Hurray! Another season of corn (maize) is here again. But even more thrilling is the recent revelation that the antioxidants and other nutrients found in corn are effective in fighting cancerous cells and preventing many other heart diseases.
According to studies carried out at Cornell University and published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, corn is a rich source of a phenolic compound called ferulic acid, an anti-carcinogenic agent that has been shown to be effective in fighting the tumours which lead to breast cancer, as well as liver cancer. Anthocyanins, found in purple corn, also act as scavengers and eliminators of cancer-causing free radicals.
Corn is one of the most extensively cultivated cereal crops on earth. More corn is produced, by weight, than any other grain, and almost every country on earth cultivates corn commercially for a variety of uses.
As a staple food in most homes in Nigeria, corn is identified with different local names. The Igbos call it “oka,” “azizi”, “oyikpa” or “akpe” (depending on dialectical variations); the Hausas called it “masara”; the Yorubas call it “agbado”; while the Efik call it”ibikpot”. Corn is also considered a staple crop globally, as many people rely on it as a primary source of nutrition.
In addition to playing a major role in the human diet, corn is also used as livestock fodder. Corn is processed to make an assortment of products, ranging from high fructose corn syrup to biofuels, all of which play important roles in human society. Oddly enough, corn is at the forefront of the green revolution with by products like compostable containers and biofuel, while simultaneously being used as a controversial food additive in the form of corn syrup and other derivatives.
Domesticated corn grows to a height of eight feet (2.5 meters). It is typically planted in rows, to make it easy to harvest the female ears once they mature. The crop is also surprisingly vulnerable to pests and drought, given its global importance as a food source.
In a recent interview, Professor Henrietta Ene-Obong, a nutritionist in the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medical Science, University of Calabar, noted that cornis a food that is very versatile and is consumed by all in one form or the other, irrespective of age, gender or socio-economic status.
Prof. Ene-Obong, who had carried out a supplementary experiment on corn, to determine its protein quality when combined with a legume known as the African yam bean (Sphenostylisstenocarpa) or “igirigi”, “ezama”, “okpodudu”, “akpaka” as known in some Nigerian languages, said the result confirmed earlier studies that when legumes and cereals are combined appropriately, their amino acid profile wouldrise almost to the level of the reference protein (milk/egg), indicating that such meal can support growth in children and adults.
Countering the popular notion that 90 per cent of the food is made up of carbohydrate, the erudite don noted that corn is a good source of fibre, especially when eaten whole.
“The yellow corn is a good source of carotene, which is a precursor of vitamin A, as well as an antioxidant. The carbohydrate content of dried corn is about 64 per cent, while that of corn in the fresh or boiled form is about 25 per cent,” she said.
To obtain the best nutritional value of the food, Ene Obong recommended that it should be eaten along with other foods,such as legumes and vegetables.
In a separate chat with a UNICEF nutrition consultant, Mrs Abigail Ishaya Nyam from
Adamawa State, she corroborated the points mentioned by Prof. Ene Obong and also added that most of the fibre in corn is insoluble.
“Insoluble fibre adds bulk to stool and may help prevent constipation. It also helps rid your body of toxins faster, as well as lower cholesterol”.
Continuing, she said, “Like other vegetables, Corn can help fight against cell-damaging free radicals, and may decrease the risk of heart diseases, cancer and other diseases. The antioxidants found in corn include carotenoids, vitamin C and vitamin E. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and also necessary for the synthesis of collagen. It provides all of the B vitamins except vitamin B-12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 and folate. Collectively, these B-complex vitamins help you form red blood cells and support your metabolism.”
Still on the benefits of corn, Nyam noted that the American Optometric Association reports that lutein and zeaxanthinfound in corn may help protect from developing chronic eye diseases, such as macular degeneration and cataracts.
Nutritional contents of corn
One large ear of cooked yellow corn contains almost 4 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of dietary fibre, around 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of fat, 3.6 grams of sugar, around 100 grams of water, no cholesterol, and amounts to 126 calories.
The kernels of corn are what hold the majority of corn’s nutrients, and are the most commonly consumed parts of the vegetable. The kernels can come in multiple colours, depending on where the corn is grown and what species or variety they happen to be. Another genetic variant, called sweet corn, has more sugar and less starch in the nutritive material.
Corn not only provides the necessary calories for healthy, daily metabolism, but is also a rich source of vitamins A, B, E and many minerals. Its high fibre content ensures that it plays a significant role in the prevention of digestive ailments like constipation and haemorrhoids, as well as colorectal cancer. The antioxidants present in corn also act as anti-carcinogenic agents and prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Below is more corn nutrition facts and information about the vitamin and mineral content in one large ear of yellow corn, which is cooked without salt.
Corn nutritional information – vitamins
Vitamin amount per 100 gram
Vitamin A310 IU
Vitamin B1 (thiamine0.254 mg
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)0.085 mg
Vitamin B60.071 mg
Vitamin C7.3 mg
Vitamin E0.11 mg
Vitamin K0.5 mcg
Vitamin E0.11 mg
Corn nutritional value – minerals
Amount per 100 grams
Phosphorus 90 mg
Magnesium 37 mg
Calcium 4 mg
Zinc 0.72 mg
Iron 0.52 mg
Selenium 0.2 mg
Pantothenic Ac1.036 mg
Apart from the above listed minerals, traces of manganese and copper are also found in corn.
Specific health benefits of corn
Corn provides many health benefits due to the presence of quality nutrients within it. Besides being a delicious addition to any meal, it is also rich in phytochemicals, and it provides protection against a number of chronic diseases. Some of the well-researched and widespread health benefits of corn are listed below.
