Both the Mayan and the Olmec civilizations, that date back to 2000-1500 BC, in what is now Mexico and Central America adopted maize as a staple food in the diet. The first domestication of maize actually dates back even further. Corn was equally valued by Native American tribes living in North America.
Columbus acquired corn from Indians in America and brought it back to Spain. From there it spread to Western Europe and, in time, to the rest of the world.
Corn or maize, is a large grain plant whose leafy stalk produces ears that contain grains protected by silk-like threads called corn silk and encased in a husk. Corn is a cereal grain and is also eaten as a vegetable, depending on the variety. Although corn is often associated with the color yellow, it grows in a host of different varieties that feature an array of different colors, including red, pink, black, blue and purple. When you reach for those tempting ears of sweet corn in the produce (hopefully organic) aisle, you’ll be pleased to know that apart from being wonderfully delicious, they boast amazing health benefits.
NOTE: Just for fun, before you bite into that cob next time, take a closer look: The average ear has 800 kernels, arranged in 16 rows, with one strand of silk for each kernel.
Corn is beneficial to health as it contains B-vitamins, folate, thiamin, phosphorus, vitamin C, magnesium, beta-carotene, protein and fiber in good amounts. In addition corn is a decent source of potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. Corn is a carb-rich food, so in order to reap nutritional benefits it is important to eat it in moderation. Here is a link for a detailed list of Nutritional Facts
Alzheimer’s disease: Corn is a good source of thymine which is an integral participant in enzymatic reactions central to energy production as well as brain cell/cognitive function. It is also needed for the synthesis of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter essential for memory and whose deficiency can cause age related impairment in mental function (senility) and Alzheimer’s disease.
Anemia: Prevents anemia which is caused due to the deficiency of vitamin B12 and folic acid. Corn contains a significant amount of these as well as iron which is one of the essential minerals required to form new red blood cells. Deficiency of iron can also cause anemia.
Cancer: Corn contains phytonutrients in the form of bound phenolics that are associated with a reduced risk of colon and other digestive cancers. Also the resistant starch found in corn promotes butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid found in the colon that may help fight colon cancer. Beta-cryptoxanthin, an orange-red carotenoid has antioxidant properties that are linked to significantly lowering the risk of lung cancer. Also ferulic acid, a phenolic compound found in corn is effective against liver and breast tumors.
Cholesterol: Sweet corn is rich in vitamin C, carotenoids and bioflavonoid that keep your heart healthy by controlling cholesterol levels and increasing the flow of blood. Corn oil has anti-atherogenic effect on the cholesterol levels as it lowers cholesterol levels by reducing cholesterol absorption by the body, thus preventing atherosclerosis and scavenging free radicals throughout the body, according to the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
Connective Tissue: Connective tissue comprises of bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles and cartilage. Corn contains the trace mineral manganese that strengthens the connective tissue. In addition to these, manganese keeps blood sugar levels stable and breaks down carbohydrates and fat to provide energy. A cup of corn provides about 12 percent of the daily recommended value of manganese. Corn also contains a large proportion of minerals like magnesium, iron, copper and phosphorus which is needed for healthy bones. These nutrients prevent your bones form cracking as you grow older.
Diabetes and Hypertension: Organic vegetables like corn have proven to be effective in reducing the signs of diabetes. Regular consumption of corn kernels assists in the management of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and protects against hypertension due to the presence of phenolic phytochemicals in whole corn. Phytochemicals regulate the absorption and release of insulin in the body, thus reducing the chances of spikes and drops for diabetic patients and enabling them to maintain a normal lifestyle. Besides, corn is a good source of pantothenic acid. This vitamin B helps in carbohydrate, protein and lipid metabolism. Hence, it prevents stress by supporting the functioning of adrenal glands.
Digestive Benefits: Corn is a good source of fiber, both soluble and insoluble and has well-documented digestive benefits. Corn consumption can help alleviate common digestive ailments like constipation and hemorrhoids.
Energy Increase: Corn is considered as a starchy vegetable as it contains a high amount of carbohydrates which provide you with short term and long term energy. They also ensure proper functioning of brain and nervous system. Corn is a complex carbohydrate so it gets digested at a slow pace, thus providing you with balanced energy levels that are free of peaks and valleys. It is advisable to eat corn a couple of hours before exercising for lasting energy.
Eye Health: Yellow corn is a rich source of beta-carotene, which forms vitamin A in the body and is known to be essential for maintaining good vision. Also, the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin found in corn have been associated with reductions in risks of macular degeneration and development of cataracts.
