Corn - Good or Bad for Heart Health?

Lisa Nelson Health Pro
  • I recently answered a question related to corn starch that made me think about a conversation I heard awhile back.  The conversation was more of a debate on corns' status as a vegetable, its' lack of nutritional value, and link to health problems.  It was proposed that corn should be banned from production.  The debate went on to suggest a comparison between corn and tobacco production and their similar impact on our society.  Now, I am hoping some of this was argument was just for arguments sake.  What did this little yellow kernel ever do?  I'm writing in its' defense.

     

    Vegetable

    If you want to delve into botany, you could argue that corn is a grain; but I am not going to go into that explanation.  In our society, corn is eaten like a vegetable.  Granted it is a starchy vegetable, but a vegetable nonetheless.  As far as nutritional value, ½ cup of frozen corn contributes some Vitamin A and potassium, 2 g of dietary fiber, 2.5 g of protein, only 1.5 g of sugar and less than 0.5 g of fat.  The nutritional value is not outstanding, but not terrible either. 

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    Resistant Starch

    Corn is a whole grain and includes resistant starch.  Resistant starches are popping up as a hot topic related to weight loss.  A resistant starch is a type of fiber that resists digestion and passes through the small intestine to the large intestine mostly intact.  In the large intestine it ferments and produces a fatty acid (bytyrate) that reduces toxins and helps protect against digestive diseases.  Resistant starches boost immunity, improve blood sugar control, and increase satiety (a plus for individuals trying to lose weight).

     

    Cornmeal, Corn Starch, Popcorn, High Fructose Corn Syrup

    Corn is used in the production of many products.  I am going to briefly cover four - cornmeal, cornstarch, popcorn, and high fructose corn syrup - none of which are vegetables. 

     

    Cornmeal versus cornstarch is comparable to whole wheat flour versus white flour.  Cornmeal includes the whole corn grain (bran, germ, and endosperm) while cornstarch is refined (bran and germ removed).  Whole grain equals a good source of dietary fiber.

     

    Popcorn is an excellent snack that is low calorie.  Of course, you need to watch the added butter and salt.  One cup of light popcorn equals ~15 calories and provides 5 g of dietary fiber!

     

    High fructose corn syrup is a major ingredient in soda and numerous foods with a low nutritional value.  To produce high fructose corn syrup, whole corn is refined to corn starch.  This corn starch is then processed with enzymes to yield a glucose and fructose mixture, eventually resulting in the production of high fructose corn syrup.  To say that high fructose corn syrup is corn is like saying Sunny Delight is orange juice.

     

    Glycemic Index

    The glycemic index is an oft times used rationale supporting the argument that corn is bad, based on how quickly corn raises blood sugar levels.  It has been well-known for years that the glycemic index is not a reliable tool.  If you were to base eating on the glycemic index, that would mean you sit down for your evening meal and dine on a cup of corn only.  How likely is that?  A typical meal includes a variety of foods, such as some meat and bread, along with corn.  The protein, fiber, and other components of these various foods, negate the glycemic index value established for corn alone.

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    Portion Control

    I sincerely doubt someone is overweight because they couldn't put down the corn.  Corn does provide ~80 calories per half cup, so as with everything else, you need to practice portion control and watch what you add.  A tablespoon of butter added to a half cup of corn increases the calorie count to ~180 calories.

      

    Bottom Line:

     

    If you like corn, eat it.  You do receive a nutritious vegetable, but watch the amount. Corn shouldn't be the only vegetable you eat.  You need a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet to promote heart health.

     

    Be sure to sign up for The Heart of Health to receive weight loss and heart health tips from dietitian Lisa Nelson.

     

    What have you learned?

    Take the related Corn and Heart Health quiz to find out!

Published On: November 24, 2008