Corn, similar to potatoes and lettuce, tends to have a bad reputation for being an “unhealthy” vegetable. Corn is a complex vegetable; despite its simple appearance, corn can be made into all kinds of products.
There is corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, cornflour, and popcorn. Due to its natural sweetness, many believe that there is no possible way that corn can be good for you.
But is corn bad for you? Does it really live up to its reputation? The simple answer is no, corn is not bad for you. And the complicated answer? Well, you’ll have to continue reading to find out.
Corn and its nutritional benefits
Corn is full of nutrients. In its natural form on the cob, a single cup of corn has nearly 50% of the daily recommended value of fiber. Corn also has 3,481 mg of omega-6 fatty acids, a type of fatty acid that many people are deficient in. Surprisingly, corn is one of the highest sources of protein among all vegetables (1).
Corn is packed full of all kinds of vitamins. Corn is a good source of vitamin B6, which is a vitamin that is involved in over a hundred enzyme reactions (2). The most prominent reactions are protein metabolism and cognitive development. Corn is also high in thiamin and niacin, which are two different kinds of B vitamins.
Thiamin plays a vital role in energy metabolism and helps cells grow and function (3), while niacin converts what we eat into ATP (4), the cell’s primary source of energy.
(Learn more about this process, and other good sources of niacin, in our article “What Foods are High in NAD.”) A cup of corn also contains over 50% of the daily recommended value of magnesium, which plays a part in protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, glucose control, energy production, and hundreds of more reactions (5).
Overall, corn is a nutrient-packed vegetable that contains important vitamins and minerals.Because of its nutritional content, corn can be considered healthy, and is not “bad” for you.
Corn and its role in protecting against disease
Corn has also been studied for its protective factor against various diseases. Here are just a few notable ways that corn can protect against disease.
1. Corn is high in antioxidants
Corn has the highest antioxidant activity of all commonly known whole grains (6). Sweet corn is especially high in antioxidants because it has high amounts of vitamin C.
Antioxidants fight against oxidative stress, and oxidative stress is one of the main contributors to the development of cancers, autoimmune disorders, cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (7).
2. Colored corn aids in digestive health
Besides yellow corn, there is blue, purple, and red corn. These different colored corn types have anthocyanins, which can reduce the risk of colon cancer and aid in weight loss (8).
3. Corn oil can lower cholesterol
Corn oil is high in phytosterols, a component of plant cell walls and membranes. Increased consumption of phytosterols can lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) without affecting HDL (the good cholesterol) (9).
4. It lowers risk of heart disease
Corn is actually a whole grain! Whole-grain consumption is linked to many positive health benefits, including lowering the risk of heart disease.
A study found that participants that spent four months consuming a whole-grain diet had significantly decreased levels of blood pressure (10).
5. It prevents obesity
Another product of corn is corn bran, which is often used in baking. A study found that eating muffins with resistant starch and corn bran helped keep participants fuller for longer (11). Feeling full is also known as satiety, and foods that exhibit high satiety can prevent obesity.
What is high fructose corn syrup? And is it bad for you?
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a liquid sweetener made from corn starch. It is a sweetener used by many manufacturers and is commonly found in soft drinks, processed foods, and candies.
HFCS is an unhealthy product of corn that can be damaging to the liver. Regularly consuming high fructose foods contributes to various diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and liver disorders, and the intake of HFCS should be decreased as much as possible (12).
The main issue with corn is not its core nutritional value, but the way that it is prepared. Popcorn is a healthy snack until butter and excess salt is added. Corn oil is a healthier alternative to the butter until it is used to deep fry with.
Corn is healthy until mayo, cheese, or butter are added to it. This applies to many different vegetables and fruits that are considered “unhealthy;” the vegetable or fruit alone is healthy, but other additions that are commonly used are what gives it a bad reputation.
Corn is best consumed as is, but if it is too simple for your taste, add in healthy additions such as paprika, black pepper, a squeeze of lime, or chili flakes. That way, you can enjoy all of the tastiness of corn with all of its nutritional benefits. To learn about other healthy grain options, check out our article “World’s Healthiest Rice Varieties.”