Nothing says summer like sweet corn on the cob. But if you get diarrhea, gas, bloating or other GI side effects from corn, indulging in this seasonal delight comes at a cost.
Here's why some people have trouble digesting corn and what you can do about it.
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It's the Fiber
Corn is a rich source of cellulose, a type of insoluble fiber the body can't break down, per the National Library of Medicine. 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 adults assigned female at birth and close to 9 percent for those assigned male at birth, according to the National Institutes of Health.
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, different types of fibers affect people differently, according to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. You may have problems digesting cellulose, for example, but not oat bran, psyllium or soy fiber.
Sweet corn is a high-carbohydrate food, with about 27 grams per cup, per the USDA. This includes three types of carbs: fiber, starch and sucrose. All three can cause gastrointestinal problems for certain people.
As its name suggests, sweet corn is full of natural sugars. It has 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 people 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.
How to Deal With Gastrointestinal Problems From Corn
If you experience GI symptoms after eating 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 excess 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 side effects should resolve.
If you have a carbohydrate intolerance that's made worse by eating sweet corn, you may need to strictly limit or avoid it. Your doctor diagnose you using various tests including endoscopic biopsy or a breath hydrogen test and work with you to determine the best course of treatment.
- USDA: "Corn, sweet, yellow, raw"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Foods that May Cause Gas"
- International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID)"
- National Library of Medicine: "Soluble vs. insoluble fiber"
- National Institutes of Health: "Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Total Water and Macronutrients"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.