Reader Q & A: Is Organic Corn OK?

Dear Living Well Daily Reader,

Last week, this reader question surfaced in our mailbag, and the simplicity of it struck me. The answer, however, isn’t quite so simple.

Q: Is organic corn OK?

A: Like so many aspects of nutrition, it depends.

Before I discuss the pros and cons of organic sweet corn, I want to take a step back and mention the state of nonorganic and GMO corn.

Unlike the corn grown for animal feed and corn syrup, GM sweet corn is relatively new to the market. It was introduced in 2012 and can be found in frozen and canned products as well as fresh in the produce aisle.

The GM variety has been genetically modified to resistant to Roundup, and it produces its own insecticide via gene splicing with the Bt toxin. (I wrote more about that here.)

GM sweet corn isn’t prevalent in the market, but it’s out there. And all non-organic corn is likely to have some pesticide residue on it, but sweet corn is actually number 49 of the Environmental Working Group’s guide to pesticides in produce. That means it is actually one of the least pesticide-laden food.

But in absence of a non-GMO label, the only way to know that the corn is not GM is to buy organic.

So, back to the question: is organic corn OK?

First, let’s look at the nutrient profile of this grain.

(Yep, it’s actually a grain, NOT a vegetable.)

One medium ear (about 7 inches long) contains about 80 calories, 17 grams of carbs, 2.4 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein. It’s also a decent source of vitamin C, providing 10% of the RDA, and contains B vitamins and some minerals like magnesium and manganese.

Yellow varieties also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are important for eye health.

Some of the fiber in corn is insoluble, meaning it can’t be digested (by humans, anyway). Insoluble fiber does feed beneficial gut flora and helps add bulk to the stool, which keeps waste material flowing out of the colon.

So aside from a moderate amount of carbohydrates, organic sweet corn doesn’t appear all that bad. It is a real food, after all.

Except it is still a grain. And grains can be inflammatory.

Though I couldn’t find any studies showing that sweet corn specifically is inflammatory, I did find a myriad of articles written by doctors that state that corn can be allergenic and is best removed from the diet for people who are trying to reduce inflammation.

It appears that the proteins in corn are similar in shape to gluten proteins, and just like gluten, they can be irritating to the gut lining. This can provoke an immune response leading to localized or systemic inflammation.

Also, despite the fiber content, corn does have a higher glycemic index, meaning that it causes blood sugar to rise rapidly. And high blood sugar can be inflammatory as well.

The bottom line is that unless you have an autoimmune condition or elevated inflammation levels, an occasional ear of organic corn drenched in pastured butter is unlikely to cause much harm. But if you do suffer from inflammatory conditions, joint pain, or an autoimmune disease, I’d keep this and all other grains off your plate.

To eating well,

Regards,

Jasmine LeMaster
Health Researcher

P.S. Have a health topic you’d like us to research? Let us know! livingwelldaily@lfb.org.

We do get a lot of inquiries, so if you’ve sent us a topic in the past and we haven’t addressed it yet, bear with us. We do try our best to get to all reader requests.

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