by Bree West
Though many think of corn as a vegetable, it’s actually technically a grain that grows in rows of kernels covered by a thick, fibrous husk. The most common type of corn is yellow, but there are many varieties that can range in color from white-yellow, red, pink, blue, and black, and they can further vary by being a solid color, striped, or multi-colored. Corn is best when it is eaten fresh, because this is when it has its best and juiciest flavor. Once corn is picked from the stalk, there begins to be decreases in the fluid content in the starch portion of the grain and therefore its moisture decreases and some of the grain’s sweetness is also lost. Like most other grains, when corn starts to dry out, it becomes hard and less sweet and less flavorful.
There are some commonly used products made from corn, including grits. Grits are made from ground corn and are a less nutritious form because both the germ and the bran portion of the grain have been removed. Therefore grits are often sold as an enriched product, which means some of the lost vitamins and minerals are added back in. Eating enriched products is far inferior to getting the nutrients naturally from foods because only certain nutrients are added back in, not the full spectrum lost from the natural food. Secondly, the nutrients added back into the food are usually synthetic and are of an inferior quality that is much more difficult for the body to use and assimilate.
The use of corn goes as far back as 5000 B.C. in the areas known today as Central America and Mexico. Both Native Americans and the early colonists used corn as an important and sustainable staple to their diet. Interestingly, Pellagra, a disease that causes fatigue, rashes, and digestive inflammation, is caused by a lack of vitamin B3 (niacin), and eating a diet high in corn, without other sources of niacin, can make a person more susceptible to Pellagra because the niacin in corn is not easily absorbed by the body and therefore a deficiency can result. The Native Americans figured this out and started eating corn with some limestone that had been burned into ash. Though they didn’t know exactly why this helped, they observed that the people who ate the corn with the limestone ash were healthier than those who did not. Science today has found that the limestone ash, also known as potash, helps the body absorb niacin more easily. Many explorers loved corn and used it often, but did not prepare their corn with the limestone ash, and thus many of the settlers came down with Pellagra.
Corn was first taken to China around the 1550’s, where it became popular, especially in places where rice couldn’t be grown or cultivated. Because of this, corn became an important part in the population growth of China during that time. Today, corn is a very important part of our economy, and is in a large percentage of everything we eat, in one form or another, such as corn syrup. The largest producers of corn include the United States, Russia, China, Brazil, and Mexico.
The different colors of corn are due to the variety of plant chemicals known as flavonoids and carotenes. These healthy plant chemicals are contained in the endosperm portion of the grain. The most common kind of corn used today, the yellow kind, is high in a carotenoid called lutein. Foods high in lutein can help to protect against heart disease and macular degeneration. Corn is also high in fiber, which makes it a helpful food for preventing constipation and other related digestive issues, and also provides other healthful benefits that a high-fiber containing diet has, such as balancing blood sugars. Corn has soluble fiber, which binds with bile and cholesterol. Bile is a fluid made by the liver from cholesterol and its function is primarily the digestion of fats. Soluble fiber binds to these and because the body does not absorb soluble fiber, the fiber and the excess cholesterol and bile are excreted, forcing the body to use the cholesterol left behind to make more bile. Thus corn is a good food for helping to lower high cholesterol levels.While fresh corn can be a part of a healthy diet, and is itself a healthy food, corn by itself is not a nutritionally complete food. One way to obtain the nutrients needed to make corn a complete food is to eat it in tortilla form, which has cornmeal and limestone potash together, helping the niacin in the corn to be absorbed and utilized. Corn is also a good source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), B5 (pantothenic acid), B9 (folate), C, and E, and the minerals magnesium and phosphorus. Corn is low in protein, but is a good source of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, and fiber. Because of corn’s complex carbohydrate content, it makes it a great food for fuel and energy. When buying corn, it is important to buy organic, as well as trying to find non-GMO corn. This can be difficult because GMO labeling is not required, but most of the corn crops grown in the United States today contain GMOs. A good way to try and avoid this is to do research, buy organic corn, and local where possible (farmers markets allow you to ask the farmer directly). Because picked corn quickly converts sugar to starch, it is best to buy corn that has been kept in a cool place or in the fridge. Pick corn that looks juicy with as little dryness as possible. Fresh corn should be eaten quickly to retain as much as possible of its juiciness and sweetness.Raw Corn Chips
- 3 C Corn
- 1/4 Onion
- 1/2 T paprika
- 1/2 t. cayenne
- a pinch or two of Celtic Sea Salt