I don’t know about anybody else, but I’d say I’m quite informed about food, but I’m still none the wiser about corn. Is corn healthy or not?!
We’re fed so many different tales about corn through the media, and opinions fluctuate so widely dependent on who the writer represents.
You’ll find a lot of American conglomerates wax lyrical about the health benefits of corn because the USDA (the United States Department of Agriculture) is obsessed with the stuff. America has the greatest heartland for producing corn, with up to 20% of all their imports coming from corn alone, so of course they’re bound to view it as the most positive commodity to come across Western soil! (If you need any further clarification, see here for a list of all the products made up of corn. Coca-Cola soft drinks, Heinz ketchup, Kellogg’s breakfast cereal, all US-owned, utilising corn as their main ingredient and bringing millions of dollars into the country. No public authority could possibly ever argue against them).
But what is the truth about corn? And should you avoid it for health purposes?
Let’s get the low-down. First of all, with the good bits:
- Corn is naturally gluten-free, so you can buy cheap corn products even if you suffer with Celiac disease.
- Corn is largely insoluble fibre (see here for the difference between soluble and insoluble fibre), which feeds the food bacteria in your gut.
- High level of Vitamin B and Vitamin C are prevalent in raw corn products, including potassium and magnesium.
The bad bits about corn:
- It’s naturally high in omega-6 fatty acids (see here about why Omega 6 acids can be bad for you) which aren’t good for you. Omega 6 acids increase arachidonic acid in the body, which in turn encourages inflammation.
- Corn is high in starch which is a carb. Just no. Carbs will bloat you – that is all.
- Corn is a main component of a lot of fatty, processed foods which grace fast-food restaurants, takeaway joints and ready-meal aisles. When processed, the nutritional elements of the corn are stripped out, usually replaced with sugars and trans-fats to mask over the lack of flavour. A good example of this is Nutri-Grain Strawberry Soft Baked Bars which are jam-packed (no pun intended) with additives like dextrose and cellulose, and of which use soluble corn starch as a main ingredient. Soluble corn starch has had all the good bits stripped out during processing, so all that’s left is a starchy product which refuses to go down. The term ‘corn’ in this instance should be switched out with ‘pure carbohydrate used for thickening’.
So now I think I understand why corn is so confusing…
Yes, in raw form corn is great. Corn on the cob, popped corn, etc. is lovely and full of the natural fibre and vitamins corn should have. However, the nutritional benefits of corn get confused as soon as they are processed, or thrown into other foods. Think high fructose corn syrup, banned in the UK because it is even TOO processed for the UK and TOO sweet – see here for more info.
The word ‘corn’ itself means nothing, unless it’s completely raw, i.e. you’ve just bought an ear of corn. If a packaged product contains the word ‘corn’ in it, this doesn’t mean it has the health benefits that raw corn possesses and has probably been used purely as a thickener, not as a healthy addition.
Instead, look at the other main ingredients to get a good idea of how healthy the product is, as well as how the corn has been processed to end up in that package. Is it a syrup (think packaged cakes and tarts), is it a starch (think unhealthy crackers and wheat thins)? If it’s either of these, it’s no good. If it’s a flour, it’s not AWFUL, but could be better. If it’s corn maize, that’s probably the best you’re going to get.
To be on the safe side, go for unprocessed corn products, like sweetcorn or homemade tortillas, or just avoid corn if you’re worried about being misled!