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Everything you need to know about corn

Corn is one of the most widely consumed cereal grains. As a good source of antioxidant carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, yellow corn may promote eye health. It’s also a rich source of many vitamins and minerals.

Corn

Also known as maize, corn is one of the world’s most popular cereal grains. It’s the seed of a plant in the grass family, native to Central America but grown in countless varieties worldwide.

Popcorn and sweet corn are popular varieties, but refined corn products are also widely consumed, frequently as ingredients in processed food. These include tortillas, tortilla chips, polenta, cornmeal, corn flour, corn syrup, and corn oil.

Whole-grain corn is as healthy as any cereal grain, as it’s rich in fiber and many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Corn is typically yellow but a variety of other colors, such as red, orange, purple, blue, white, and black are available abroad.

Health Benefits

Regular whole-grain intake may have a number of health benefits.

Eye Health

Macular degeneration and cataracts are among the world’s most common visual impairments and major causes of blindness.

Infections and old age are among the main causes of these diseases, but nutrition may also play a significant role. Dietary intake of antioxidants, most notably carotenoids like zeaxanthin and lutein, may boost eye health.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the predominant carotenoids in corn, accounting for approximately 70% of the total carotenoid content. However, their levels are generally low in white corn.

Commonly known as macular pigments, these compounds exist in your retina, the light-sensitive inner surface of your eye, where they protect against oxidative damage caused by blue light.

High consumption of contaminated corn is a suspected risk factor for cancer and neural tube defects, which are common birth defects that may result in disability or death.

High levels of these carotenoids in your blood are strongly linked to a reduced risk of both macular degeneration and cataracts. Observational studies likewise suggest that high dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin may be protective, but not all studies support this.

One study in 356 middle-aged and older adults found a 43% reduction in the risk of macular degeneration in those with the highest intake of carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, compared to those with the lowest intake.

Prevention of Diverticular Disease

Diverticular disease (diverticulosis) is a condition characterized by pouches in the walls of your colon. The main symptoms are cramps, flatulence, bloating, and — less often — bleeding and infection.

Popcorn and other high-fiber foods were once believed to trigger this condition.

However, one 18-year study in 47,228 men suggests that popcorn may, in fact, protect against diverticular disease. Men who ate the most popcorn were 28% less likely to develop diverticular disease than those with the lowest intake.

Potential Downsides

Corn is generally considered safe. However, some concerns exist.

Antinutrients in Corn

Like all cereal grains, whole grain corn contains phytic acid (phytate).

Phytic acid impairs your absorption of dietary minerals, such as iron and zinc, from the same meal.

While usually not a problem for people who follow a well-balanced diet, it may be a serious concern in developing countries where cereal grains and legumes are staple foods. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting corn can reduce phytic acid levels substantially.

Mycotoxins

Some cereal grains and legumes are susceptible to contamination by fungi.

Fungi produce various toxins, known as mycotoxins, that are considered a significant health concern. The main classes of mycotoxins in corn are fumonisins, aflatoxins, and trichothecenes. Fumonisins are particularly noteworthy.

They occur in stored cereals worldwide, but adverse health effects have mostly been linked to the consumption of corn and corn products — especially among people who depend on corn as their main dietary staple.

High consumption of contaminated corn is a suspected risk factor for cancer and neural tube defects, which are common birth defects that may result in disability or death.

In most developed countries, food safety authorities monitor the levels of mycotoxins in foods on the market, with food production and storage strictly regulated.

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Corn Intolerance

Gluten intolerance or celiac disease is a common condition caused by an auto-immune response to gluten in wheat, rye, and barley. The symptoms of gluten intolerance include fatigue, bloating, diarrhea, and weight loss.

For most people with celiac disease, the symptoms disappear on a strict gluten-free diet. However, in some people, the symptoms seem to persist. In many cases, celiac disease may persist because of undeclared gluten in processed food. In other cases, a related food intolerance may be to blame.

Corn contains proteins known as zein that are related to gluten. One study showed that corn zein caused an inflammatory reaction in a subgroup of people with celiac disease. Nevertheless, the reaction to zein was much smaller than that of gluten.

For this reason, scientists have hypothesized that corn intake may, in rare cases, be the cause of persistent symptoms in some people with celiac disease.

Corn has also been reported to be a symptom trigger in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or FODMAP intolerance. FODMAPs are a category of soluble fiber that are poorly absorbed. High intake can cause digestive upset, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea, in some people.

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