Is Corn The Next Gluten?

Functional Medicine Doctor By Amy Myers, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor
Amy Myers, M.D. is a renowned leader in functional medicine living in Austin, Texas. She is a New York Times best-selling author of both The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection, and received her doctorate in medicine from the LSU Health Sciences Center.

Is corn the next gluten?

I would say yes!

It’s estimated that as much as 30% of the US population is gluten intolerant. After identifying that gluten is an inflammatory food, most people find significant relief by avoiding it. But is adherence to a gluten-free diet enough to heal the gut and halt systemic inflammation? Unfortunately, no.

As more and more people go gluten-free, new “healthy” products make their way onto the shelves of the gluten-free aisle. And although gluten is absent, many of these gluten-free foods (and their packaging) are made with something equally dangerous: corn.

Corn, like gluten, is in EVERYTHING, from medications and chewing gum all the way to health and beauty products like toothpaste and makeup. A quick glance at the listed ingredients of most processed foods will more often than not reveal some obvious sources of corn, such as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn oil, and cornstarch. But just as gluten sometimes hides under ingredients like MSG and malt, corn can be lurking behind other names (names like “dextrose,” “xanthan gum,” “natural flavors,” “free-flowing agents,” “vitamin E,” “ascorbic acid,” “citric acid,” and “cellulose”). Even when it’s not present in the food itself, corn lines plastic food containers and to-go coffee cups. You might have no idea it’s even there.

Even if you diligently avoid all packaged foods and stick with whole fruits, vegetables, and animal products, corn can still sneak into your diet. Remember that what you eat also eats, and be aware of what that is. Unless certified as grass fed, poultry and livestock are fed corn (and usually GMO corn, at that).

Besides the fact that grain-fed meat comes from a less healthy animal and is extremely deficient in nutrients, the seemingly insignificant content of the animal’s diet can be enough to trigger an immune response when you eat that gluten-free hamburger or have your morning nonfat yogurt.

So, what’s so wrong with corn?

Although corn is touted as a health food, just like gluten it can cause a leaky gut. This is because, to many people’s bodies, the protein in corn can look like gluten, and they “cross-react” to it. For those who know they suffer from gluten intolerance, this cross-reactivity provides an endless amount of frustration, worsened by the fact that our culture has been indoctrinated with the idea that corn products are a wonderful substitute for gluten-containing products. You might be able to make gluten-free tacos with corn tortillas, but that approach does nothing to quell the immune response.

Eventually you wonder, Why am I still getting migraines? or How come my blood tests haven’t normalized? Some people likely give up and decide that removing gluten from their diet was an unnecessary step, and they need to return to harsh medications after all.

Not so! Gluten is only one of several molecules that imitate our own body tissues and contribute to autoimmunity. Molecular mimicry is only part of the problem with corn. Corn is one of the most commonly genetically engineered foods, with about 90% of it being GMO. Due to cross-pollination by wind, birds, and bees, that remaining 10% is not guaranteed to be GMO-free.

If we step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s clear that corn has had a substantial impact on the culture and health of the American population. One of the most common uses of corn is high-fructose corn syrup (HCFS), and many believe the obesity epidemic is largely attributed to its prevalence in the Standard American Diet (SAD). HCFS is around 75% sweeter than sugar, and less expensive as well, making it an ideal ingredient in processed foods, which by their very nature are designed to be cheap and tasty. But because HCFS has made its way into everything from salad dressings to pasta sauce, our palates have become completely desensitized to the ubiquitous sweetness of our diets. Consuming sweet foods causes surges in blood sugar and actually intensifies our cravings for more sweets, and with a desensitized palate we can’t enjoy the natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables. This eventually leads to hormone imbalances, overeating, obesity, and diabetes.

If you're still having issues with your health after removing gluten from your diet, consider the very real possibility that corn could be a major contributor. I suggest that those suffering from gluten-intolerance also permanently remove corn from their diets. Cross-reactive foods, while not actually containing gluten, will do equal damage to your body.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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