The sweet taste of a fresh ear of corn could make you think that the grain (yes, corn is a grain and not a vegetable) is high in calories, but the opposite is true. The calories in an ear of corn are actually quite low — and corn has several vitamins and minerals to offer too.
An average size ear of corn provides about 59 calories. Popular toppings, such as butter, will add extra calories (102 per tablespoon).
While there is a little bit of controversy surrounding the advantages and disadvantages of corn, this grain boasts powerful antioxidants and can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation.
Corn on the Cob Calories
While the size of an ear of corn can vary greatly, the USDA lists corn on the cob calories as 59.2 for an average size ear (which is defined as 63 grams). If you cut the corn off the cob and eat the individual kernels instead, you're looking at 155 calories per cup. The calories in an ear of corn come from:
- 2 grams of protein
- 0.5 grams of fat
- 14.1 grams of carbohydrates (including 1.8 grams of fiber and 2.3 grams of sugars)
Read more: If You Have Diabetes, Is It Bad to Eat Corn?
The calorie count will change significantly if you add toppings. Each tablespoon of butter, for example, will add 102 calories. In addition to macronutrients, namely protein, carbs and fats, an ear of corn also provides:
- 18.3 grams of magnesium
- 47.2 grams of phosphorus
- 3 milligrams of vitamin C
- 19.5 micrograms of folate
- 146 IU (International Units) of vitamin A
Corn is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that promote eye health. According to the American Optometric Association, these bioactive compounds may help prevent chronic eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Corn
Although it seems innocuous, there's actually a lot of debate on the advantages and disadvantages of corn. This grain is low in calories and offers several vitamins, minerals and carotenoids that may benefit your health. Yet, proponents of the paleo-style diet point out that, because corn is a grain and not a vegetable, it contains high amounts of compounds called lectins.
Lectins are classified as "anti-nutrients" as they can block the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals in the gut. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, corn and other whole grains contain both lectins and phytates, which may interfere with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc. Other similar compounds, such as saponins, may prevent your body from absorbing any nutrients the way it should.
Read more: List of Foods that Contain Lectin
But that doesn't mean lectins are all bad. The Harvard T.H. Chan School also notes that phytates may also lower blood cholesterol, slow down digestion and balance blood sugar. Furthermore, a report published in the August 2013 issue of Cell Proliferation points out that some lectins may help prevent certain types of cancer, especially when they're combined with an otherwise healthy diet.
Another discussion that often arises around the topic of corn is the issue of genetic modification. While there haven't been extensive studies on the effect of GMO crops on human health, one study that was presented at the International Conference on Agricultural, Ecological and Medical Sciences in July 2014 reported that eating GMO-containing foods may trigger allergic reactions and contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.
Researchers also noted that genetic modification can change the nutritional values of food products, decreasing some nutrients and increasing others. Since 92 percent of corn crops in the U.S are genetically engineered, according to the Center for Food Safety, this is something to think about. If you prefer to avoid GMO corn, choose organic corn on the cob instead.
- USDA FoodData Central: "Corn, Sweet, Yellow, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt"
- Center for Food Safety: "About Genetically Engineered Foods"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Are Anti-Nutrients Harmful?"
- Cell Proliferation: "Could Plant Lectins Become Promising Anti‐Tumour Drugs for Causing Autophagic Cell Death?"
- American Optometric Association: "Lutein and Zeaxanthin"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Butter, Stick, Salted"
- International Conference on Agricultural, Ecological and Medical Sciences: "Impacts of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) on Human Health"