Corn 101: nutritional information and health benefits

Also known as corn (Zea mays), corn is one of the most popular cereals in the world.

It is the seed (grain) of a plant of the grass family, originally from Central America, but cultivated in innumerable varieties throughout the world.

Popcorn and sweet corn are varieties that are commonly consumed, but refined corn products are also widely consumed, often as ingredients in foods.

These include tortillas, tortilla chips, polenta, corn flour, corn flour, corn syrup and corn oil.

Whole corn is as healthy as any cereal, rich in fiber and many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Corn is typically yellow, but it comes in a variety of other colors, such as red, orange, purple, blue, white and black.

nutritional information

In addition to containing varying amounts of water, corn is composed mainly of carbohydrates and has small amounts of protein and fat.

The following table contains detailed information on all the nutrients in the corn (1).

Nutritional data: corn, yellow, boiled - 100 grams

73 %
3.4 Sun
twenty-one Sun
4.5 Sun
2.4 Sun
1.5 Sun
0.2 Sun
0.37 Sun
0.6 Sun
Omega 3
0.02 Sun
0.59 Sun
Trans fat~


Like all cereals, corn is composed mainly of carbohydrates.

Starch is the main type of carbohydrate found in corn and represents 28-80% of the dry weight. Corn also contains small amounts of sugar (1-3%) (1, 2).

Sweet corn, also known as sugar corn, is a special low starch variety (28%) with a higher sugar content (18%), most of which is sucrose (1).

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates are digested. Foods that rank high on this index can cause an unhealthy increase in blood sugar.

Despite the sugar content of sweet corn, it is not a food with a high glycemic index, with a low or medium index in the glycemic index (3).

Bottom line: Corn is composed mainly of carbohydrates. It scores low to medium on the glycemic index, so the whole corn should not cause large spikes in blood sugar.


Corn contains a good amount of fiber.

A medium bag of popcorn from a movie theater (112 g) contains approximately 16 grams of fiber.

This amount is 42% and 64% of the adequate daily intake for men and women, respectively (1, 4). The fiber content of the different types of corn varies, but it is generally around 9-15% (1, 2).

The predominant types of fiber in corn are insoluble fibers, such as hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin (2).

Bottom line: Whole corn is quite high in fiber. In fact, a bag of popcorn can contain a large proportion of the recommended daily intake.

Corn protein

Corn is a decent source of protein.

Depending on the variety of corn, the protein content varies from 10 to 15% (1, 5).

The most abundant proteins in corn are known as zeins, which represent 44-79% of the total protein content (6, 7).

In general, the protein quality of the zeins is poor because they lack some essential amino acids, mainly lysine and tryptophan (8).

Apart from their role in nutrition, the zeins are quite unique and have been used in the production of adhesives, inks and coatings for pills, candies and nuts (7).

Bottom line: Corn contains a decent amount of low quality protein.

Corn oil

The fat content of corn varies from 5 to 6%, which makes it a low-fat food (1, 5).

However, corn germ, an abundant by-product of corn grinding, is rich in fat and is used to make corn oil, commonly used for cooking.

Refined corn oil is composed mainly of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid, while monounsaturated and saturated fats constitute the rest (9).

Corn oil also contains significant amounts of vitamin E, ubiquinone (Q10) and phytosterols, which increases its shelf life and makes it effective in reducing cholesterol levels (10, 11).

However, there are still a number of concerns with refined seed oils such as corn oil. Whole corn is fine, but corn oil is not recommended.

Bottom line: Whole corn is relatively low in fat. However, corn oil is sometimes processed from corn germ, a by-product of corn milling.

Vitamins and minerals

Corn can contain a good amount of various vitamins and minerals.

However, the amount is highly variable depending on the type of corn.

In general, popcorn is rich in minerals, while sweet corn is richer in many vitamins.


  • Manganese: An essential trace element, which is found in large quantities in whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Manganese is poorly absorbed in corn due to its phytic acid content (12).

  • Match: Found in decent amounts in both popcorn and sweet corn, phosphorus is a mineral that plays an important role in the growth and maintenance of body tissues.

  • Magnesium: An important dietary mineral. The poor state of magnesium can increase the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease (13, 14).

  • Zinc: A trace element that has many essential functions in the body. Due to the presence of phytic acid in corn, its absorption may be poor (15, 16).

  • Copper: An antioxidant trace element, generally low in the Western diet. Inadequate copper intake can have adverse effects on heart health (17, 18).

Sweet corn:

  • Pantothenic acid: One of the B vitamins, also called vitamin B5. To a certain extent, it is found in almost all foods and, therefore, the deficiency is rare.

  • Folate Also known as vitamin B9 or folic acid, folate is an essential nutrient, especially important in pregnancy (19).

  • Vitamin B6: A class of related vitamins, the most common of which is pyridoxine. It serves various functions in the body.

  • Niacin: Also called vitamin B3, niacin in corn is not well absorbed. Cooking corn with lime can make it more available for absorption (2, 20).

  • Potassium: An essential nutrient that is important for the control of blood pressure and can improve heart health (21).

Bottom line: Corn is a good source of many vitamins and minerals. Popcorn tends to be higher in minerals, while sweet corn tends to be higher in vitamins.

Other plant compounds

Corn contains a number of bioactive plant compounds, some of which may have beneficial effects on health.

In fact, corn contains higher amounts of antioxidants than many other common cereals (22).

  • Ferulic acid: One of the main polyphenol antioxidants in corn, which contains higher amounts than other cereals, such as wheat, oats and rice (22, 23).

  • Anthocyanins A family of antioxidant pigments responsible for the color of blue, purple and red corn (23, 24).

