Is corn bad for a diet?

It isn’t surprising that corn has such a bad name when you think of how we are consuming it these days. Instead of asking what products contain corn, it’s probably easier to ask what products DO NOT contain some form of corn.

The obvious ones that spring to mind are popcorn, tortilla chips, corn flakes, and polenta. But corn derivatives, namely high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and corn oil, are also found in thousands of other products. From ice cream, baby formula, chewing gum, margarine, processed meats, packet soups, sauces, custard and jams. To fizzy drinks, juices, cereal, salad dressing, sweetened yoghurt, breads and pastries. It’s a challenge to find processed foods that don’t contain corn! Not to mention that corn is also found in items such as cough syrups, toothpastes, pain killers, and a number of other non-food products like cosmetics, tyres, envelopes, glue, and paint. Even the animals we eat are fed a corn-based diet!

Corn is getting a bad rap but not all corn is made equal. It comes in many shapes and sizes.

First, you get high fructose corn syrup:

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is much cheaper to produce than sugar, so in the USA many companies in the 1970s started using it to replace sugar in their products. Among the first to do this was the soft drink industry. Fructose goes straight to the liver, where large quantities can contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is also thought to damage the intestinal lining which can exacerbate leaky gut and inflammation. HFCS also causes huge spikes in insulin, which is bad news for those with insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes or heart disease.

This study suggests that consumption of HFCS increased by more than 1000 percent between 1970 and 1990, which correlates directly with the rise in obesity.

Then, there is corn oil:

Corn oil is extracted through heating and chemical process which is not a great starting point. The result is a polyunsaturated vegetable fat which is unstable at high temperatures and likely to go rancid faster than saturated or monounsaturated fats. Upon consumption it also creates oxidised cholesterol which is associated with increases in heart disease risk. Corn oil is also extremely high in omega 6 which is a no-no, especially if you’re Banting.

And then, there is the price:

In most countries (SA and the USA in particular), corn is dirt cheap which has driving exponential growth in demand over the last 50 years.

In order to keep up with the staggering demand, corn needs to be grown fast and in abundance. The majority of corn grown today is genetically modified. Companies like Monsanto have invested millions into hybridising grains to grow in nutrient depleted soils. It is the number one grown crop in America, and the second most genetically modified ingredient in the world, behind soy. Over 80% of the corn grown in the US is genetically modified.

What is so bad about GMO corn?

GMO, which stands for a genetically modified organism, means that the gene code for how the corn will build itself has been altered through genetic engineering.

Most scientists don’t believe there is much wrong with the process. Plant breeders have been altering genetic code ever since Joseph got the job to look after Pharoah’s corn. The difference now is that we aren’t using natural traits in competition with one another to improve our food. Using all the ingenuity available in the laboratory, scientists are now pushing the boundaries well into the sci-fi realm. And that’s what’s not so good.

For example, with the benefits of GMO, corn can now be grown in more drought resistant areas. But the downside to this is that the plant has had to be so modified to survive in such poor conditions that it now contains 437 times less calcium than normal corn, 56 times less magnesium and seven times less manganese.

And there’s worse news! GMO corn grown in the US is designed to be resistant to the most toxic herbicide on earth, Roundup, a killer that attacks the newly differentiating cells (the stem cells) of organisms it comes into contact with. The benefit for the factory farm is that fields can be sprayed liberally with the herbicide, leaving the corn plant still standing.

Unfortunately, that also means that these super bad herbicides and pesticides find their way into our corn products, quietly working their evil magic on our bodies.

Monsanto’s genetically modified “Bt corn”, contains a toxin that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them, but although they swore that it would only affect insects, studies have shown that it affects us too.

Eating Bt corn might actually turn your intestinal flora into a sort of “living pesticide factory,” essentially manufacturing Bt toxin from within your digestive system on a continuing basis.

Scientists believe that this colony of bad bacteria could be associated with, gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune diseases, food allergies, and even childhood learning disorders.

The argument still exists, however, for whether or not GMO in ALL cases is unhealthy and evil. This is not an endorsement for GMO. You may say that messing with nature is evil, but it might not be unhealthy. Likewise, a particular food might be genetically modified to actually contain more nutrients (like the high amino acid corn that was produced in the 1930s), but it might be bad for the environment (it also might not be. We don’t know).

So a blanket ‘NO. ABSOLUTELY NEVER’ for any ingredient, just because it is genetically modified in some countries isn’t really appropriate. Questions need to be asked like:

  1. What is my country’s policy on GMO and for what produce does this apply?
  2. How are these foods genetically modified? (For yield, droughtresistance or pest control)
  3. Does this bother me enough to boycott?

Surely there must be some benefits to corn, right?

Well, non-GMO corn on the cob (and baby corn) can have its place in a healthy-balanced diet. Organic corn is quite high in vitamin C, magnesium, certain B vitamins, potassium, and antioxidants which support the immune system and protects the eyes and skin against oxidative stress. Corn on the cob also contains fibre which aids in digestion and helps eliminate bodily waste.
Even with these benefits, who should avoid corn all together?

  • If you suffer from IBS, leaky gut, food allergies, or are sensitive to other high fibrous foods, you might experience gas, bloating, stomach aches or other digestive problems, due to corn’s high fibre content and ability to ferment in the gut.
  • Corn and its derivatives are high in carbs, so if you are insulin resistant, overweight, have diabetes or any other metabolic illness it is best to avoid it during certain phases of Banting 2.0
  • If you are sensitive to gluten, you will probably want to avoid corn. According to Dr William Davis of Wheat Belly, the zein protein found in corn can recreate the same response as celiac disease, though to a lesser degree. “Corn can be gluten-free, but it is not free of proteins that act just like gluten (gliadin) or cross-react immunologically with it.”

How should you source and eat corn?

  • Sweet corn is grown to be eaten by us, whereas field corn is grown to feed livestock and for the thousands of other uses. In South Africa and the USA, field corn is predominantly GMO. So try and avoid field corn at all costs.
  • Buy your corn on the cob from farmers markets, or modified source you trust. You could even grow your own corn from non-GMO seeds.
  • Make sure your corn is well cooked.

These days, most corn is processed beyond recognition, but in its original, non-processed form, sweet corn on the cob can be a tasty addition to your diet. Every now and again, provided that you do not suffer from any of the ailments listed above, and that you factor it into your carb count for the day, it can be just fine.

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