Sweet Corn and Digestion

Nothing says summer like sweet corn on the cob. But if you get stomach pain from eating corn on the cob, indulging in this seasonal delight comes at a cost. It may be some small comfort to know you're not alone. According to Manhattan Gastroenterology, corn is one of the 10 worst foods for digestive health. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do to prevent sweet corn's effects, so you'll have to weigh the pleasure of eating it against the uncomfortable aftermath.

Many people have a hard time digesting sweet corn. (Image: Eugene Mymrin/Moment/GettyImages)

Sweet Corn Fiber Facts

Sweet corn tastes delicious, but it doesn't top the list of the healthiest vegetables. The nutrition profile of corn doesn't come anywhere near veggies like kale, broccoli and beets. Still, one cup is low in energy with 110 calories and relatively high in protein for a vegetable, with 3.8 grams, according to the USDA. It also offers small amounts of vitamins and minerals, including the B vitamins and potassium.

According to Manhattan Gastroenterology, corn is a rich source of cellulose, a type of insoluble fiber that the body can't break down. Cellulose passes through your digestive system mostly unchanged, adding bulk to stool and helping it move through the intestines. You need some fiber in your diet for digestive health, but too much fiber can cause problems for some people, including bloating, gas and abdominal pain.

One cup of sweet corn provides 3.3 grams of fiber, which is about 13 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for women and close to 9 percent for men. This isn't a lot, but if you eat more than this, you could end up getting a fairly large dose at one time. Especially if you haven't been eating very much fiber, this could be a lot for your body to process. In addition, how different fibers in different foods affect digestion depends on the individual, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. You may have problems digesting cellulose, but not oat bran, psyllium or soy fiber.

Carbohydrate Digestion Disorders

Sweet corn is a high-carbohydrate food, with 23.5 grams per cup. The carbohydrate content is comprised of three types of carbs — fiber, starch and sucrose. All three can cause digestive problems for certain people.

As its name suggests, sweet corn is rich in natural sugars. It contains small amounts of maltose, glucose and fructose, but the sugar content is primarily sucrose. People with a genetic disorder called congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (CSID) are unable to break down sucrose and maltose, which can cause watery diarrhea from corn, as well as abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting and reflux-like symptoms. This disorder can also cause malabsorption of other nutrients, leading to more serious nutritional problems.

Some individuals also have an intolerance to starch. Their bodies can't properly break it down, and they experience symptoms similar to those associated with sucrose intolerance.

Aiding Healthy Digestion

If you experience digestive problems from sweet corn, you may need to limit your intake or cut corn out of your diet altogether. If your problem is eating too much and getting an overdose of fiber, simply limit yourself to a single serving at a time. If you haven't been eating a lot of fiber, start with a small serving and gradually increase your intake over a few weeks. Your body should adjust, and the digestive side effects should resolve.

If you have a carbohydrate intolerance that is exacerbated by eating sweet corn, you will need to strictly limit or avoid it. Your doctor can make a diagnosis using various tests including endoscopic biopsy or a breath hydrogen test. If you test positive, you will also need to limit or avoid other carbohydrate foods that contain the suspect nutrients.

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