What food is more synonymous with summer than freshly picked corn on the cob? Corn grows in “ears,” each of which is covered in rows of kernels that are then protected by the silk-like threads called “corn silk” and encased in a husk. All types of corn come from the same genus and species of plant, Zea mays. However, within this genus and species, there are well over 100 subspecies and varieties. Although we often associate corn with the color yellow, it actually comes in features an array of different colors, including red, pink, black, purple, and blue. Although corn is now available in markets year-round, it is the locally grown varieties that you can purchase during the summer months that not only tastes the best but are usually the least expensive.
Corn has gathered a diverse reputation in the U.S. For some people, corn is a “staple” food that provides the foundation for tortillas, burritos, or polenta. For others, corn is a “snack” food that comes in the form of popcorn and corn chips. For still others, corn is a “special summertime food” that is essential at barbecues and cookouts. But regardless of its reputation, corn is seldom considered in the U.S. as a unique source of health benefits. Yet that’s exactly what research results are telling us about this amazing grain.
- Antioxidant Benefits:
While it might sound surprising to some people who are used to thinking about corn as a plain, staple food, or a snack food, or a summertime party food, corn is actually a unique phytonutrient-rich food that provides us with well-documented antioxidant benefits. In terms of conventional antioxidant nutrients, corn is a good source of vitamin C as well as the mineral manganese. But it is corn’s phytonutrients that have taken center stage in the antioxidant research on corn.
- Digestive Benefits:
Anyone who has eaten fresh corn-on-the-cob or freshly popped popcorn knows how satisfying this food can be to chew. Some of that satisfaction comes from corn’s fiber content. At 4.6 grams of fiber per cup, corn is a good fiber source, and in research studies, corn intake is often associated with good overall fiber intake. For example, persons who eat popcorn tend to have 2-3 times more overall whole grain intake than persons who do not eat popcorn, and they also tend to have higher overall fiber intake as well.
Corn fiber is one of the keys to its well-documented digestive benefits. Recent research has shown that corn can support the growth of friendly bacteria in our large intestine and can also be transformed by these bacteria into short chain fatty acids, or SCFAs. These SCFAs can supply energy to our intestinal cells and thereby help lower our risk of intestinal problems, including our risk of colon cancer.
- Blood Sugar Benefits:
Given its good fiber content, its ability to provide many B-complex vitamins including vitamins B1, B5 and folic acid, and its notable protein content (about 5-6 grams per cup), corn is a food that would be expected to provide blood sugar benefits. Fiber and protein are key macronutrients for stabilizing the passage of food through our digestive tract. Sufficient fiber and protein content in a food helps prevent too rapid or too slow digestion of that food. By evening out the pace of digestion, protein and fiber also help prevent too rapid or too slow uptake of sugar from the digestive tract up into the bloodstream. Once the uptake of sugar is steadied, it is easier to avoid sudden spikes or drops in blood sugar.
Consumption of corn in ordinary amounts of 1-2 cups has been shown to be associated with better blood sugar control in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Fasting glucose and fasting insulin levels have been used to verify these blood sugar benefits. Interestingly, in elementary school-age and teenage youths already diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, whole grain cornbread has emerged in one study as the whole grain food with the highest acceptability among all whole grain foods. Youth participants in the study who consumed whole grain cornbread were also less likely to consume fast foods.
The Healthiest Way of Cooking Corn
Of all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking corn, our favorite is Healthy Steaming. We think that it provides the greatest flavor and is also a method that allows for good nutrient retention.
To Healthy Steam fresh corn, fill the bottom of the steamer with 2 inches of water and bring to a rapid boil. Steam corn for 5 minutes. For extra flavor, dress with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and pepper.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Eat corn on the cob either just as is or seasoned with a little butter, olive oil, salt and pepper,and any other herbs or spices you enjoy.
- Sautéed cooked corn with green chilies and onions. Served hot, this makes a wonderful side dish.
- Enjoy a cold salad with an ancient Incan influence by combining cooked corn kernels, quinoa, tomatoes, green peppers and red kidney beans.
- Use polenta (a type of cornmeal) as a pizza crust for a healthy pizza.
- Add corn kernels and diced tomatoes to guacamole to give it extra zing.
- Adding corn to soup, whether it chili or chowder, enhances the soup’s hardiness, let alone its nutritional profile.
Source: WHFood and FoodFreedom
Here are some our recipes using corn or cornmeal:
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