Corn: Friend or Foe

Being a healthcare provider, I can expect patients, friends, and family to have several common health questions for me. The most popular include:
    •    Should I avoid gluten?
    •    What’s the deal with coconut oil?
    •    Should I replace my milk with soy milk?
    •    Olive oil is good for me . . . right?
    •    How can I lose weight?
    •    What do you think about corn?
I am delighted to have folks ask me questions and I will answer many of them in the coming months.

Today, I will start with the last question on the list and discuss corn (I like to throw caution to the wind and start at the end).


Let’s start with some corntext (corn context). In America, when we say corn we are usually referring to Zea mays or maize. In other countries, the word corn has different connotation – it can mean the leading crop grown in an area, wheat, oats, or even barley.

The birthplace of corn is unknown, but it is suspected to originate from Mexico. When Columbus arrived in the Americas, corn was already a large staple crop. Native Americans prepared corn by incorporating pot ash or adding lime, which increased its bioavailability of vitamin B3. In fact, modern day corn tortillas are still prepared with lime.

When I say the word corn, many different thoughts and images will likely cross your mind. Perhaps you are thinking large fields with waist high crops and yellow cobs fresh from the grill. You may also be thinking ethanol, high fructose corn syrup, and animal feed.

Colloquially, there are two main types of corn: sweet corn and field corn. Sweet corn is the vegetable you grow or buy to eat. It is usually not genetically modified {but choose organic or chat with the farmer to be sure} and has a sweet flavor and fibrous texture. Field corn is the “commodity” crop used to make ethanol, high fructose corn syrup, animal feed, and a litany of other processed corn products. Field corn is usually genetically modified and is inedible in its harvested state (where the kernels are dry and hard).
Bottom line: in terms of eating, sweet corn can be your friend, field corn should be your foe.
Here are some common misconceptions about corn that I have been asked.

Misconception 1: Corn is sugary and fattening.

An average ear of corn contains about the same amount of calories as an apple, with less sugar and more protein. In terms of summer barbecue offerings, it can be one of the better choices. Sweet corn in itself is not sugary or fattening, however dousing in butter or barbecue sauce may change that.

Misconception 2: Corn has no health benefits.

Corn, like most whole foods, can be beneficial to your health. Corn contains fiber, vitamin B3, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, and more.

Misconception 3: All corn is considered processed food.

Sweet corn, when eaten in its pure form, is unprocessed. Corn on the cob? Not processed. However, processed forms of (field) corn seem ubiquitous in conventional grocery stores (and can be found in a quarter of products on the shelf).
Take a look at the ingredients on a can of Coke. High fructose corn syrup is right near the top. So if you are eating the plant, as grown in nature, it is not processed. If you are eating corn by-products, it is processed.

Misconception 4: Corn is high in carbohydrate.

This is a relative misconception. An average ear of corn contains about 15 grams of carbohydrate. An apple contains nearly double that amount. A medium zucchini? That contains half the carbohydrate as corn. Compared to most vegetables, corn has more carbohydrate. Compared to many fruits, corn has less. Compared to a piece of cake, corn has much less carbohydrate. It’s all relative.

My personal stance on corn: friend or foe?

Sweet corn can be my friend. Not a bestie or BFF that I frequent daily, but something that can be enjoyed seasonally and in small doses.

Field corn or any processed corn product? Foe and I keep my distance (like a gossipy frenemy).

Do you have a specific wellness question?

Now you know all about born. But do you have another burning health question. If so, please let me know in the comments below or send me a message at