From movie-theater popcorn to deep-fried corn chips—and we can’t forget ubiquitous corn syrup—certain corn products have given this crop a reputation for being “unhealthy”. But when it comes to corn itself, the popular vegetable offers many beneficial nutrients, says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, registered dietitian and owner of Nomadista Nutrition.
To reap the most health benefits of corn, Davis recommends eating it in its least-processed form. Fresh corn on the cob (roasted, grilled, or boiled), or frozen corn (flash-frozen at the peak of freshness and steamed until al dente), are both fantastic ways to enjoy its sweet kernels in all their glory. Minimally processed corn tortillas can be a great option, too, she says, adding that it’s always smart to look at the quality of the corn used and sodium content.
There’s also some concern that corn is genetically modified. Davis explains most GMO corn in the US is used for animal feed and in processed food products like breakfast cereals, corn syrup, and corn oil. You can find non-GMO corn by visiting local farmers’ markets and thoroughly reading nutrition labels on the products you buy.
Nothing says summertime like a plateful of sweet, buttery corn on the cob—and nothing beats a generous sprinkle of zesty corn salsa over your burrito bowl. Whether your personal corn-eating style is more typewriter or rolling pin, here are all the healthy nutrients you’re getting with each bite.
Corn Nutrition and Health Benefits
Corn has soluble fiber for satisfaction and a healthy gut.
One medium-sized ear of corn packs in about two grams of fiber. Corn contains soluble fiber (vs. insoluble fiber), helps you feel full and satisfied, and promotes healthy gut bacteria. While corn is a starchy vegetable, meaning it’s naturally higher in carbohydrates than some other vegetables, the soluble fiber helps slow down the absorption of carbs, preventing spikes in blood sugar and keeping you from getting hungry again quickly, Davis says. (With a rating that falls between 56 and 69, corn is considered moderate on the glycemic index scale.)
Corn is a surprising source of plant protein.
Adding corn to salads, pastas, rice bowls, salsas, and more is a sneaky way to up a dish’s protein content, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan. It’s not a ton, but at about three grams of protein per ear, corn offers more protein than most other vegetables. Like fiber, protein helps keep hunger and cravings at bay and serves numerous essential functions in the body, including muscle repair and growth.
Corn contains vision-protecting nutrients.
Everyone talks about carrots keeping your vision on point, but corn deserves a shout-out as well. Lutein and zeaxanthin give commonly found varieties of corn its yellow hue and constitute the main pigments found in the yellow spot of the human retina. Consuming these two carotenoids can help protect the eyes from blue light damage, improve visual acuity, and even reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Corn provides potassium and magnesium.
One serving of corn contains about six percent of the daily potassium needs and nine to 12 percent of daily magnesium needs. These minerals (both categorized as electrolytes) play a role in numerous different body processes. Potassium, to name a few, helps regulate hydration levels, send nerve signals, protect bones, and reduce blood pressure. Magnesium, too, is involved in nerve function and regulation, managing blood pressure, and reducing the risk of stroke and ischemic heart disease.
Corn contains vitamins C and B.
Whether you consider corn a vegetable or a whole grain, it ticks off vitamins and minerals in both areas. One cup of sweet yellow corn contains 17 percent of the daily value of vitamin C, an antioxidant that supports your immune system, collagen production, and iron absorption.
It also offers about 24 percent of the daily value of thiamine and 19 percent of the daily value of folate—both are B vitamins that help convert carbohydrates into energy. Folate is especially important to consume during pregnancy to ensure normal fetal development and prevent certain birth defects. It is recommended that adults consume 400 mcg of folate and 600 mcg per day during pregnancy. One cup of cooked corn offers about 51 mcg.
Delicious (and Easy) Corn Recipes
Corn and Pepper Scramble
Need to shake up your breakfast game? This uniquely delicious scramble combines caramelized corn kernels and juicy roasted red peppers with fluffy scrambled eggs.
Summery Corn Soup
This comforting corn soup is light enough for warm summer nights. It’s deeply savory and has a two-allium base of leeks and scallions, aromatic thyme, and enough white wine to add balancing tang to each bite.
Spicy Street Corn Salad
This bright salad takes its cues from the classic Mexican street food, elote: grilled sweet corn rubbed with smoky spices and mild, salty cheese. Pro tip: Since you’re eating the corn raw, seek out fresh corn from a local stand or farmers’ market whenever possible.
Honey-Butter Creamed Corn
Sweet-savory combo lovers, raise your hands! Buttery onions and sweet corn merge with honey and thyme for serious depth of flavor, while a glug of heavy cream brings balanced decadence to this divine side dish.
Spicy pimiento cheese meets juicy corn kernels in this quick (honestly, life-changing) fritter recipe for crispy, caramelized deliciousness. Serve with some lemon-spiked mayonnaise for dipping or serve over a bed of lettuce for a light meal.