Do you enjoy the fresh, sweet taste of corn as a side dish? Love to eat it right off the cob? Simply can't enjoy movie night without popcorn? However you eat it, corn deserves a regular place in your diet for its healthy, nutritious, low-fat profile made of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Corn may also provide benefits to the health of your eyes, bones and digestive system.
Fresh, frozen and canned corn, along with popcorn, should be part of your healthy balanced diet. Corn contains vitamin C, magnesium, B vitamins, potassium and antioxidants that support your immune system.
Vegetable or Grain?
Actually, it's both.
Corn on the cob, or sweet corn, is a traditional summertime favorite and considered to be a member of the starchy vegetable group, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Several different cultivars of sweet corn exist with variations in sweetness, color and maturation. Sweet corn is available canned or frozen and comes in many varieties, such as white, bicolor and creamed.
Whole baby corn is miniature sweet corn that is harvested very young when the kernels are still at the incipient stage. Baby corn is sweet and tender enough to be eaten raw.
Corn that's left to dry is consumed as a grain. Popcorn is considered a whole grain. Not just any corn will pop, though. Popcorn is a specially cultivated variety. It has a hard, moisture-resistant hull surrounding a dense pocket of starch that explodes when heat from steam builds up inside the hull.
Used to feed livestock and for making corn syrup, field corn is also a grain. Hominy, another grain, is made by soaking corn in an alkali solution, which makes the B vitamins and amino acids more bioavailable, according to the Whole Grains Council. Polenta is a grain made from coarsely ground corn.
Compared to other vegetables, sweet corn is moderately high in calories with 96 calories per 100-gram serving, which is slightly more than half a cup.
As a grain, air-popped popcorn is low in calories with 62 calories per serving. An average serving of popped popcorn is about 2 cups. Calories are necessary for healthy metabolism, and the Dietary Guidelines recommends your daily intake be 1,600 to 2,400 for adult women and 2,000 to 3,000 for men, depending on age.
Low in Fat
Air-popped popcorn contains only 0.6 gram of total fat per 2-cup serving, but if you smother your popcorn with butter, that raises the amount of fat and calories significantly. Try adding flavor with spices, herbs or nutritional yeast to keep the fat to a minimum.
Carbs for Energy
The carbohydrates in sweet corn are healthy, plant-based, complex carbs important in your diet for the production of energy needed for metabolic and physical processes. Carbs help fuel your brain, heart, kidneys and nervous system. The Dietary Guidelines recommends that you get at least 130 grams of carbs every day. Sweet corn offers 19 grams of total carbs per 100 grams; popcorn has 12.4 grams per 2-cup serving.
Helps Your Digestive System
Fiber is vital for the health of your digestive system and to keep you regular. Both sweet corn and popcorn provide 10 percent of your recommended daily value with 2.4 grams per serving.
The fiber in sweet corn is notoriously hard to digest, so it's tops at adding bulk to help food move through your stomach, intestines and out of your body. This can help prevent constipation or diarrhea as well as decrease your risk of developing hemorrhoids or diverticular disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In addition, fiber can help improve your blood cholesterol levels, reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke and even help manage Type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. Dietary Guidelines recommends that your daily diet include between 22.4 and 33.6 grams of fiber, depending on your gender and age.
Sweetness in Corn
Because sweet corn is harvested when it's immature, the kernels have more sugar content than starch. Although the amount differs between varieties, sweet corn contains 4.5 grams of sugar in each 100-gram serving. That amount is less than half the sugar in a banana and less than one-third the sugar in a serving of beets.
It's true that consuming too much sugar may put you at risk for disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood cholesterol and cavities, says the Heart and Stroke Association. But eating too much sugar typically results from sugar added to processed foods or from high fructose corn sugar.
The harmful effects from excess added sugars does not usually apply to consuming sugar from naturally occurring fructose found in corn and other vegetables eaten as part of a healthy diet. It would be difficult to consume so much corn that you would exceed your daily limit of sugar. Dietary Guidelines recommends that the amount of added sugar you consume each day not exceed 10 percent of your caloric intake.
