A guide to understanding the health benefits of corn

October 9, 2015

Indigenous to the western hemisphere, corn is the most abundant grain crop; worldwide, it is exceeded only by wheat as a cereal grain. Here's a guide to help you understand the different kinds of corn and the incredible health benefits associated with corn.

A guide to understanding the health benefits of corn

4 types of corn you should know

  1. Most of the corn grown in the United States and Canada is dent corn, which is allowed to mature on its stalk then is dried and used as animal feed, or processed into flour to make cereals.
  2. Flint corn, another field variety, keeps better than dent corn and is used to make cornmeal.
  3. A third variety, flour corn, has soft, starchy kernels that are easily ground into flour, making it a favourite for making tortillas and other corn dishes.
  4. Sweet corn, which is harvested while still immature, is the type consumed as a vegetable. It can be cooked in several different ways: on the cob or with the soft kernels removed and served fresh, frozen or canned for future use.

The nutritional value of corn

  • Corn is high in starch and protein, but it lacks two essential amino acids — lysine and tryptophan; as a result, it is not a suitable protein ­substitute.
  • In undeveloped countries, children are sometimes fed a diet made up mostly of corn, which can lead to two deficiency diseases: kwashiorkor, caused by inadequate protein; and pellagra, resulting from a deficiency of niacin.
  • But when corn is consumed along with beans and other legumes, it provides a complete protein.
  • One medium ear of corn contains 83 calories. 250 millilitres (one cup) of kernels provides 13 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for folate. It is also a source or potassium, thiamine and fibre.
  • Corn is a good source of lutein, a powerful antioxidant that may help lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration, which is a common cause of blindness in older adults.
  • Most of the niacin in corn is in the form of niacytin, which is not broken down in the human digestive tract. Early nutrition researchers were puzzled by the fact that Mexicans and South Americans did not develop pellagra, even though their diets were made up mostly of corn. It was discovered that combining the corn with an alkaline substance releases the niacin in niacytin; thus, mixing cornmeal with lime water to make tortillas prevented ­pellagra.
  • Similarly, Natives in South America ground corn with alkaline potash to loosen the bran, another practice that released niacin and prevented pellagra.
  • While corn may not be a complete food, it is by far our most important farm crop; not only is it fed to pigs, cattle and other meat animals, but it is also used in more than 800 different processed foods. This is why people who are allergic to corn have difficulty finding corn-free processed foods.

Try popcorn as a healthy snack

A popular snack food, popcorn is a special variety that grows on a cob smaller than those of sweet corn.

  • A 250 millilitre (one cup) serving of air-popped plain popcorn has only 30 calories, making it an ideal, high-fibre snack.
  • Popping the corn in oil and adding 15 millilitres (one tablespoon) of butter, however, increases the calorie content more than fivefold, to about 155 per 250 millilitres (one cup).

Some surprising findings

Cooking sweet corn unleashes beneficial nutrients that can substantially reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, according to a recent study.

  • The researchers found that the longer the corn was cooked, the higher the level of antioxidants.
  • In addition to its antioxidant benefits, cooked sweet corn contains a phenolic compound called ferulic acid, which may inhibit cancer-causing substances. 

This versatile and healthy vegetable is an ideal addition to any meal. Keep this guide in mind and incorporate more corn into your diet today!

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