The Health Benefits of Corn (Maize)

The Health Benefits of Corn (Maize)

Background

Corn, also termed maize, is the most commonly consumed food crop in the world. It’s at least 7,000 years old, believed to have originated in Mexico before spreading through the Americas and the rest of the world. Corn is typically yellow, but there are different strains including, white, red, orange, purple, blue and black.

Corn can be classified as both a vegetable and as a grain. It is nutritionally dense, filled with calories, primarily from carbohydrates, and packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

Corn can be prepared a variety of ways including on the cob, popcorn, or refined  into many different foods such as chips, tortillas. It can also be refined into cooking products such as cornmeal, flour, syrup or corn oil. This video will be specifically talking about whole corn and not refined corn. Refined food products, including corn, have a very different nutritional profile.

It is worth noting that some corn is genetically modified to resist certain herbicides and insecticides, a controversial area that will not be addressed in this video.

Nutritional Content

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Corn is 76% water, 19% carbs, 3% protein and 1% fat.

Whole corn is carbohydrate heavily and composed primarily of carbs. It scores low on the glycemic index meaning it doesn’t spike your sugar as heavily as other forms of carbohydrates.

Corn is a decent source of protein. Protein can range from 10-15% of total nutritional value up to about 15-16 grams per serving.

Corn is low in fat, however it can be refined into corn oil from milling. It is mainly composed of the healthy polyunsaturated fat linoleic acid.

Vitamin & Mineral Content

According to USDA food database, white corn contains

Vitamins

  • Vitamin A (7%)
  • Vitamin E, alpha tocopherol (4%)
  • Vitamin K (1%)
  • Thiamin (43%)
  • Riboflavin (20%)
  • Niacin (30%)
  • Vitamin B6 (52%)
  • Folate (8%)
  • Pantothenic Acid (7%)

Minerals

  • Calcium (1%)
  • Iron (25%)
  • Magnesium (53%)
  • Phosphorus (35%)
  • Potassium (14%)
  • Sodium (2%)
  • Zinc (24%)
  • Copper (26%)
  • Manganese (40%)
  • Selenium (37%)

Other Plant Compounds

  • Fiber (hemicellulose, cellulose, lignin)
  • Antioxidants (ferulic acid, anthocyanins, zeaxanthin, lutein)
  • Phytic acids (myoinositol hexaphosphate)

Benefits

Note that there is not a lot of research focusing on the health benefits of corn. However, much of it’s nutritional content has been studied and continues to be investigated. In general, the health benefits discussed will be based on the nutrition content of corn and not studies looking at corn specifically.

Corn is a whole grain food. Whole grain foods have been shown to lower the risk

  • Heart disease (22%-47%)
  • Stroke (14%)
  • Fiber, vitamin K and antioxidants
  • Blood Clots
    • Fiber diets have been shown to lower formation of small blood clots
  • Obesity (lower BMI, less abdominal fat)
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Hyperlipidemia (or High Cholesterol)
  • Digestion
    • Prevent constipation, normalize bowel movements
    • High fiber diets tend to reduce the risk of diverticulitis and diverticulosis.
  • Inflammation
    • Examples may include rheumatoid arthritis, gout, asthma, ulcerative colitis, crohn’s disease
  • Cancer
    • Colorectal, maybe others
    • Premature death/ all cause mortality
  • Vision
    • Because corn is rich in antioxidants, it is likely to help reduce macular degeneration and cataracts. 

Risks

Eating corn is generally considered to be safe.

Corn does contain gluten, so individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity may want to avoid it.

In certain individuals, grain based carbs may increase or worsen irritable bowel syndrome.

Summary

  • Corn is one of the oldest grain crops in the world and the most widely consumed.
  • One full cup of uncooked white corn contains approximately 600 calories, 8g fat, 123g carbs and 16g protein
  • Corn is nutritionally dense filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants
  • Broadly speaking, whole grains such as corn lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, digestive health, inflammation and cancer
  • Whole grain foods have also been shown to lower your overall risk of death

References

Nuss, E. T., & Tanumihardjo, S. A. (2010). Maize: A Paramount Staple Crop in the Context of Global Nutrition. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 9(4), 417-436. doi:10.1111/j.1541-4337.2010.00117.x

Aune, D., Keum, N., & Giovannucci, E. (2016). Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: Systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Bmj, I2716. doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716

Zazpe I, Santiago S, Gea A. Association between a dietary carbohydrate index and
cardiovascular disease in the SUN (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra) Project.
Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2016 Nov;26(11):1048-1056. Doi: PubMed PMID: 27524801

Fang L, Li W, Zhang W. Association between whole grain intake and stroke risk: evidence from a meta-analysis. Int J Clin Exp Med. 2015 Sep 15;8(9):16978-83. eCollection 2015. PubMed PMID: 26629253

Harland JI, Garton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr. 2008 Jun;11(6):554-63. Epub 2007 Nov 16. PubMed PMID: 18005489.

Aune D, Norat T, Romundstad P. Whole grain and refined grain consumption and the risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Eur J Epidemiol. 2013 Nov;28(11):845-58. PubMed PMID: 24158434.

Hajihashemi P, Azadbakht L, Hashemipor M. Whole-grain intake favorably affects markers of systemic inflammation in obese children: a randomized controlled crossover clinical trial. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2014 Jun;58(6):1301-8. PubMed PMID: 24478050.

Makarem N, Nicholson JM, Bandera EV. Consumption of whole grains and cereal fiber in relation to cancer risk: a systematic review of  longitudinal studies. Nutr Rev. 2016 Jun;74(6):353-73. PubMed PMID: 27257283

Wu H, Flint AJ, Qi Q. Association between dietary whole grain intake and risk of mortality: two large prospective studies in US men and women. JAMA Intern Med. 2015 Mar;175(3):373-84. PubMed PMID: 25559238

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