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.