The Health Benefits Of Corn Feature Image

✓ Fact Checked

Introduction

Corn (also known as maize) is a grain which first originated in Central America – and now is one of the most popular cereal grains in the world.

While we typically think of corn as yellow, it actually comes in a variety of colors, including red, purple, blue, and even black.

But corn is so much more than a staple ingredient in tasty tortilla chips! It also has some impressive health benefits, from helping you manage diabetes to preventing chronic heart conditions.

Read on to find out what the full list of research-backed benefits of corn is – and why you probably need to eat more of it.

1. Corn Is Rich In Essential Vitamins And Nutrients

Like all cereal grains, corn is primarily composed of carbohydrates (82%). It also contains some protein (7%) as well as fat (11%). The primary carb found in corn is starch – and it makes up 28-80% of its dry weight.

One cup (166 grams) of yellow corn contains [1]:

  • Calories: 606 kcal
  • Dietary fiber: 1 grams
  • Protein: 6 grams
  • Fat: 9 grams
  • Saturated fat: 1 grams
  • Monounsaturated fat:1 grams
  • Polyunsaturated fat:6 grams
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 108 mg
  • Omega-6 fatty acids: 3481 mg

Corn is also highly rich in vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin B6 and Riboflavin. Here’s a list of vitamins it contains in significant doses:

  • Vitamin A: 7% of DV (Daily Value)
  • Vitamin E: 4% of DV
  • Riboflavin: 20% of DV
  • Niacin: 30% of DV
  • Vitamin B6: 52% of DV
  • Folate: 8% of DV
  • Iron: 25% of DV
  • Magnesium: 53% of DV
  • Phosphorus: 35% of DV
  • Potassium: 14% of DV
  • Zinc: 24% of DV
  • Copper: 26% of DV
  • Manganese: 40% of DV
  • Selenium: 37% of DV

As you can see, corn is packed with various nutrients. But since most of its carbs come from starch, it can quickly raise blood sugar levels (if you eat a lot of it). That said, corn is also a great source of fiber which is known to help balance blood sugar levels [2].

It’s also important to note that the amount of these vitamins varies depending on the corn type and some corn varieties may contain more vitamins and minerals than others.

Thanks to its impressive nutritional profile, corn (as well as popcorn) should be added to a healthy and balanced diet. Do note that, just like many other foods, processed corn and its products aren’t as beneficial for you since they have added sugar, salt, or fat [3].

2. Corn is High In Powerful Antioxidants

Corn contains other various plant compounds which are known to be beneficial for our health, mainly because they act as potent antioxidants. Studies have actually shown that corn contains a higher amount of antioxidants than many other types of grains [4]. Here are the compounds corn contains:

  • These compounds are red, purple, and blue natural pigments responsible for the color of blue, purple, and red corn. Anthocyanins help boost the immune system, maintain good health and prevent disease [5];
  • Zeaxanthin is a compound which is actually named after corn (Zea mays). This carotenoid is one of the most common ones found in plants – and research shown it can help improve our eye health [6];
  • Ferulic acid. Ferulic acid is a polyphenol antioxidant which research has linked to protection against the development of cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and osteoporosis [7]. Corn contains a higher amount of polyphenols than many other types of grains, including oats, wheat, and rice [8];
  • One of the primary carotenoids found in corn, lutein serves as an antioxidant in the human eye. Our retina is continuously exposed to light and oxygen. Lutein protects the eye from oxidative stress and prevents age-related cellular and tissue eye deterioration [9];
  • Phytic acid. Naturally occurring in foods like cereals, legumes, nuts, and oil seeds, phytic acid is an antioxidant which suppresses iron-catalyzed oxidative reactions. It may lower the incidence of colonic cancer and protect the body from other anti-inflammatory bowel diseases [10].

As you can see, corn contains plenty of antioxidants that are very good for your body. From helping prevent heart disease to boosting the immune system, corn’s high antioxidant content is what gives it most of the health benefits it is known for.

3. Eating Corn Can Help You Gain Weight

While some people seem to think corn is a great food to consume while on a diet, its starchy contents may actually indicate otherwise.

Because corn is very starchy, it may cause a blood sugar spike [11] and prevent weight loss when consumed in excess. Which is why, if you’re looking to shed unwanted pounds, eating a lot of corn may compromise your results.

