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What You Need to Know About Eating Corn and Your Health

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Between uprisings against GMOs and the widespread concern with high fructose corn syrup, let’s face it, the world is at war with corn. And rightly so.

When it comes to corn, I enjoy fresh kernels sliced straight off the cob, and find little need for the addition of a butter substitute. That said, and the aforementioned grievances aside, can something that literally — without being too graphic — appear to pass right through the body, offer any sort of nutritional benefit?

Although corn’s perks tend to be overshadowed by the health threat of GMOs, homegrown corn straight out of the husk can provide substantial benefits including antioxidants such as phytonutrients and several critical vitamins. With multiple carotenoids, yellow corn’s contributions of Vitamin A make it good for your eyes—although less acknowledged for its contributions than carrots. Plus, it adds fiber to your diet which can help keep things moving on cycle.

The problem with corn is simply that the world has gotten far too corny for its own good — especially the U.S., the largest producers of this agricultural product. The unsettling problem with the vast majority of corn in the U.S. is that a whopping 88 percent of it has been genetically modified. Much of this corn is grown to become heavily processed—derailing from its natural and ancient form.

The question is then, how do you combat the problem and enjoy corn in its true, unadulterated form? The answer? Well, like most things, it takes a bit of extra effort.

Eat Wholly: While ditching processed foods is perhaps the most obvious place to start, it is certainly a crucial one. Because corn acts as a cheap and easy binder, filler, and additive, it finds its way into many processed items you may be munching on without second thought—even items touted as “healthy.” It would behoove us all to take a closer look at products containing unfit mutations of corn that have made their way into our cabinets. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center online, the following list includes some of the most common corn by-product names, some more familiar than others.

  • Corn flour, cornmeal, corn gluten, cornflakes, etc.
  • Cornstarch, also listed on labels as starch or vegetable starch
  • Corn oil
  • Corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup
  • Dextrins
  • Maltodextrins
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose or crystalline fructose
  • Hydrol, treacle
  • Ethanol
  • Free fatty acids
  • Maize
  • Zein
  • Sorbitol

Eat Non-GMO: Although in other countries, GMO labeling is a must, it remains a subject of contention in the states. There’s currently a push among several states, including Washington, to follow suit of those states that have acted as the frontrunners in GMO labeling initiatives. While the battle continues, thanks to labeling by non-profit group, Non-GMO project, we have a great bit of help in our decision making.

On top of seeking out foods — in this particular case, corn and corn-based products — look for organic, for an added layer of trust and protection. This will ensure your products haven’t run the risk of GMO cross contamination and be sure to look for the Non-GMO project’s verified seal. In addition to labeling, the Non-GMO project’s online hub at nongmoproject.org provides an online listing of verified companies allowing you to search for a product or browse through brands to decipher if what you are consuming is Non-GMO verified. In celebration of Non-GMO month, Non-GMO project communications manager Caroline Kinsman offered some additional insights and tips on steering clear from GMOs in an article on the Huffington Post.

Eat Local: Ultimately, to reap the benefits of corn and eliminate the risk of unsuitable corn making its way to the mix, seek out fresh corn in its true form should be the end goal. The best way to avoid GMO corn is to trust the source. Seek out a local produce market that prides itself on sustainable sourcing, or take it a step further by going straight to the farmer to get his or her word for how the corn is grown and harvested. Many communities offer Community Supported Agriculture opportunities, such as CSA boxes, to keep you supplied with fresh, local foods with the season, straight from area farmers, building a sustainable community of trust.

Once you have your hands on some healthy, hearty corn, if you prefer to get a little more fancy, here are three sensational recipes to try:

Corn Chowder 
Corn Fritters
Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Image Source: Liz West/Flickr

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