Debunking the Food Myth: Is Corn REALLY Bad For You?

Written by Tim Skwiat

Featured Video Play Icon

Is Corn Bad For You? As a nutrition coach, I can’t count how many times this question has been posed to me.

When it comes to health, fitness, and nutrition, it seems like we like to deal in extremes—all or nothing, good or bad. We have a tendency to view things in black and white. And we have a yearning to seek simple, absolute answers to complex, situational questions. But, we’re not computers; we’re humans. We don’t run on a binary system of ones and zeros—on or off.

There are countless examples of this…This food is “good”; that food is “bad.” Everyone should eat this food. You should “never” eat this. Didn’t your mother tell you to “never say never”?

One such example of a food getting tagged with a figurative scarlet letter is corn. That is, the common conception is that corn is, was, and always will be evil. But, is corn bad for you?

Is Corn Bad For You

Is Corn Bad For You? The Background

Let’s take a step back to see if we can lay the groundwork for the negatives associated with the question of “Is Corn Bad For You?”. I suppose corn has gotten a bad rap for several reasons. I’ll let you be the judge as to the validity and applicability of them.

• Although some consider it a vegetable, corn, which is known globally as the “queen of cereals,” is actually a grain. And certain camps and diets (e.g., Paleo) strictly prohibit grains.

Nutrition Fact: More than 220 million Americans fail to get the recommended servings of fruit and vegetables each day. MetaboGreens 45X is a simple, great tasting, and energizing greens supplement yielding the antioxidant power of over 20 servings of fruits and vegetables in each delicious scoop.

Special Offer: Get Metabo Greens 45X up to 31% OFF + FREE Shipping (very limited inventory)

• Corn provides predominantly carbohydrates, which specific diets heavily restrict (e.g., ketogenic, low-carb).

• A relatively large percentage of the carbs in corn are starch, and some folks believe it’s best to avoid starchy carbs. Interestingly, a medium ear of sweet corn contains 32% fewer total carbs and 84% less sugar than a medium apple. What’s more, corn contains a special type of starch called resistant starch, which we’ll discuss more below.

• Corn, known as the “mother grain” of Americans, is the number one crop grown in the United States. Although the topic of genetically engineered food (i.e., GMOs) is both complex and controversial, it’s also worth pointing out that around 90% of the corn grown in the US is genetically engineered.1

• Having said that, only a very, very small percentage of commercially available sweet corn is genetically modified. GM corn, commonly referred to as “field corn,” is used for animal feed and biofuels. It’s also a source for ingredients like corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn starch, corn oil, maltodextrin, alcohol, and others.

• GM status aside, highly refined corn-derived ingredients like HFCS and corn oil have been the subject of intense scrutiny. Worse, they’ve been implicated as major players in the obesity epidemic and myriad health issues. While these topics are complex and it’s not possible to point a finger at a single food or ingredient, the fact is the overwhelming majority of “foods” made with corn-derived ingredients are heavily processed, highly refined, and provide very little in terms of nutritional value.

Is Corn Bad For You? The Benefits of Whole Sweet Corn

With a little background on the “bad” and “ugly” of corn, let’s hone in on the “good.” You might be surprised by the nutrition and potential health benefits whole-grain sweet corn can provide as part of an overall balanced diet.2

• Corn contains vitamins A, C, E, and K along with the B vitamins thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, and folic acid, which are good for skin, hair, heart, brain, and proper digestion. Corn also contains noteworthy amounts of potassium and magnesium, which most people don’t get enough of, as well as selenium and phosphorus.

• Corn also contains a variety of phytonutrients, such as phytosterols. Phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants, which are naturally present in plants, that provide numerous health benefits and protect against various health issues. Phytosterols have many health benefits, including a cholesterol-lowering effect.

• Among the carotenoids in corn are lutein and zeaxanthin, which play a crucial role in eye health and vision (protecting our eyes from dangerous high-energy blue light), heart health, and cognitive function.

• As mentioned above, some of the starch found in corn is a special form called resistant starch (RS). RS is unique in that it escapes digestion and has various health benefits. For instance, research has shown that RS reduces hunger, increases satiety, reduces food intake, increases fat burning, decreases fat storage, improves insulin sensitivity, lowers cholesterol, and improves the makeup of gut bacteria. Even more, some have even hyped RS as a “weight loss wonder food.”3

Boost Your Healthy Gut Formula

Promote Bowel Regularity, Improve the Healthy Bacteria in the Gut and Support Intestinal Health With ProX10!

==> Get Pro-X10 20% OFF + 2 Free Reports (Special Offer)

• One medium ear of sweet corn contains 2.8 grams of fiber. While it’s a fairly modest amount, most people don’t consume nearly enough fiber, which is a nutrition all-star. Higher intakes of fiber reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers and have been associated with lower body weight. Of course, fiber is synonymous with digestive health, as it increases bulk and frequency and reduces transit time.4

• According the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which tests produce annually for pesticide contamination, avocados and corn are the “cleanest” produce. Only 1% of samples show detectable pesticides. Remember, little, if any, sweet corn found in the produce section of the supermarket is GM. Yet, because GM produce is not labeled, if you are at all concerned, consider choosing organic sweet corn.