Heart Health: Corn grain is high in folate, a type of B-vitamin that is known to reduce homocysteine, an inflammatory marker attributed to heart diseases. A diet high in folate may significantly reduce the risk of developing heart and other cardiovascular related diseases.
Pregnancy: Being a rich source of folic acid, corn is particularly beneficial for pregnant women. Deficiency of folic acid in pregnant women can cause the birth of underweight infants and also cause neural tube defects at birth. Thus, pregnant women should include corn in their diet as it benefits the health of both the child and the expecting mother. However, in case of high blood pressure or swollen hands or feet, it is advisable to consult their doctor first.
ADDITIONAL HEALTH BENEFITS
Hair: Corn oil offers a great combination of fatty acids and nutrients such as vitamin E. Thus, topical application of this oil helps to keep the hair follicles hydrated, well-nourished and prevents premature ageing. The antioxidants prevent cell damage by trapping the free radicals. Hence, it is effective in combating dryness and hair fall due to free radical action. It also contains vitamin K that helps in the absorption of calcium, thus preventing hair loss.
Hot oil treatment with corn oil can give you soft and silky hair. It has a right balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that controls inflammation and prevents the scalp from becoming dry and flaky. These fatty acids are important constituents of cell structure facilitating the transport of fat and deficiency of any of these can cause brittle hair or hair fall. For this purpose, heat corn oil for half a minute and massage it on your scalp with the tip of your fingers. Leave it for 15 minutes and then rinse with shampoo to get soft and lustrous hair.
Skin: Corn is rich in antioxidants that help eliminate free radicals and keep the skin nourished. Corn starch can be used to soothe skin irritation and rashes.
Corn is a good source of several vitamins including vitamin C, thiamin and niacin, as well as minerals and antioxidants which play an important role in skincare. Vitamin C and lycopene are potential antioxidants that prevent the UV generated free radicals from damaging the skin and increase the production of collagen that assists in the maintenance of smooth skin. Besides being eaten, corn can also be applied topically as corn oil which is a rich source of linoleic acid.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE
From a food safety standpoint, it is recommended to select corn that has not been exposed to any substantial amount of heat. Exposure to excess heat can increase the susceptibility of fresh corn to microbial contamination. If you are shopping in the grocery store, your safest bet is corn that is being displayed in a refrigerated produce bin.
Look for corn whose husks are fresh and green and not dried out. They should envelope the ear and not fit too loosely around it. To examine the kernels, gently pull back on part of the husk. The kernels should be plump and tightly arranged in rows.
Due to changes that have occurred over time in commercial corn production, corn has become a food where quality is especially important. Over 70% of all corn found in U.S. grocery stores has been genetically modified (GMO) in the form of herbicide-tolerant, or also the form of insect-resistant. One way to avoid the potential GMO risks is to select certified organic corn, since GMO modifications are not allowed in certified organic food.
Traditionally to enjoy the optimal sweetness of fresh corn, it was recommended to eat it the day of purchase. If you are not intending to eat it right away, store corn in an air-tight container or tightly wrapped plastic bag in the refrigerator. Do not remove its husk since this will protect its flavor. Fresh corn freezes well if placed in heavy-duty freezer bags. To prepare whole ears for freezing, blanch them first for five minutes depending. If you just want to freeze the kernels, first blanch the ears and then cut the kernels off the cob at about three-quarters of their depths. Frozen whole corn on the cob will keep for up to one year, while the kernels can be frozen for two to three months.
TIPS FOR PREPARING
Corn can be eaten raw. Make sure and wash it well or soak it in some water with baking soda for a few minutes before cutting. It can also be boiled or steamed, make sure not to add salt or overcook as the corn will tend to become hard and lose its flavor. It can also be broiled in the husk. If broiling, first soak the corn in the husk beforehand.
HOW TO ENJOY
- Eat corn on the cob either just as is or seasoned with a little organic butter, olive oil or flaxseed oil, salt and pepper, nutritional yeast or any other herbs or spices you enjoy.
- Sauté cooked corn with green chilies and onions. Served hot, this makes a wonderful side dish.
- Enjoy a cold salad by combining raw or cooked corn kernels, quinoa, tomatoes, green peppers and red kidney beans.
- Add corn kernels and diced tomatoes to guacamole to give it extra zing.
- Add corn to soup, to enhance its hardiness.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
University of Tennessee – Research on Corn