Although summer is winding down, there’s still plenty of time to fire up the barbecue and nothing adds to the BBQ menu like fresh corn on the cob. Boiled, foiled, or baked, on or off the cob, gluten-free corn delivers a variety of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber in every delicious mouthful.
Fresh corn, usually classified as a vegetable, is one of the most widely grown vegetables throughout the world, including in North America, China, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, and South Africa. On the other hand, when dried, corn (including popcorn) is considered a whole grain when the kernel has been retained.
Originally from the Americas, Christopher Columbus carried corn back to Spain, recognizing its high yield per acre as compared to other types of grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. Over time, corn has become the dominant crop.
Although you are probably most familiar with yellow corn, there are many corn varieties in many colors. All types come from the same genus and species of plant – Zea mays.
However, more than 100 subspecies and varieties exist within Zea mays and their kernels can be white, yellow, pink, red, blue, purple, or black. While all varieties offer antioxidant phytonutrients that fight free radicals, each variety offers a unique combination.
Yellow corn, in particular, contains a higher concentration of the carotenoids lutein and zeazanthin, which help maintain vision and eye health. Blue corn has a richer supply of anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogen anthocyanins, which help prevent cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity. Purple corn offers a particular hydroxybenzoic acid (protacatechuic acid), which may reduce the effects of arthritis.
In addition to antioxidants, corn also contains vitamins and minerals. With a high concentration of Beta-carotene, corn offers up to 10 times more Vitamin A than other grains.
Vitamin A protects against cancers, measles and age-related macular degeneration. Corn also contains the B Vitamins: B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid) and B9 (folic acid). Niacin supports healthy skin, nerves, digestion and also boosts HDL (good) cholesterol. Pantothenic acid is necessary to efficiently metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and to maintain healthy skin. Folic acid supports cell production and a healthy circulatory system.
Corn also contains phosphorus and manganese. Phosphorus works with the B vitamins to regulate muscle contractions, heartbeat and nerve impulses and to maintain kidney function. Manganese impacts many chemical processes affecting cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein and bone formation.
As well, corn is high in dietary fiber – four grams per cup of soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber helps reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol by reducing cholesterol absorption and increasing expulsion.
Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation by promoting soft and bulky stool that is easily expelled, reducing your risk of constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, hemorrhoids, diarrhea and/or colon cancer.
Recent research indicates that corn fiber can be easily metabolized into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in your large intestine; SCFAs support friendly bacteria in the bowel and also provide a direct supply of energy and nutrients to the cells lining your large intestine, further reducing your risk of colon cancer.
Because corn is relatively low in calories (143 calories/cup), it can be part of a weight loss/management program; 73% water, corn’s bulk can satisfy an appetite without excess calories and its protein (six g/cup) and fiber can keep you feeling full longer. However, since corn is rated ‘medium’ in the glycemic index, be sure to monitor concurrent carbohydrate consumption, since corn could moderately boost your blood sugar. One cup has 31 grams of carbs – almost a quarter of the daily recommended intake
Whether shopping at a roadside stand, a local market, or grocery store, select the freshest, most nutritious ears of corn. Husks should be fresh and green, not dried or wilted with leaves that securely envelope the ear. Gently pull back a small section of leaf to see the condition of the kernels.
The kernels of good quality corn should be plump, not dented, and should run lengthwise in parallel rows down the cob. As well, avoid microbial contamination by choosing cobs that have been kept shaded, cool and/or refrigerated.
For best flavor, cook corn the day you buy it. Or, store it in its husk in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to three days. To prepare just before steaming or boiling, husk the cob. To retain nutrients, steam for five minutes.
If boiling, place cobs in boiling water and once the water returns to a boil, boil the cob two minutes longer. If cooking on the BBQ, wrap corn with husks in foil and place on the grill for around 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Enjoy corn, a renewable body fuel.
Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.