Forlorn About Corn

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Good day!

So, due to significant increases in questions on this topic within the past week, I must write about corn. Seems like a random thing to write about; but for some reason, there continues to be rampant misinformation in the public regarding the role of corn in a healthy eating plan.

I often hear “my ____ [doctor, nurse, friend, personal trainer, neighbor, chiropractor, cat, or dog] told me that corn is NO GOOD, and that it is only used to “fatten up” livestock.  Seriously, I hear a variation of this statement at least once a week on average; and I have heard it throughout the past ten years.  I regret to inform you of this…but just because you hear something over and over doesn’t eventually make it true.  Shocking, I know!  😉

Corn is high in carbohydrates–you know, those horrible things we are supposed to FEAR. Wrong again, not about the carbohydrates but about fearing them.  Although I rarely will frame foods in “bad” versus “good,” I will agree that not all carbohydrates are created equally.  A half-cup of pinto beans and two chocolate sandwich cookies (you know the brand name, c’mon…) have nearly the exact same amount of carbohydrates.  But do they have the same amount of nutrition?  Not even close.  Corn belongs to a lump-sum grouping of foods that I consider to be high-quality carbohydrates.  In my professional practice, I no longer teach people “complex” versus “simple” carbohydrates because I feel it has led people to avoid fruit; and that is simply annoying and wrong.  While I agree that too much carbohydrate, from any source, is “bad” for us, the two big principles to grasp when it comes to carbs is that QUANTITY and QUALITY both have equal importance.

Additionally, since corn is being bullied so often, I will provide you with a further list of its attributes.  Corn (sweet corn, the kind we get at the grocery store or farmers market to eat) is:

  • A rich source of carotenenoid antioxidants, particularly lutein and zeaxanthin.  Antioxidants act to sort of “neutralize” free radicals in our bodies.  Think of free radicals like mean little playground jerks that kick us in our organs and blood vessels, which makes us sick over time.  Antioxidants also promote healthy vision, healthy skin, and help reduce our risk for developing cancer.
  • High in dietary fiber, which (in the presence of adequate hydration) will help you poop.  Fiber also helps bind fat in our gut to help reduce the amount absorbed, thus improving our cholesterol.  Certain types of fiber also act as antioxidants (see above).
  • Rich in several B vitamins, which are integral parts of metabolism on the cellular level.  This is fancy talk for the fact that you need B vitamins to produce energy in your body so you can function day to day.
  • A very high-quality, nutrient-rich part of an overall healthy diet when consumed in appropriate amounts.  A “balanced” meal would entail that only about 1/4 of our plate is some sort of starchy food (whole grains or starchy vegetables ideally), and corn would qualify as the starch at the meal.
  • Often consumed with potatoes AND bread AND milk AND dessert in the midwest where I was raised.  It is prudent to note that it isn’t the corn’s fault that people in the midwest often suffer from higher rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes; rather it is the overconsumption of carbohydrates as a whole that contributes to adverse health outcomes over time.
  • Contains omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid, which is a type of fat we Americans often overdo in our Standard American Diet (SAD).  However, while I do not recommend consumption of corn oil, the overall benefits of consuming WHOLE corn far outweigh the scant amount of fat we obtain from an appropriate 1/2-1 cup portion.
  • Seen in our poop because human intestines cannot digest cellulose, one of the principle components on the cell wall of corn.  However, if you chew it well before swallowing, you are able to digest the goodies within the cell (some are specified above) before pooping out the “shell.”

In summary, enjoy some sweet corn once in a while.  Try not to eat a ton of it at once, and limit the other carbohydrate-rich foods you are including with it.  Also, be careful not to drown it in butter and salt and you will be just fine.

Gravely Pee is No Good for Me

IMG_7064I recently had a person say to me “I have struggled with kidney stones my whole life.” Which I often translate as “I’ve never been big on drinking water and I don’t eat super healthy.”

Here’s the thing: it seems that the people that I’ve encountered who struggle with kidney stones often are searching for some kind of medical etiology. Although some people may very well have a genetic predisposition to be stone-formers, many (most?) are simply victims of inadequate hydration and improper nutrition habits. And, some aren’t THAT far off the grid of good nutrition; they just might be combing a slight genetic component with a tendency to “miss it” just a little bit with nutrition.

Here are some myths versus facts to help clear the sand (see what I did there) regarding kidney stones:

Myth #1:
“I should increase my intake of fruit juices and lemonade to help prevent future kidney stones.”

Fact:
Although citric-acid-containing foods and beverages can help prevent future stones from forming, obtaining citric acid from gallons of sugary beverages (yes, including large amounts of fruit juice) will create more harm than good. You may prevent stones but now you’re at risk for weight gain, increased blood sugars, increased triglycerides, and so on. A simple, healthier way to increase citric acid intake is through consuming lemon water (not to be confused with sugary lemonade!) and/or by consuming whole fruit like oranges and berries.

Myth #2:
“I have to avoid oxalate-containing foods, like spinach, because I struggle with kidney stones.”

