Nutrition-wise blog

Cornucopia of corn facts

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. December 29, 2015

I woke up this morning thinking about corn. Could this be because corn is a comfort food? Because here in Minnesota we enjoy our sweet corn — and are a leading grower of corn? Because corn isn't Paleo? Or is it because I was asked to develop a recipe for shrimp and grits? Yes — whenever I develop a recipe I try to look into the main ingredient.

Here's what I found out about corn:

  • Fresh corn is usually classified as a vegetable, while dried corn (including popcorn) is considered a grain.
  • Corn is one of the most widely grown vegetables on the planet.
  • A Native American name for corn was "mahisi," which means "that which sustains us."
  • Corn originated in the Americas. Columbus brought corn back to Spain. Because of its high yield per acre compared to other grains, it became dominant over wheat, rye and barley.
  • Corn has a dark side. As it became a dominant grain in Europe and later in the U.S., the nutrient deficiency disease pellagra began appearing. Between 1906 and 1940, more than 3 million Americans had the disease. It was first thought that there was some sort of toxin in corn. It wasn't until the 1930s that it was determined that the vitamin niacin cured pellagra.
  • Why was pellagra rare in native populations of the New World? Their traditional practice of soaking corn overnight in lime water liberates niacin, thereby preventing pellagra.
  • Nutritionally, corn is known for its vitamin A — with more than 10 times that of other grains. It is also high in antioxidants and carotenoids that are associated with eye health, such as lutein and zeaxanthin. An 8-inch ear of corn has about 3 grams of fiber.
  • As a gluten-free grain, corn is a key ingredient in many gluten-free foods.
  • To ensure that the corn you eat is whole grain, make sure cornmeal, corn flour, grits or polenta is labeled "whole corn" or "whole grain corn." If the label says "degerminated," the germ of the kernel has been removed and it's not considered whole grain.

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Dec. 29, 2015