The Health Benefits of Corn Will Make You Love It Even More

Here, the a-maize-ing corn nutrition facts and wellness perks that prove the veggie deserves a spot on your table all year long.

three red plates scattered against a blue background. Plates contain grilled corn on a cob garnished with lemon and herbs on a red plate
Photo: Nadine Greeff / Stocksy

There's a lot to love about corn, aka maize. It's sweet, juicy, and deliciously versatile. Corn is also a staple in summer celebrations and cold-weather comfort, whether it's grilled at a barbeque or added to your chili. But beyond its adaptability and mouthwatering flavor, corn is packed with essential nutrients. Not convinced? Here, discover all the need-to-know health benefits of corn — plus, corn recipe ideas for enjoying the iconic veggie.

What Is Corn?

Although it's eaten as a vegetable, corn is actually a grain, according to the University of Maryland. It's part of the grass family along with oats, rice, wheat, and barley. The corn plant consists of a tall stem or stalk, which grows cylindrical structures called cobs or "ears" — each of which yields hundreds of edible kernels that are wrapped in inedible shucks (aka peels or husks). And while there are hundreds of types of corn, sweet corn is the variety that likely comes to mind when most people think of the grain-slash-veggie, as it's the one that most are accustomed to eating, according to Colorado State University (CSU). As such, this article will focus on sweet corn nutrition and health benefits and the ingredient will be referred to as a veggie since that's how it's commonly used.

Corn Nutrition

Eat an ear of corn and you'll nab a myriad of essential nutrients, including (but not limited to!) fiber, magnesium, potassium, calcium, selenium, and vitamins A and C, according to CSU. What's more, the veggie is packed with disease-busting antioxidants, shares Bess Berger, R.D.N., C.D.N., a registered dietitian and founder of Nutrition by Bess. In fact, "corn has the highest antioxidant [content] of any grain — more than wheat and rice," she notes. Sweet corn is a starchy veggie, meaning it's higher in carbs than other vegetables. These carbs provide calories (and therefore, energy) for the body, according to the American Heart Association.

Here's the nutritional profile of one medium ear of corn (~102 grams), according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

  • 367 calories
  • 3 grams protein
  • 1 gram fat
  • 19 grams carbohydrate
  • 2 grams fiber
  • 6 grams sugar

Health Benefits of Corn

Okay, so the corn nutrition benefits are aplenty. What does that mean for you? Ahead, learn about its health benefits, according to dietitians.

Staves Off Chronic Conditions

Corn contains an impressive cocktail of antioxidants, including lutein, zeaxanthin, quercetin, and vitamins C and E, according to Symone Moodoo, R.D., a registered dietitian. ICYDK, antioxidants scavenge and fight free radicals, which are harmful compounds that, when present in excess, can cause oxidative stress. Over time, oxidative stress can damage cells and fuel the development of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But eating antioxidant-rich foods — such as corn — can help reduce the risk, says Moodoo.

Supports Digestive Health

Corn is chock full of insoluble fiber, which draws in water from the gut, ultimately adding volume and bulk to your stool, says Moodoo. This can help promote digestive regularity, potentially preventing or alleviating constipation, she adds. The staple food also contains some soluble fiber, the type that dissolves in water, according to Oklahoma State University. This forms a gel and, in turn, helps firm up the stool and ease diarrhea. So, if you're looking to fine-tune your diet in the name of smoother number twos, consider adding corn to your rotation.

Promotes Heart Health

Next on the list of the health benefits of corn? Its ability to keep your ticker, well, ticking. The yellow veggie contains myriad nutrients required for cardiovascular well-being, including potassium and magnesium — both of which support healthy blood pressure. Potassium, in particular, is also essential for overall heart function, explains Moodoo. Meanwhile, magnesium also supports healthy blood pressure, according to a 2018 article. Even the vitamin C in corn plays a role, as its antioxidant properties protect cells and organs from oxidative damage, according to Berger.

The soluble fiber in corn helps, too. Here's why: Your liver uses cholesterol to make bile acids or molecules that support fat absorption, according to Harvard Health Publishing. But when you eat soluble fiber, it binds with bile acids in the gut, and when the fiber leaves your body via poop, it brings along those bile acids. So, your liver pulls cholesterol from the blood to make more bile acids, which reduces blood cholesterol levels. This is great news for your heart, as high blood cholesterol levels can increase the risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Supports Eye Health

ICYMI above, corn offers lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidant compounds. Specifically, they're carotenoids, which are the orange, yellow, and red plant pigments that give corn its iconic color. But that's not all carotenoids can do: They can also protect your peepers due to their antioxidant properties, which work against oxidative stress in the eyes, says Chantel Moodoo, R.D. This is key because oxidative damage can contribute to age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts and glaucoma, according to a 2019 scientific review. But, as the article notes, by fueling up on carotenoids — via corn, for example — you can help keep such eye conditions at bay.

