Is Corn Bad For You? What To Know About The Health Benefits & Downsides
Corn is a staple food in many regions of the world. It can be eaten on its own, processed into a meal for breads, tortillas, or cereals, or extracted into an oil. The crop is undeniably versatile, but is it healthy?
What exactly is corn?
Placing corn into a single category can be difficult. Many people think of corn as a vegetable, but based on how it's grown, it could also be considered a fruit or a whole grain.
"We often demonize corn since it has many byproducts used vigorously throughout our food system," registered dietitian nutritionist Carlene Thomas, RDN, says. "But the fact is, corn—as a cereal grass—is delicious and versatile."
These are the nutrients in one small ear of corn1, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food database:
- Calories: 62.8
- Carbohydrates: 13.7 g
- Sugar: 4.57 g
- Fiber: 1.46 g
- Protein: 2.39 g
- Magnesium: 27 mg
- Phosphorus: 65 mg
- Potassium: 197 mg
- Vitamin C: 4.96 mg
- Folate: 30.7 µg
Does corn have health benefits?
Corn has a variety of nutrients and health benefits. It's high in insoluble fiber, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, potassium, and some B vitamins, women's health dietitian Valerie Agyeman, R.D., tells mbg.
'Insoluble fiber stays in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, increases stool bulk, and helps to push waste through your system," Agyeman adds. This can support a healthy gut microbiome, prevent constipation, and reduce the risk of hemorrhoids. Some studies have even associated high intake of dietary fiber with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer2.
Sweet corn, in particular, is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, Agyeman says. "Two carotenoids that may prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration3 and support overall eye health."
Are there any downsides to eating corn?
Similar to other grains, the U.S. government subsidizes corn production to prevent a shortage in supply, registered dietitian Ella Davar, R.D., CDN, explains. Because of the rapid rate of production, she says some people are concerned with the quality of corn, particularly genetically modified corn4.
More than 90% of corn in the U.S. is genetically engineered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That corn is then used in processed foods, like corn chips, breakfast cereals, high-fructose corn syrup, corn oil, or turned into livestock feed and ethanol, Davar explains.
The USDA, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say genetically modified organisms (GMO) are safe to consume5. That said, GMO products are generally grown with more herbicides, which may have harmful effects on the environment and potentially long-term effects on human health.
To be better aware of where your food is coming from, Davar recommends buying from local farmers and subscribing to community-supported agriculture (CSA), if possible.
So, is corn bad for you or not?
Concerns about corn are generally directed at the quality of the crop and the processed byproducts of corn. Whole-grain corn, itself, is actually rich in nutrients and can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
The healthiest ways to use corn.
"Corn is versatile, and there are so many ways to enjoy it," Agyeman says. "You can add the kernels to soups, salads, vegetable dishes, or serve on its own with butter or olive oil and seasonings." Since corn can be high in starch, pairing it with a less starchy vegetable, like zucchini, can be beneficial.
To preserve the nutrients, Agyeman says steaming fresh or frozen corn is the best cooking method—especially compared to boiling. "Boiling dissolves most of corn's nutrients into the cooking water," she explains.
Popcorn can also be a healthy and filling snack, but Thomas recommends popping and seasoning the kernels at home. "If you're buying bagged popcorn, sometimes you can get bogged down with a lot of unnecessary oils and sodium," she says.
Craving corn yet? Try this instant noodle bowl, vegan jackfruit tacos, or simply grill it for a savory side.
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine. She has covered topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to celebrity entrepreneurship. Moore worked on the copywriting and marketing team at Siete Family Foods before moving to New York.