  • Zeaxanthin Named for corn (Zea mays), zeaxanthin is one of the most common carotenoids found in plants. In humans, it has been linked to better eye health (25, 26).

  • Lutein: One of the main carotenoids in corn. Like zeaxanthin, it is found in the human eye (retina), where it serves as an antioxidant, protecting the eye from oxidative damage caused by blue light (25, 26).

  • Phytic acid: An antioxidant that can affect the absorption of dietary minerals, such as zinc and iron (16).

Bottom line: Corn contains higher amounts of antioxidants than many other cereals. It is especially rich in healthy carotenoids for the eyes.


Popcorn is a special variety of corn that breaks off when exposed to heat.

This happens when the water, trapped in its center, turns into steam, creating internal pressure, which causes the grains to explode.

A very popular snack, popcorn is one of the most common whole foods in the United States.

In fact, popcorn is one of the few common whole grains that are eaten as individual foods. More often, whole grains are consumed as food ingredients, such as in breads and tortillas (27).

Whole foods can have several health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (28, 29).

However, regular consumption of popcorn has not been linked to better heart health (27).

Although popcorn may be healthy by itself, it is often associated with sugary soft drinks and often added with added salt and high-calorie cooking oils, factors that can have adverse health effects with the time (30, 31, 32).

Bottom line: Popcorn is a type of corn that appears when it is heated. It is a popular appetizer, classified as a whole grain.

Benefits of health

Eating whole grain corn regularly can have a number of health benefits.

Eye health

Macular degeneration and cataracts are among the most common visual disabilities in the world and the leading causes of blindness (33).

Infections and old age are among the main causes of these diseases, but nutrition can also play an important role.

Dietary intake of antioxidants, especially carotenoids, such as zeaxanthin and lutein, can have considerable benefits for eye health (25, 34, 35).

Lutein and zeaxanthin are the predominant carotenoids in corn, which account for approximately 70% of the total carotenoid content. However, their levels are generally low in white maize (26, 36, 37).

Commonly known as macular pigments, lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the human retina, the inner surface of the eye sensitive to light, where they protect against oxidative damage caused by blue light (38, 39, 40).

The high levels of these carotenoids in the blood are strongly related to a reduced risk of macular degeneration and cataracts (41, 42, 43).

Observational studies have also shown that high dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin may be protective (44, 45), but not all studies support this (46).

A study in 356 middle-aged and elderly people found a 43% reduction in the risk of macular degeneration among people with the highest intake of carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin, compared to those with the lowest intake (45) .

Taken together, regular consumption of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, such as yellow corn, may have beneficial effects on eye health.

Bottom line: Being a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, corn can contribute to the maintenance of eye health.

Prevention of diverticular disease

Diverticular disease (diverticulosis) is a condition characterized by pouches in the walls of the colon.

Its main symptoms are cramping, flatulence, swelling and, less frequently, bleeding and infection.

Despite the lack of evidence, it has been recommended to avoid popcorn and other foods rich in fiber, such as nuts and seeds, as a preventive strategy against diverticular disease (47).

However, an observational study, which followed 47,228 men for 18 years, does not support this recommendation.

In fact, the consumption of popcorn turned out to be protective. The men who ate the most popcorn were 28% less likely to develop diverticular disease than those with the lowest intake (48).

More studies are needed to confirm these results.

Bottom line: Corn does not promote diverticular disease, as previously thought. On the contrary, it seems to be protective.

Adverse effects and individual concerns

Eating corn is generally considered safe.

However, its consumption may be a concern for some people, especially in populations that depend on it as a staple food.

Antinutrients in Corn

Like all cereal grains, whole corn contains phytic acid (phytate).

Phytic acid impairs the absorption of dietary minerals, such as iron and zinc, from the same food (16).

This is usually not a problem in well-rounded diets and for those who eat meat regularly, but it can be a major concern in developing countries where cereals and pulses are staple foods.

Soaking, sprouting and fermenting corn can substantially reduce phytic acid levels (16, 49, 50).

Bottom line: Corn contains phytic acid, a plant compound that can reduce the absorption of minerals, such as iron and zinc.


Some cereals and legumes are susceptible to fungal contamination.

Fungi produce several toxins, known as mycotoxins, which are considered a major concern for health (51, 52).

The main classes of mycotoxins in corn are fumonisins, aflatoxins and trichothecenes.

Fumonisins are particularly remarkable.

They are found in cereals stored around the world, but the adverse health effects have been related mainly to the consumption of corn and corn products, especially among people who depend on corn as their main staple food (53).

High consumption of contaminated corn is a suspected risk factor for cancer and neural tube defects, common birth defects that can result in disability or death (54, 55, 56, 57).

An observational study in South Africa indicates that regular consumption of corn flour may increase the risk of cancer in the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach (58).

Other mycotoxins in corn can also have adverse effects.

In April 2004, in Kenya, 125 people died of aflatoxin poisoning after eating home-grown corn that had been stored incorrectly (59).

Effective preventive strategies may include the use of fungicides and proper drying of corn before storage.

In most developed countries, food safety authorities monitor the levels of mycotoxins in food on the market, and all food production and storage are strictly regulated.

In general, eating corn and its products should not be cause for concern.

However, in developing countries, and wherever maize is grown in the country, the risk of adverse health effects may be higher.

Bottom line: When corn is stored incorrectly, it can be contaminated with mycotoxins, which can have adverse effects on health. This is generally not a cause for concern in developed countries.


Corn is one of the most consumed cereal grains.

Being a good source of antioxidant carotenoids, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, yellow (or colored) corn can promote eye health.

It is also a rich source of many vitamins and minerals.

For this reason, moderate consumption of whole corn, such as popcorn or sweet corn, may fit into a healthy diet.

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That was Corn 101: nutritional information and health benefits

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