Increase Bone Density
Corn is a good natural source of magnesium, with sweet corn offering 26 milligrams per 100 grams and popcorn supplying 21 milligrams per serving. About 50 to 60 percent of the magnesium in your body resides in your bones, so diets that are high in magnesium have been shown to increase bone density — a measure of bone strength — and may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in women after menopause.
The potassium in sweet corn — 218 milligrams per 100 grams — is also important to the health of your bones by increasing bone mineral density. Popcorn has 48 milligrams per serving. Getting too little potassium can deplete calcium in your bones, according to the National Institutes of Health. Your body also needs potassium for proper kidney and heart function, muscle contraction and nerve transmission.
Corn is a good source of phosphorus, with sweet corn containing 77 milligrams per serving and popcorn containing 48 milligrams. Phosphorus is another element that's important for bone growth. With 85 percent of your body's phosphorus found in your bones as calcium phosphate, a deficiency of this mineral can cause serious bone disease.
Vitamins Vital to Health
Sweet corn contains the antioxidant vitamin C, with 9 percent per serving, which helps protect your body's cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals that may be responsible for disease.
Corn for Weight Loss
The high content of dietary fiber in corn may help you manage your weight by slowing digestion, making you feel full sooner. That may prevent you from overeating or snacking later so you get fewer calories overall. Harvard Health Publishing suggests that eating 30 grams of fiber every day may help you lose weight.
The carbs in corn measure between 55 and 60 on the glycemic index or GI. The GI is a ranking of how fast a carbohydrate food raises your blood glucose level. A rating of 55 or less is considered a low value.
You may think that eating the high carbs in corn or popcorn will make you gain weight. But a study shows that a high-carb diet, in combination with low fats, high fiber and foods low on the glycemic index, has a positive effect on weight management, according to a 2018 analysis reported in Nutrients. After 16 weeks, overweight participants experienced overall loss of body weight and body fat as well as a decrease in insulin resistance without adding any exercise.
Improve Your Vision
Corn has a high content of zeaxanthin along with its isomer lutein, which contributes to the characteristic color of yellow corn. These fat-soluble antioxidant carotenoids are found in the retina of your eye. Your body can't synthesize these compounds; they must be supplied by your diet.
A 2017 study used corn as one of the food sources to evaluate the association between lutein and zeaxanthin and eye health. Evidence from the study, published in Nutrients, determined that a diet that includes lutein and zeaxanthin may prevent or delay the progression of macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness.
Interestingly, researchers found that cooking foods containing carotenoids enhances their bioavailability compared to uncooked foods.
- Dietary Guidelines, 2015-2020: Chapter 1: Key Elements of Health Eating Patterns
- Whole Grains Council: Types of Corn
- NutritionValue: Corn, Without Salt, Drained, Boiled, Cooked, Yellow, Sweet
- NutritionValue: Snacks, Air-Popped (Unsalted), Popcorn
- CookItSimply: Sweet Corn, Fresh
- Dietary Guidelines, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level
- Dietary Guidelines, 2015-2020: Appendix 7. Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations
- American Heart Association: Whole Grains, Refined Grains and Dietary Fiber
- Think Bioenergy: Did You Know There Were 6 Different Types of Corn?
- NutritionValue: Bananas, Raw
- NutritionValue: Beets, With Salt, Boiled. Drained, Cooked
- Heart and Stroke Foundation: Reduce Sugar
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium
- National Institutes of Health: Potassium
- American Bone Health: Minerals for Bone Health
- Harvard Health Publishing: Making One Change — Getting More Fiber — Can Help With Weight Loss
- University of Sydney: Search for the Glycemic Index
- Nutrients: A Plant-Based High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet in Overweight Individuals in a 16-Week Randomized Clinical Trial: The Role of Carbohydrates
- Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics: Zeaxanthin Biofortification of Sweet-Corn and Factors Affecting Zeaxanthin Accumulation and Colour Change
- Nutrients: Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Food Sources, Bioavailability and Dietary Variety in Age-Related Macular Degeneration Protection
- Calculate This: How Much Popcorn Per Person Calculator
- Mayo Clinic: Nutrition and Healthy Eating