However, that’s not to say that corn shouldn’t be part of a healthy and balanced diet! Eating plenty of vegetables is essential for your health as well as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and corn is a great food to add to your diet because of its nutritional benefits. But it is classified as a starchy vegetable – and it is usually recommended to limit your starch intake to maintain healthy body weight. That means, you should be mindful of how much of starchy vegetables you consume daily – and learn to portion correctly – especially if you’re currently aiming to lose weight.

Since corn is relatively high in calories, it is actually beneficial for those who are underweight and need to put on weight healthily.

One cup of corn (166 grams) contains 606 calories, which is among the highest amount of calories for cereals [12].

Because most of the corn’s carbs come from starch which can spike your blood sugar, you may also want to limit your intake of it if you have diabetes (since research shows low-carb diets are best for managing diabetes) [13, 14].

4. Corn Oil May Lower LDL Cholesterol

Corn oil is made from corn germ, a side-product of corn milling, which is rich in fat. The oil is commonly used for cooking – and it has some great health benefits.

Corn oil is really high in Vitamin E, phytosterols, as well as ubiquinone (Q10), which makes it effective for lowering cholesterol levels in the blood [15]. In fact, studies have shown corn oil to be even more effective at lowering cholesterol than extra-virgin olive oil.

That said, the health qualities of refined seed oils are still debated, and there are some concerns about the effect they may have on the human body. The health effects of vegetable and seed oils depend on many factors, such as what kind of plants they are extracted from, the type of fatty acids they contain, as well as how they are processed.

Refined vegetable oils are extracted from plants using a chemical solvent, or oil mill – and are often refined, and chemically altered. The use of chemicals could be seen as unhealthy, and unnecessary – which is why many people prefer oils made by pressing or crushing plants or seeds.

With this in mind, eating corn might be better for you than consuming corn oil.

5. Corn May Improve Your Eye Health

We’ve mentioned a range of antioxidants corn contains, many of which are known to be beneficial for eye health.

The most common reasons people go blind in the world are muscular degeneration and cataracts [16]. Both age and nutrition play a role in the development of these.

Carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are already found in the human retina where they act as protectors for our eyes from oxidative damage caused by blue light [17]. High levels of these in the blood are associated with a lower risk of both cataracts and macular degeneration [18].

Making sure you consume a high amount of antioxidants known as carotenoids – particularly the ones our retina already contains (such as zeaxanthin and lutein) may help keep your eyes healthy for longer [19].

Corn is incredibly high in these two carotenoids. In fact, they account for approximately 70% of the total carotenoid content of corn [20]!

While zeaxanthin and lutein are incredibly good for our eye health, do bear in mind that white corn doesn’t contain as much of these carotenoids. So, if you want to reap the benefits of corn for eye health, consider adding other varieties of it to your diet instead, such as yellow or black corn [21].

6. Eating Corn May Prevent Diverticular Disease

Some research suggests that eating popcorn may prevent diverticular disease. Diverticulosis is a disease which results in the development of small, bulging pouches in the walls of the colon. When one or more of these pockets become inflamed, this causes diverticulitis [22].

While people with diverticulosis are often advised to stop eating things like nuts, corn, and popcorn to reduce the risk of complications – there’s actually little evidence that these that these foods would cause diverticular disease.

A large prospective study conducted in 2009 showed that eating nut, corn, and popcorn did not increase the risk of developing diverticulosis or any other diverticular complications. In fact, the findings of the study appear to suggest that eating popcorn may actually make you less likely to develop diverticular disease [23]! Those who ate the most popcorn were 28% less likely to develop diverticulosis than those who ate the least amount.

However, since these are findings of just one study, more research into the effect of eating popcorn and the likelihood of developing diverticulosis.

Conclusion

Corn is a very healthy grain. Not only is it loaded with essential vitamins and minerals, but it also contains a variety of plant compounds that, based on numerous research studies, may prevent several diseases (including diabetes, diverticulitis – and even certain types of cancer).

Research has also shown corn to be great for eye health because it contains two highly important carotenoids, zeaxanthin, and lutein. These antioxidants protect our eyes from oxidative damage and may help prevent certain visual impairments that may lead to blindness.

Corn is high in calories and may be a great type of food to eat if you’re looking to gain weight. However, for those who are looking to lose unwanted pounds, consuming corn frequently may not be recommended.

Beth Coats, RD LN
Beth Coats, RD LN
Staff Writer & Fact Checker at DietProbe
Beth is a registered dietician with over 20 years experience in general nutrition.
Close Menu

Fact Checked


This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.