Taken together, sweet corn is a far, far cry from highly refined corn-derived ingredients common in heavily processed foods. Quite the contrary. Whole-grain corn is bountiful in nutrients and phytochemicals, which possess various potential health benefits. Along those lines, delicious sweet corn—organic, when possible—can indeed be incorporated as part of an overall healthy diet.

So next time you are asked, “Is Corn Bad For You?”, you know the truth!

Try Great-Tasting BioTrust Protein for FREE!

To celebrate selling over 2 million containers, today we are giving away FREE sample containers of BioTrust Low-Carb, Grass-Fed Protein powder. Just pay shipping. No subscription. Nothing else sent. No strings attached. It’s really FREE!

==>Click to try it free!

BioTrust Nutrition- Share on Social
Share To:

More From Tim Skwiat

References

  • United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Recent Trends in GE Adoption. U S Dep Agric Econ Res Serv. July 2015. http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/adoption-of-genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-us/recent-trends-in-ge-adoption.aspx.
  • Shah TR, Prasad K, Kumar P. Maize—A potential source of human nutrition and health: A review. Cogent Food Agric. 2016;2(1):1166995. doi:10.1080/23311932.2016.1166995.
  • Higgins JA. Resistant starch and energy balance: Impact on weight loss and maintenance. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2014;54(9):1158-1166. doi:10.1080/10408398.2011.629352.
  • Dahl WJ, Stewart ML. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health implications of dietary fiber. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;115(11):1861-1870. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.09.003.
  • Kathryn Stefaniak

    Hello Coach Tim, I enjoyed listening to you speaking about sweet corn and the reasons why it is not bad for us. I like most people thought that corn was a gmo and therefore I had to stay away from eating it. I learned that it has many benefits especially for heart health and lowering cholesterol. I have been limiting my intake due to misconceptions about sweet corn, but after hearing you speak on this I will now include sweet corn in my diet. Thanks so much!

    • Hannah

      I too was avoiding corn! Just yesterday I bypassed it at the grocery store with the thought of it being GM, but after this article, I’ll start back eating it without misgivings. Thanks for enlightening us!

  • J-Alice8

    Corn passes through me as a whole kernel with such rapidity, there is no way any calories or kilojoules inside can wreak damage to my intake. I used to make a whole meal (when I had teeth) of three ears of corn with plenty of butter. Nobody ever told me my diet choices were wise or healthy. Good or bad for me, a freshly picked cob or two or three (forget the plastic wrapped withered versions in supermarkets) go down a treat and pass through and out as whole as they looked on the cob. Hope I am not ruining your dinner.

  • Annie

    This is really interesting, and great info! Knowing most of the corn grown in the USA is genetically modified, I too had stayed away from corn, assuming it was GMO. One question, though….. How about corn chips and taco shells?? Are they made from non GMO sweet corn??

    • Hi Annie,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read the article and share your feedback; I’m glad that you enjoyed it! Thank you for sharing your question; it’s a good one.

      Generally speaking, GMO corn is used as a source for corn-based ingredients (e.g., corn starch, corn oil) that are found in processed foods, including those that you mentioned. With that in mind, if you choose to include these foods in your diet yet you want to limit your consumption of GMOs and potential exposure to toxic herbicides, pesticides, etc., then it would be a good idea to choose organic versions of these foods.

      I hope this helps, Annie. Please let us know if you have any other questions.

      Thank you!

      Coach Tim

      • Annie

        Thanks so much for your quick and thorough reply! Good to know! Than I’ll definitely be sticking with organic for the chips, and hopefully can find some organic taco shells! 🙂

  • Hi CJ,

    Thanks for taking the time to read the article and share your question. I appreciate it!

    Although the exact amounts may vary across crops, there’s about 3 grams of naturally-occurring sugar in a medium-sized ear of corn, about 15% of which is fructose. That means an ear of corn has less than half a gram of fructose.

    While I understand where your doctor’s concerns about fructose may stem from, I would be very hard-pressed to believe that high rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are the result of eating too much corn (or fruit in general, for that matter).

    There’s no question that most people will be better off by limiting their intake of sugary foods. When eaten in excess, added sugars can contribute to fat gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a host of undesired health issues.

    Seriously, though, does fresh non-GMO sweet corn really fit into the same category as sugar-sweetened beverages (like soda, fruit juice, and fruit-flavored drinks), sugar, candy, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, desserts, sweetened yogurt, ice cream, pastries, ready-to-eat cereals, granola bars, sauces, dressings, and on down the list of processed junk foods?

    I hope this is helpful, CJ. Please feel free to share any additional feedback or questions.

    Thank you!

