The Unhealthiest Vegetable?
Corn, a staple of the American diet, isn’t looking so golden anymore. Here, the kernels of truth.
Made into chips, it’s the perfect salsa partner. Popped, it’s movie-magic in a bag. And cooked in its most natural form, on the cob, it's one of the great tastes of summer. It’s hard to imagine life without corn. But should we?
For starters, corn’s inherent starchy sweetness can be a problem for anyone hoping to maintain a six-pack. Nutritionist Haylie Pomroy considers it her go-to food if an actor client needs to gain weight fast for a role. And like wheat, corn has been subjected to hybridizing and genetic modification (the altering of an organism’s DNA) over the years. This doctoring has increased yields and pest-resistance, one reason corn is so pervasive in our food system, but it’s also made it more likely to cause weight gain and potential disease.“The corn we have today is not like what we saw 200 years ago or 10,000 years ago, it’s been hybridized and genetically modified and this creates changes within the corn and also changes how our bodies handle the corn,” says Dr. Terry Wahls, clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and founder of The Wahls Foundation. Here, the nutritionist and the scientist sound off on why you should sideline this ubiquitous staple:
What The Nutritionist Says: Haylie Pomroy
Corn’s natural ingredients can make it a diet foe
Corn is easy to overeat since it gets paired with fats like butter for popcorn and guacamole for chips. But it also contains lectins, proteins that can interfere with leptin, your feel-full hormone. If leptin isn’t functioning properly you’re more likely to overeat. That’s why corn is added to lots of packaged foods to stimulate cravings. It also contains the phytonutrient phytate, which can prevent proper absorption of iron, as well as zinc and selenium, which can lower thyroid function.
Corn is what we feed livestock to fatten them up
Corn is naturally sweet but today’s corn is practically a bucket of sugar. It’s become so refined and hybridized—even the organic corn—that the rate of sugar delivery is intensified, so it’s even more likely to cause an insulin spike that encourages your body to store fat. Farmers feed cows corn before slaughter to increase fat marbling; not exactly what you want for your body.
It can cause allergies
Corn is often a hidden ingredient; it can act as a binder in your salad dressing or even your vitamins, which can lead to allergies. Some people react to corn like they do pollen; the body creates histamines and they easily feel bloated. Watch out for ingredients like cornstarch, vegetable glycerin, maltodextrin, and artificial sweeteners like xylitol and maltitol.
What The Scientist Says: Dr. Terry Wahls
Today’s corn contains more pesticide, less nutrition
The biotech company Monsanto engineered their genetically modified corn to have a tolerance for herbicides like Roundup. Plus the amount of Roundup that’s put on these corn crops has also dramatically increased over time. Roundup, among other things, kills other plants and weeds by binding up the minerals in the soil. As the soil becomes less healthy and robust, the nutritional content of the corn decreases and pesticide exposure increases.
GMO corn can wreak havoc on your health
New genes inserted into corn result in new proteins that our bodies haven’t seen before, which changes how our cells respond. Instead of recognizing it as corn and seeing it as safe, it sets off an alarm response in the body. This causes a number of problems — food sensitivities, changes to the bacteria in our gut, and confused hormone signaling in the body. Whenever you confuse hormone signaling in unpredictable ways, it’s going to lead to disease. You will have more of a tendency toward obesity, metabolic syndrome, polycystic ovarian disease, erectile dysfunction, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
To learn more about Terry Wahls and The Wahls Foundation, click here.
Photography by Zachary Zavislak / Trunk Archive