxins.)
Of course, this is a somewhat controversial stance in the wellness world. Again, while lots of scientific research backs up the safety of GMO products, certain other experts argue that it's still too soon to know any potential long-term effects of GMO consumption. (Some believe that they could be triggering food sensitivities and gut issues, for example.) If GMOs in corn are something that concerns you, look for a Certified Organic food label when purchasing corn, and if you're buying it at the farmers' market, use this opportunity to talk to the farmers about how it's grown.
The short version: Despite some of the not-so-great rumors about corn out there, like most vegetables, it's good for you and can play a role in a healthy diet. So go ahead and throw some on the grill. 'Tis the season!
What is the healthiest way to eat corn?
There are probably a million and one ways to eat corn. From popcorn to grilled to muffins, the options are endless. At Well+Good, some of our favorite (and healthiest) ways to eat it include these three-ingredient Venezuelan arepas packed with tons of protein and fiber or these seven healthy grilled corn recipes that go beyond just slathering it with butter. Though, of course, there's nothing wrong with the latter. For a soul-soothing dish, this vegan coconut-ginger sweet corn soup is filled with anti-inflammatory benefits that will keep you warm and snuggly during a cold winter night. Or, if the heat is simply unbearable outside, this super-refreshing corn salsa recipe will do the trick.
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