    Coach Tim

  • Hi Dr. Richler,

    I hope this finds you doing well. Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your feedback. I have deep admiration for your passion, and I have a sincere appreciation for your commitment to education.

    With all due respect, I disagree with your comments about corn, at least as it pertains to non-GMO sweet corn. As cited in my article, according to the Environmental Working Group, which performs extensive testing on produce for pesticide residues, corn is the cleanest of all produce tested. In fact, less than 1% of the samples tested had any detectable pesticides:

    EWG’s 2017 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide Residudes

    Of course, if that evidence is not sufficient, the recommendation would be to purchase organic. Is that meant to say you have to eat non-GMO sweet corn? Of course not; however, it is meant to delineate whole-kernel sweet corn from corn-derived ingredients (often derived from GMO field corn), which are found in ultra-processed foods.

    I suppose we can agree on one thing: Extra virgin coconut oil can indeed be included as part of an overall healthy diet. Even having said that, I would suggest that it doesn’t deserve the crown that many have bestowed upon it.

    Keep up the good work, Dr. Richler.

    My best,

    Coach Tim

  • Hi Stan,

    Great to hear from you; I hope this finds you doing well! I greatly appreciate you taking the time to read through the article and to share your encouraging feedback; thank you!

    This is a great question, and I really appreciate you asking. As an aside, it reminds of something I saw in a food documentary recently. Corn, like many plant-based foods, is not a great source of protein, particularly because it is very low in certain essential amino acids, namely lysine. Thus, it lacks nutritional value in the sense that it’s not a high-quality source of protein.

    However, in Mexico, there’s a fungus called huitlacoche that can grow on corn. Interestingly, the huitlacoche supplies an abundant amount of lysine, and as a result, when the fungus grows on corn, it results in a good source of protein. While it doesn’t look very appealing at all, it’s considered a delicacy, and it’s a very interesting case demonstrating that Mother Nature knows best. If you’re interested to learn more, check out the following video:

    “We Are What We Eat”

    Obviously that doesn’t answer your question; it’s just a fun fact. But to your point, corn may be contaminated with mycotoxins, which are potentially toxic secondary metabolites produced by fungi that infect foods such as peanut, corn, and grains. In other words, fungi (such as Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) can colonize these plants and produce these toxic compounds. In corn, the two primary potential mycotoxins are aflatoxin and fumonisin.

    In the short-term, humans are relatively resistant to the effects of aflatoxins; however, what happens with long-term exposure is uncertain at this point. Some human studies have shown that aflatoxins may cause adverse immune system effects, liver cancer, and stunted growth in children.

    Having said that, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has strict requirements and stringent testing for mycotoxins, such as aflatoxins and fumonisins, in the food supply. For instance, the USDA has implemented a program to verify the performance of rapid tests for mycotoxins in grains. In addition to the USDA regulations, I do understand that corn growers do take this issue very seriously and take measures accordingly. Overall, the topic of mycotoxins is quite complex, and while I wouldn’t dismiss your concern, I would tend to think that an occasional ear of corn would not pose a significant issue, particularly if it’s part of an overall healthy diet based on whole foods (with few, if any, ultra-processed foods containing corn-derived ingredients).

    In this study, the researchers state, “In general, mycotoxin exposure is more likely to occur in parts of the world where poor methods of food handling and storage are common, where malnutrition is a problem, and where few regulations exist to protect exposed populations. However, even in developed countries, specific subgroups may be vulnerable to mycotoxin exposure. In the United States, for example, Hispanic populations consume more corn products than the rest of the population, and inner city populations are more likely to live in buildings that harbor high levels of molds.”

    Altogether, I think there’s more research to be done in this area, Stan; and I hope that my perspective on the topic is helpful. Please feel free to share any additional information or questions.

    Thank you!

    Coach Tim

  • Hi winstond,

    I understand your skepticism and hopefully a slight elaboration can help clarify. What’s being said here is that approximately 90% of the corn grown in the United States is genetically engineered (GM). Here’s some additional information on the topic:

    Recent Trends in GE Adoption

    As far as how much is sold in supermarket, that may be a bit tougher to quantify. However, as I mentioned in the article, GM corn is typically used for animal feed and biofuels and as a source for ingredients like corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn starch, corn oil, maltodextrin, alcohol, and others. In other words, those corn-derived ingredients found in processed foods are likely to come from GM crops.

    However, corn on the cob (i.e., sweet corn) that you find at the supermarket is less likely to come from GM corn fields. In fact, sweet corn represents only about 1% of America’s corn production. Having said that, the Environmental Working Group estimates that only about 8% of sweet corn is GM (i.e., herbicide tolerant). Even then, USDA testing reveals virtually no herbicide residues on samples of sweet corn, which invariably include some GM samples. Of course, if you do have concerns/skepticism, then you can consider purchasing organic sweet corn, or better yet, visit your local farmers’ market and talk to the farmer him/herself.