Potential Risks of Corn

If you have diabetes or blood sugar concerns, you may need to eat corn in moderation, according to the American Diabetes Association. Corn is a starchy veggie, meaning it contains more carbs than other non-starchy vegetables (e.g. cucumbers, tomatoes). Depending on the person and serving size, the higher content of carbs may cause more intense spikes in blood sugar, according to the University of Utah. And while corn has a fairly moderate glycemic index (i.e. measurement of a food based on how much it can increase blood sugar), it's a good idea to talk to your doc about how corn can fit into your diet if you have blood sugar concerns.

Also, you might need to limit your corn intake if you have hyperkalemia (high blood potassium), says Chantel. In this scenario, eating potassium-rich foods (see: corn) might raise your blood potassium levels even more, potentially causing complications such as muscle fatigue, irregular heart rhythms, and nausea, according to the Mayo Clinic. And while an allergy to corn is rare, you're more likely to be allergic to the veggie if you're allergic to latex, strawberries, tomatoes, peaches, and apples, as these ingredients share proteins with corn, according to a 2020 article.

How to Buy and Eat Corn

Here's the deal: Corn is found in a lot of foods in the grocery store because it's one of the most widely used ingredients in highly processed foods (e.g. soda, cereal, cookies, candy), says Chantel. In these products, you can find corn in countless forms, including high-fructose corn syrup, corn oil, and corn flour. However, when corn is turned into these highly processed ingredients, it loses fiber, vitamins, and minerals, explains Chantel. Plus, the food items that contain these far less nutritious versions of corn also tend to often have added salt, sugar, and saturated fat for flavor and texture. TL;DR: Not all corn-containing products are equal, and if you want the perks mentioned above, whole corn kernels are the way to go.

Whole kernels are commonly available in the supermarket as fresh, frozen, and canned varieties. The fresh option is found in the produce section as whole ears of corn (see: corn with its kernels), which is often called corn on the cob. The frozen and canned versions are kernels that have been removed from the cob. All three varieties are nutritious options, says Symone, but if you're watching your sodium intake, go for no or low-sodium varieties when choosing canned or frozen corn.

When buying fresh corn, look for ears with kernels that are bright yellow, firm, and plump and shucks that are green — signs that indicate that the corn is fresh, according to the University of Kentucky. At home, store the corn unshucked until you're ready to use them. While the veggie is often found at room temperature in grocery stores, you might want to keep yours in the fridge to preserve quality, according to CSU.

When it's time to eat, you'll need to remove the tough inedible husks around the corn — a process known as shucking. Simply hold the corn in one hand and use the other hand to pull the husks down until you can see the bottom of the veggie (i.e. the first few rows of kernels). Keep at it until all of the husks are pulled down; then, you should gather them in one hand and snap 'em off the corn, according to the University of Illinois. Finally, remove the stringy strands and rinse the ear under cool running water.

After shucking the corn, you can eat it raw, grilled, steamed, boiled, or baked. Alternatively, you can remove the kernels before cooking by running a sharp knife down the cob — just pay attention and go slowly to avoid any accidents. Want to retain as many nutrients as possible? Steaming is the way to go, says Berger.

When it comes to cooking, great news: "Corn is very versatile and can be prepared in countless ways," says Berger. Here, discover several tasty ways to enjoy the benefits of corn:

In salsa. For an easy way to eat the veggie, add canned corn to store-bought or homemade salsa and eat it with chips or your fave protein.

On the cob. Complete your summer spread with fresh grilled corn on the cob. No grill? No problem. You can also roast corn in the oven until it's deliciously crispy. Enjoy it with seasonings such as simple black pepper and salt, or add herbs such as cilantro.

In salads. For instant color and flavor, add corn kernels to your next salad.

As tortillas. Corn tortillas are a staple in Mexican cuisine. You can buy them pre-packaged at the store or make them yourself with masa harina (aka corn flour). Try this recipe for homemade corn tortillas by Isabel Eats, a Mexican food blog; from there, you can use them for tasty eats such as tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.

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