Fact:
While there is a condition called hyperoxaluria, which entails dangerous levels of oxalate accumulating in the bloodstream, it is relatively rare. Most people who suffer from kidney stones do so because of other factors; their issue not so much related to oxalate intake as much as it is related to those other factors (keep on reading). Avoiding oxalate-rich foods is not usually necessary for prevention of kidney stones.

Myth #3:
“Drinking Coca Cola, and lots of it, will dissolve my kidney stones.”

Fact:
What the…? No. No, no, no. But seriously, this is something I have actually heard people try to claim. The reality is that it might relieve some pain and help pass stones because drinking gallons of any fluid will increase urine output. However, the risks of excessive sugary beverage consumption, especially cola, far outweigh any benefit to the stone-former.

Myth #4:
“Decreasing calcium intake is necessary for prevention of calcium oxalate kidney stones.”

Fact:
WRONG. In fact, the opposite is true. Ensuring adequate calcium intake is critical for the prevention of calcium oxalate kidney stones. Calcium can bind to oxalate in the gut, reducing how much free oxalate is absorbed and transported to the kidneys.

Some evidence-based advice for kidney stone prevention:

  1. Increase your water intake to AT LEAST 60-80 oz daily unless you have a medical need for a fluid restriction. Individual water needs vary.
  2. Limit animal protein to 6 oz or less per day (yep, you read that correctly) and try to obtain protein from omega-3-rich fish and/or whole food, plant-based protein sources. Also, do not exceed your recommended intake of protein. Individual protein needs vary; consult a registered dietitian nutritionist.
  3. Limit your sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day to the best of your ability. Your sodium intake comes from more than just the shaker – read labels.
  4. Consume adequate calcium from foods. If you need to take calcium supplements to achieve proper intake, use extreme caution and talk with a registered dietitian nutritionist first!
  5. Drink more water. Did I already say that? Yep I did…I know you think you drink “enough” water, but…
  6. Include a little lemon water and/or a couple whole fruit servings daily.

Of course I’m healthy, I take vitamins!

IMG_7063So…supplements. (Heavy sigh.)

While there are often reasons to pop open a bottle of vitamins, minerals, or phytochemicals, there are often more reasons NOT to do so (unless you have a specific medical condition for which you are being followed by a licensed healthcare practitioner). One of the primary reasons to be cautious of supplements is that they can upset your body’s effort toward homeostasis. Our bodies can regulate what to keep and what to discard regarding nutrients from FOOD. When we dope-up on supplements without a true medical reason to do so, we can mess things up royally. Too much zinc can mess up your copper levels. Too much vitamin C and you increase your risk for kidney stones.  Too much calcium can negatively impact your cardiovascular system.  And the list goes on…

I’ll give you a very basic example of where we can go wrong with supplements by using fiber supplements as an example. So you feel you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet, and you purchase fiber “chewies.” Now you’re pooping!  But wait – how about we take a look at why you weren’t getting enough fiber in the first place? Oh, that’s right, you can’t remember the last time you had a vegetable, fruit, or whole grain? I see. So, the fiber “chewy” or the spoonful of psyllium solves your problem…or does it?

You see, when you feel you need a supplement for any reason, the bigger question to ask yourself is “why do I feel as though I’m deficient in this nutrient?” In the example of fiber, you may replace the fiber with the supplement; but it would be literally impossible to replace the other effects that we achieve from adequate fiber intake from real foods. Brace yourself – this is what the health-food-store-rangers that sold you those fiber chewies are not going to explain (because most aren’t credentialed nutrition experts) – dietary fiber is more than mathematical goal to achieve each day. The evidence-based literature shows that individuals who consume adequate fiber tend to weigh less, feel full longer, have better cholesterol levels, have healthier colons, etc. But – don’t miss this – is it the fact that they consumed 25-35 grams of dietary fiber daily, or is it because they achieved this intake of fiber through the consumption of whole vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains?

Ask yourself this: would I feel more full and satisfied from consuming a half cup of apple juice or from consuming a whole apple? The thing is, when we eat fiber-rich FOODS (rather than buying fiber in a bottle), we fill up a portion of our bellies. We also get antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates (carbs are not always “bad;” stay tuned for future posts…), and often protein and fat as well. When we eat whole plant foods, we get a psychological degree of satisfaction from all the chewing we have to do.

So, will a fiber supplement help me achieve adequate fiber daily? Sure. Will it help me be more regular [with bowel movements]? Maybe, but not if you don’t increase water intake. Will it make me healthier overall? Not if you don’t simply choose to improve your overall eating habits to include whole vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, and some plant-based proteins often.

Eat. Real. Food. (And eat mostly plants.)

 

 

Bottom line:

  • A supplement cannot and will not replace the impact that improving overall eating habits will have on your overall health. It just simply cannot. (Sorry, it’s just science!) Individual medical needs are the only exception to this rule.
  • Potato chips don’t count as increasing your whole vegetable intake!
  • Aim for 25-35 grams of fiber FROM FOOD daily, and you will likely achieve a significant increase in MANY essential nutrients and phytochemicals.
  • Increase your water intake to at least 60-80 oz water per day (individual needs will vary), especially when you are increasing fiber intake. Increases in fiber in the absence of adequate water = constipation.