Corn is everywhere. It’s in the gas you pump into your car (also known as ethanol). It’s used in many medications you are prescribed (generally corn starch is added to pills as a binding agent). And it’s in most of the foods you pick up on a shelf at the grocery store. The U.S. Grocery Store Association estimates that 75-80% of the food you buy at the store contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients, and corn–along with soy–is the most widely-grown genetically modified crop in America.
Of course corn is useful. Manufacturers have found ways to make it useful in everything from crayons to carpet to glue to diapers. And that’s great! But its widespread use in our food is causing serious adverse health effects.
Why so much corn?
Every 5 years, U.S. Congress passes one of their biggest (read, most expensive) bills: The Farm Bill. Corn gets the most subsidies with more than $90 billion paid to corn farmers since 1995. As a result, the U.S. produces A LOT of corn. For manufacturers and food companies, it is an INCREDIBLY cheap filler as a result of such high supply.
Why worry about corn?
First of all, corn is high in sugar and carbs. One ear of sweet yellow corn contains, on average, 5.4 grams of sugar and 24.7 grams of carbohydrates. It contains 2.8 grams of fiber. So doing the “sugar math” (sugar + carbs – fiber), one ear of corn contains 30.1 grams of sugar. That’s more than a Snickers bar (with 20 grams of sugar).
BUT, putting aside the nutritional profile, the biggest concern with corn is its genetic modifications. 92% of U.S.-grown corn is genetically modified. The debate over the health concerns of genetically modified foods continues to rage, but it’s fairly clear that it’s not good for us.
A study published in 2014 in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Sciences Europe, found that over the course of two years for rats fed a diet of GM corn, 76% developed kidney-related disorders, males were 4 times as likely to develop tumors and females were more than twice as likely to develop tumors. Hormone and endocrine changes were noted as well. Basically, GM corn causes cancer and several other hormone-related issues.
It would be nice to simply say, “Don’t eat GM corn.” Problem solved, right?
Unfortunately, considering 92% of corn is genetically modified and 75-80% of food in the grocery store contains some corn or corn derivative, it’s just not that easy!
Your best bet is to stick to fresh ingredients and avoid processed foods altogether. Corn products are often used as sweeteners, binders and fillers. None of this is required for fresh, organic proteins, fruits and vegetables. If you avoid food in a box, can or plastic wrapper and you get your fresh food organic, you will be in a much better position to avoid GMOs in general, including corn.
However, I understand that can be difficult in the modern world, so the second line of defense is to educate yourself and apply that knowledge. In this case, know the many names of corn and READ YOUR FOOD LABELS.
Some corn-derived foods and ingredients are obvious: corn chips, corn tortillas, corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, etc. But many are not so clear. Here is a list of ingredients and additives that probably contain–or are made primarily from–corn. Note some pretty familiar and unassuming ingredients, such as:
- Artificial flavorings
- Artificial sweeteners
- Baking powder
- Bleached flour
- Brown sugar (corn gives it the caramel color)
- Fruit juice concentrate
Those are some of the more well-known, but please peruse that list and familiarize yourself with it. There are well over a hundred more common ingredients that are made from, or contain, GM corn.
It’s unreasonable to expect anyone to memorize that list, and it’s going to be difficult to avoid ALL of those ingredients in any given trip to the grocery store.
Beyond shopping fresh and organic, another good policy is to put down any product with long, unpronounceable ingredients. It’s a blanket tactic that might have you avoiding products that are perfectly safe, but in this current food environment, it’s better safe than sorry.
Another great option is to do most of your shopping at places like Whole Foods. They make a reasonable effort to offer safe and healthy products. To take it even a step further, you can get a lot of your dry goods online (organic and GMO free) at Thrive Market.
Safe eating out there people. As always, I’ll be looking out for you.