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Corn: Is it really bad for you?

Corn: Is it really bad for you?

Chances are you've heard some trash talk about corn around the water cooler at work. Movies like King Corn and books like the Omnivore's Dilemma have stirred quite a controversy about our summer cookout staple. But is all corn really bad for you?

Let's make our way through the maze of corn myths…

1. Corn has no health benefits.

First of all, there needs to be a clear distinction made between fresh sweet corn "the vegetable" (see #4) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)/packaged foods made from highly processed corn. To say that all corn is bad and devoid of health benefits is like tossing the baby out with the bathwater. It is wise to avoid HFCS and processed junk foods, but it is ignorant and irresponsible to tell people to avoid corn fresh sweet corn (especially locally and organically grown sweet corn) when there are clearly undeniable health benefits (i.e. high in insoluble fiber, folic acid, niacin, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and minerals, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, and copper.) (1)

2. Corn is full of sugar and makes you fat.

While it is true that corn contains more starch than most other vegetables, the Glycemic Load (how much a food will raise a person's blood sugar level after eating it) of a serving of corn is actually lower than that of a baked potato, basmati rice, or sweet potato. To put it in perspective, 1 ear of corn on the cob has 60 calories and 2.3 grams of sugar compared to 1 cup of pineapple which has 80 calories and 16 grams of sugar. Fresh corn can be a healthy part of a meal as long as it isn't slathered in butter and salt. (2)

3. Corn is to blame for the obesity epidemic.

Corn has been a nutritionally critical food staple for thousands of years. Our Mayan and South American ancestors have been using corn for centuries - long before the obesity epidemic was even remotely conceivable. Demonizing corn does not solve the problem. However, eating the correct number of calories for our bodies might be a good place to start.

4. Corn is NOT a vegetable, it's a grain!

Do NOT be misinformed! Corn is technically classified as a vegetable, grain and fruit depending upon the form it takes. Fresh sweet corn (as I refer to it in the article above) is classified as a vegetable, dried corn (popcorn, corn meal etc.) is considered a grain and corn seed is a fruit because that is the botanical definition. (5)

5. All corn is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism).

Currently, only 3 to 4% of the sweet corn grown in the U.S. is GMO. If you want to know whether the sweet corn you’ve got is GMO, ask the farmers you buy from if they plant GMO corn. You can also choose USDA organic corn. Organic standards forbid GMO crops. (6) 

Vegetable definition = a plant cultivated for an edible part or parts such as roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or seeds/fruit.


1. Limit/Avoid HFCS (and any other added sugars) along with packaged and highly processed foods (which probably come from corn). Choose foods/ingredients as close to their natural state as possible. (i.e. raisins vs. Cheez-It). By limiting packaged and processed foods, you will also be limiting your intake of processed corn.

2. Fill half of your dinner plate with colorful fruit and non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, peppers, zucchini, carrots, etc. Fill the other half of the plate with whole grains and lean protein. Remember, although fresh corn is technically a vegetable, it is a good idea to corn as the starch on your plate. (3)

3. Know the difference between "sweet corn" and "field corn"

Sweet corn = the tasty vegetable we buy at roadside stands, farmers markets, and grocery stores and eat at picnics and summer BBQs.

Field Corn = the practically inedible commodity crop that is used to produce everything from feed for livestock, high fructose corn syrup, ethanol, oil, paint, crayons, etc. (4)

Where do you stand?

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