- Prevents breast and liver cancers: Corn is a rich source of a phenolic compound called ferulic acid, an anti-carcinogenic agent that has been shown to be effective in fighting the tumours which lead to breast cancer, as well as liver cancer.
- Reduces risk of haemorrhoids and colorectal cancer: The fibre content of one cup of corn amounts to 18.4 per cent of the daily recommended amount. This aids in alleviating digestive problems such as constipation and haemorrhoids, as well as lowering the risk of colon cancer, due to corn being a whole-grain. Fibre has long been promoted as a way to reduce colon risk, but insufficient and conflicting data exists for fibre’s relationship with preventing cancer, although whole-grain consumption, on the whole, has been proven to reduce that risk. Fibre helps to bulk up bowel movements, which stimulates peristaltic motion and even stimulates the production of gastric juice and bile. It can also add bulk to overly loose stools, which can reduce the chances of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and diarrhoea.
- Reduce the risk of diabetes and heart diseases: Recent clinical studies in Japan, published in the Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications journalhave shown that purple corn (Zea mays L.) could be a great ally in the fight against diabetes and obesity. Anthocyanin is what gives colour to purple corn.Corn is low in cholesterol and fat content. Cereal or whole grains are great sources of vitamins and minerals, magnesium, fibre and complex carbohydrates. The fibre in whole grains helps to prevent the risk of heart diseases and diabetes, and all its nutrients boost the immune system.
- Rich source of vitamins: Corn is rich in vitamin B constituents, especially Thiamin and Niacin. Thiamin is essential for maintaining nerve health and cognitive function. Niacin deficiency leads to Pellagra, a disease characterised by diarrhoea, dementia and dermatitis, that is commonly observed in malnourished individuals. Corn is also a good source of Pantothenic acid, which is an essential vitamin for carbohydrate, protein, and lipid metabolism in the body. Deficiency of folic acid in pregnant women can lead to the birth of underweight infants and may also result in neural tube defects in new-borns. Corn provides a large percentage of the daily folate requirement, while the kernels of corn are rich in vitamin E, a natural antioxidant that is essential for growth and protection of the body from illness and disease.
Provides necessary minerals: Corn contains abundant minerals which positively benefit the body in a number of ways. Phosphorous, along with magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron and copper are found in all varieties of corn. It also contains trace minerals like selenium, which are difficult to find in most normal diets. Phosphorous is essential for regulating normal growth, bone health and optimal kidney functioning. Magnesium is necessary for maintaining a normal heart rate and for increasing bone strength.
Protecting your heart: According to researchers, corn oil has been shown to have an anti-atherogenic effect on cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of various cardiovascular diseases. Corn oil, particularly, is the best way to increase heart health, and this is derived from the fact that corn is close to an optimal fatty acid combination. This allows omega-3 fatty acids to strip away the damaging “bad” cholesterol and replace them at the binding sites. This will reduce the chances of arteries becoming clogged, will reduce blood pressure, and decrease the change of heart attack and stroke.
Prevents anaemia: The vitamin B12 and folic acid present in corn prevent anaemia caused by a deficiency of these vitamins. Corn also has a significant level of iron, which is one of the essential minerals needed to form new red blood cells; a deficiency in iron is one of the main causes of anaemia as well.
Lowers LDL cholesterol: According to the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, consumption of corn husk oil lowers plasma LDL cholesterol by reducing cholesterol absorption in the body. As mentioned earlier, this reduction of LDL cholesterol does not mean a reduction in HDL cholesterol, which is considered “good cholesterol” and can have a variety of beneficial effects on the body, including the reduction of heart disease, prevention of atherosclerosis, and a general scavenger of free radicals throughout the body.
Vitamin A content: Yellow corn is a rich source of beta-carotene, which forms vitamin A in the body and is essential for the maintenance of good vision and skin. Beta-carotene is a great source of vitaminA because it is converted within the body, but only in the amounts that the body requires. Vitamin A can be toxic, if too much is consumed, so deriving vitamin A through beta-carotene transformation is ideal. Vitamin A will also benefit the health of skin and mucus membranes, as well as boosting the immune system.The amount of beta-carotene in the body that is not converted into vitamin A acts as a very strong antioxidant, like all carotenoids, and can combat terrible diseases like cancer and heart disease. That being said, smokers need to be careful about their beta-carotene content, because smokers with high beta-carotene levels are more likely to contract lung cancer, while non-smokers with high beta-carotene content are less likely to contract lung cancer.
Rich source of calories: Corn is a rich source of calories. The calorific content of corn is 342 calories per 100 grams, which is among the highest for cereals. It is why corn is often turned to for quick weight gain, and combined with the ease and flexibility of growing conditions for corn, the high calorie content makes it vital for the survival of dozens of agriculture-based nations.
Controls diabetes and hypertension: In recent decades, the world has seemed to suffer from an epidemic of diabetes. Although the exact mechanism for this cannot be pinpointed, it is generally assumed to relate to nutrition. Eating more organic fruits and vegetables, like corn, has been thought to be a return to an older style of diet, and it has been linked to reduced signs of diabetes. Studies have shown that the consumption of corn kernels assists in the management of non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and is effective against hypertension,due to the presence of phenolic photochemical in whole corn. Photochemical can regulate the absorption and release of insulin in the body, which can reduce the chance of spikes and drops for diabetic patients and help them maintain a more normal lifestyle.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, organicfacts.net; seedguides.info