Wheat and corn aren't as one-dimensional as you might think. They're labeled as carbohydrates because that's mostly what they contain, but both plants have other important nutrients. You might not want to live solely on wheat or corn, but they can be part of a well-balanced diet.
Amber Waves of Grain
Try making it through an entire trip to the grocery store without purchasing any wheat or corn products — you'll quickly realize that many foods contain wheat or corn, or their derivatives like flour and corn syrup.
They're both a staple in Western diets for a reason: They're cheap, easy to grow in bulk and nutritious. If you drive through middle America, you'll see waves of corn and wheat farms, which give you an idea of the importance and pervasiveness of these plants.
Corn is used in many products, but you can eat it without any processing. Simply take an ear of ripe corn and boil or grill it to soften the kernels inside. Add a little olive oil, salt and pepper to make it a delicious side dish.
Wheat, on the other hand, isn't meant to be eaten alone. You need to process it in some way to turn the seeds into something edible. Typically it's ground into flour and used to make products like bread.
Corn Nutrition Facts
Eating an ear of corn gives you about:
- 58 calories
- 0.5 gram of fat
- 14 grams of carbs
- 2 grams of protein
- 2 grams of fiber
- 3 grams of sugar
- 160 grams of potassium
Keep in mind that an ear of corn can come in many shapes and sizes, which changes the nutrition facts. Either way, corn is mostly carbohydrate with some fiber and protein. There are also small amounts of vitamins A, C and some of the B vitamins. Minerals like iron, magnesium and copper are also found in small amounts.
Read more: What Is the Nutritional Value of Corn?
Wheat and Wheat Berries
Wheat stalks grow and produce seeds called wheat berries. These little seeds are harvested and then processed into products like flour. The seeds have three distinct parts: bran, endosperm and germ.
The Shell: Wheat Bran
The bran is the outermost shell. The difference between whole-wheat flour and white, processed flour is this shell. Whole-wheat products use the shell and white flour discards it.
As the protective layer of the seed, the bran has to be tough. That means it contains a lot of fiber. Fiber is a form of carbohydrate, but it's not very useful in terms of energy for your body.
It's actually difficult to digest, which makes you feel full faster. You're less likely to overeat if you feel full, which is why fiber is important if you're trying to lose or maintain weight. Fiber also helps your digestive system.
Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day and men 38 grams, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You probably need to consume more, though, because only about 5 percent of Americans consume their daily amount of fiber, according to the study.
Read more: Wheat Bran Nutrition Information
Processed and Unprocessed Flour
Whole grain foods contain fiber because they incorporate every part of the wheat berry. However, many grain products don't use the whole seed. Processed, white flower doesn't contain the outer shell, and is therefore devoid of fiber.
One hundred grams of processed white flour contain:
- 333 calories
- 10 grams of protein
- 77 grams of carbs
- 3 grams of fiber
While 100 grams of unprocessed, whole-wheat flour contain:
- 321 calories
- 2 grams of fat
- 14 grams of protein
- 71 grams of carbs
- 11 grams of fiber
There's more fiber in unprocessed, whole-wheat flour because the shell is included. There's also more protein in unprocessed flour. Processed, white flour has more calories by weight than unprocessed flour. It also has more carbohydrates.
Maize Flour vs. Wheat Flour
There's also a form of corn flour known as maize. There's a difference in corn vs. wheat flour in texture and flavor, and maize can't replace flour in recipes. However, you can make starchy dishes like cornbread with maize. If you're gluten intolerant, you can have corn flour, which at least allows you to eat baked goods.
One hundred grams of corn flour have:
- 379 calories
- 10 grams of protein
- 5 grams of fat
- 75 grams of carbs
- 7 grams of fiber
Corn flour is in between unprocessed and processed flour in terms of nutritional value. It's higher in calories, which may be due to the higher amount of fat. Both forms of flour have negligible amount of vitamins and minerals.
Popcorn Nutrition Facts
Corn nutrition is slightly different, depending on the type of corn you're eating. Popcorn uses a special kind of corn that pops when heated because there's a trace amount of water in the seed. Popcorn is a specific type of kernel — it's actually a whole grain form of corn. One serving of popcorn can give you 70 percent of your daily recommended intake of whole grains, according to Popcorn.org.
If you pop your kernels on a stovetop with some olive oil, the nutrition facts for 1 cup are:
- 40 calories
- 1.5 grams of fat
- 6 grams of carbs
- 1 gram of protein
- 2 grams of fiber
There's a higher ratio of fiber to carbohydrates in popcorn compared to corn on the cob. The added fiber will help you feel full and reduce the amount of food you want to eat.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from cornstarch. When cornstarch is processed and broken down further, it turns into almost 100 percent glucose, according to an article from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The syrup is then added to foods like soda, candy and even some juices. It has 16 calories per teaspoon, as does sugar. There aren't other nutrients in high fructose corn syrup, which makes it unhealthy in large amounts. Your body is getting sugar and calories but no added nutrients, which can lead to weight gain.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Whole Grains
- MedlinePlus: Dietary Fiber
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber
- Summit Medical Center: Nutrition-Packed Whole Grains
- Whole Grains Council: What Is A Whole Grain?
- Wheat Foods Council: What is Wheat?
- FDA: High Fructose Corn Syrup Questions and Answers
- Coca-Cola Product Facts: Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad for You?
- FitBit: Nutritional Information, Diet Info and Calories in Corn on the Cob, Yellow, Boiled, No Salt
- Popcorn.org: Popcorn: Nutritional Information
- Popcorn.org: Popcorn: Stovetop With Olive Oil
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Whole Wheat Flour, UPC
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: All Purpose White Flour, UPC
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: Corn Flour, UPC