Do You Eat Corn? - by Rebecca Ejifoma

To many people, corn is the food of the poor. But researchers posit that corn is good both for the rich and the poor. Eating corn either from the cob or in any form helps in stabilising the passage of food through digestive tract just as it provides blood sugar benefits.

Across Nigeria’s regions, corn is popular. Certainly, corn is not only seen as something to munch, especially during lunch hour in the country, but as a means of livelihood. Perhaps its aroma and the simplicity around it makes corn a food for all. But a lot of people who eat corn are unconscious of its health benefits. To them, corn is just a food that is easy to come by, especially during the rainy season when it can be seen being roasted by the roadside.

True, corn, being popular worldwide, is a staple food that many people enjoy in various forms like, whole corn, corn flour, cornstarch, corn gluten, corn syrup, cornmeal, corn oil, popcorn, cornflakes and pap among others.

Rated as one of the healthiest foods in the world, corn is sold and prepared in many forms. While it is called corn in the North American English it is known as maize in the British English. It is said that corn is mouth-watering when mixed with other food. It is used to produce other food such as popcorn, corn flakes. And corn could serve as a side savour for other food staples like prepared with porridge beans and also to make pap among others, when it comes to diet.

Naturally, corn has an appealing smell that passers-by fall victim to and a fetching shiny colour when out of its cob. It remains the only cuisine you can cook without ingredient yet with an inviting aroma and without salt yet a sweet taste. With is nature of long lasting-chewing before you can swallow; hence, it is very much satiating.

Even while your teeth gnash in the rain lovers of corn chew with ease and attention. However, for ladies, it could be a substitute for chewing-gum, since it lasts longer in the mouth. Corn is used as a sweetener in most of the soft drinks and other commercial products that call for a low-cost sweetening agent. A single corn bushel can sweeten about 400 cans of soft drinks.

Meanwhile, research has concluded that eaters of corn stand chances of having benefits from its high in carbohydrate content and multiple nutrients including: being a food with plenty of chewing satisfaction it is high ratio of insoluble-to-soluble fibre, the nutrient content gets enhanced more when combined with other foods like beans. Fibre and protein are key macronutrients for stabilizing the passage of food through digestive tract. Sweet corn is loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, two phytochemicals that promote healthy vision, provides many B-complex vitamins including vitamins B1, B5 and folic acid and its notable protein content (about 5-6 grams per cup), it also provides blood sugar benefits. Corn-bean meals (consumed in the form of porridge) have been shown to help improve overall nutrient status and to help provide outstanding nutrient richness in the diet.

Although, yellow corn is the most commonly seen in the environments and in farm produce, it comes in a host of varieties of colours including: white, red, pink, black, purple and blue respectively. Each of these varieties has its own unique health-supportive combination of antioxidant phytonutrients.

Also, studies have shown that corn involves its potential anti-HIV activity. Lectins are special proteins found in virtually all foods (and in almost all organisms) that can bind onto carbohydrates or onto carbohydrate receptors found on cell membranes. In the case of some micro-organisms (including the HIV virus), the binding of lectins onto sugars has been shown to help inhibit activity of the virus. One specific lectin found in corn called, “GNAmaize”, has preliminarily been shown to possess this HIV-inhibiting property. But more research is needed to determine the relationship between everyday consumption of corn as a whole food and HIV infection risk.

Other Benefits of Corn
Antioxidant: Different varieties of corn highlight different combinations of antioxidant phytonutrients. In the case of yellow corn, carotenoids lead the way and provide high concentrations of lutein and zeaxanthin. Blue corn has unique concentrations of anthocyanins. In the case of purple corn, it provides unusual amounts of the hydroxybenzoic acid called protocatechuic acid. Ferulic acid, beta-carotene, vanillic acid, coumaric acid, caffeic acid, and syringic acid are other key phytonutrients provided by corn.

Most studies of disease and risk reduction from dietary antioxidant intake have not looked specifically at corn and its impressive combination of antioxidants. However, in several small-scale studies, corn has been directly mentioned as a food that was important in overall antioxidant protection and a contributing factor in the decreased risk of cardiovascular problems. Some of the mechanisms for decreased cardio risk may be related to other properties of corn's phytonutrients that go beyond their antioxidant properties.

One great piece of news about corn's antioxidants is the practice of drying corn (still on the cob) or separated corn kernels. According to research studies the drying of corn in temperature ranges as high as 150°-200°F (65°-93°C) does not significantly lower corn's antioxidant capacity. Interestingly, more studies have determined that the percent of amylose starch found in corn may be related to its antioxidant capacity. Higher amylose corn varieties have shown higher antioxidant capacity in some preliminary studies. While the jury is out on the exact meaning of these findings, this research reminds us to keep an open mind about the potential importance of antioxidant health benefits from corn.

Digestive Benefits
Only those who have eaten fresh corn-on-the-cob or freshly popped popcorn will know how satiating this grain-food can be to chew. At 4.6 grams of fibre per cup, corn is a good fibre source and its intake is often associated with good overall consumption. For example, persons who eat popcorn tend to have two to three times more overall whole grain intake than persons who do not eat it as well as a higher overall fibre intake.

Corn fibre, which gives the chewing satisfaction, is one of the keys to its well-documented digestive benefits. From studies, it has been concluded that corn can support the growth of friendly bacteria in the large intestine and can also be transformed by these bacteria into short chain fatty acids, or SCFAs. These SCFAs can supply energy to the intestinal cells, thereby, help lower the risk of intestinal problems, including the risk of colon cancer. The amount of corn fibre analysed in recent studies has been relatively high at 12 grams per day. That's the same amount provided by about 2.5 cups of fresh corn.

Blood Sugar Benefits
It provides many B-complex including vitamins B1, B5 and folic acid. And with its notable protein content (about six grams per cup), corn is a food that would be expected to provide blood sugar benefits. Fibre and protein are key macronutrients for stabilising the passage of food through the digestive tract. Sufficient fibre 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 fibre also help prevent too rapid or too slow uptake of sugar from the digestive tract up into the bloodstream.

In ordinary amounts of 1-2 cups, the consumption of corn has been shown to be associated with better blood sugar control in types 1 and 2 diabetes. Fasting glucose and fasting insulin levels have been used to verify these blood sugar benefits. Besides, in elementary school-age and teenage youths already diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, whole grain cornbread has emerged in one study as the food with the highest acceptability among all whole grain foods.

Anti-HIV Activity
A new area of research on corn involves its potential anti-HIV activity. Lectins are special proteins found in virtually all foods (and for that matter, in virtually all organisms) that can bind onto carbohydrates or onto carbohydrate receptors that are found on cell membranes. In the case of some micro-organisms (including the HIV virus), the binding of lectins onto sugars has been shown to help inhibit activity of the virus. One specific lectin found in corn (called GNAmaize) has preliminarily been shown to possess this HIV-inhibiting property.

Nutritional Content
The nutritional value of cornflakes is almost similar to that of cooked corn. One large ear of cooked yellow corn contains almost 4 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of dietary fibre, around 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of fat, 3.6 grams of sugar, around 100 grams of water, no cholesterol and amounts to 126 calories. Below is more corn nutrition facts and information about the vitamin and mineral content in one large ear of yellow corn, which is cooked without salt. Corn is a good source of pantothenic acid, phosphorus, niacin, dietary fibre, manganese, and vitamin B6.

Side Effects of Corn Consumption
As much as it has packaged much health benefits for consumers, corn, like every other food, has got some effects. Corn allergies are seen in adults as well as in children. When a person becomes allergic to corn, his body develops antibodies against corn proteins. Therefore, as soon as the person consumes corn products or even inhales corn particles or pollen, the immune system reacts against it, which gives rise to allergic reactions on the body. As corn is consumed by a large number of people, the number of corn allergy cases is increasing.

Symptoms of corn allergy vary from very mild to severe ones. They are also found to differ from person to person. When a person is over sensitive to corn, consuming even a small quantity of corn can result in development of symptoms including vomiting, migraine headache, rash, abdominal pain and bloating, gas, nausea, itchy skin, swelling of tongue and mouth, and fever Other several symptoms observed, from research are: Diarrhea, Urinary tract infection (UTI), Allergic asthma, Mood swing, Arthritis and Anaphylaxis, which is the severest symptom of corn allergy. Although a rare condition, it can be life-threatening. It can lead to impairment of several bodily functions. Anaphylaxis occurs unexpectedly and can be seen in children as well as adults. The symptoms of Anaphylaxis include: sudden drop in blood pressure, difficulty in breathing, tightness in chest, dizziness and unconsciousness among others.

As shown on MedPage Today research corn is harmless in those with diverticulitis. However, if you have diverticulitis and experience worsening of symptoms after eating corn, experts have advised to avoid it.

With both benefits and effects of corn, it can be determined that when consumed in moderation and in its fresh form, it remains one of the healthiest food in the world. Grown for human consumption worldwide, it remains one of the most used food staples in the globe. According to findings, commercial producers of corn are the United States, China, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and South Africa, Egypt, Canada, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, Argentina as well as Nigeria among others. So, whenever you travel abroad, be rest assured that your corn, whether roast or boiled lurks for you so long you know where to get it.