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food for thought

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is Director of Food and Nutrition at Medcan.

Q: I love corn on the cob. But how healthy is it? Does corn count as a vegetable?

This summer staple – in season July through September – often gets a bad rap. Many people (mistakenly) think that corn is fattening and has little to offer on the nutrition front.

People also associate corn with ingredients that aren’t nutritious.

Corn is processed into high fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, maltodextrins, dextrose, polydextrose, maltose and sugar alcohols, ingredients added to baked goods, breakfast cereals, snack foods, salad dressings, condiments, soups, candy and hundreds of other packaged foods.

The truth is, unless you cook all of your foods from scratch, you’re eating plenty of corn year-round.

Corn nutrition

Back to summer’s sweet corn, which has an impressive nutrition profile.

One cup of corn delivers 143 calories, five g of protein and 31 g of carbohydrate. One large ear of corn (eight to nine inches long) yields about one cup of corn kernels.

Sweet corn has a low glycemic index value, meaning its carbohydrates don’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels.

Corn is also a decent source of fibre, providing 3.5 g per one cup. Research has found that the bran in corn promotes satiety, helping you feel full longer.

The fibre in corn also acts as a prebiotic, feeding and fuelling the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

There’s more. Sweet corn serves up niacin, folate, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.

Yellow corn also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that protect vision by guarding against cataract and macular degeneration. (White corn contains very little lutein and zeaxanthin.)

Scientists speculate that consuming at least six mg of lutein a day is optimal for eye health; one cup of yellow corn delivers 22 per cent of that.

Vegetable, starch or both?

When eaten fresh, sweet corn is considered a vegetable.

The kernel itself, though, is actually a whole grain made up of three layers: the outer bran layer, the inner nutrient-rich germ layer and the starchy endosperm layer. Dried corn, including popcorn, is classified as a whole grain.

Once corn is milled to remove the bran and germ, it becomes a refined grain. When buying foods made with corn such as tortillas, breakfast cereals and cornmeal, look for “whole corn” or “whole grain corn” on the ingredient list.

Cooking and eating corn

Fresh sweet corn doesn’t take long to cook – just five minutes in boiling water. Don’t add salt to the water, which will toughen the corn.

Or, place shucked ears of corn directly over a medium-hot grill and cook, rotating occasionally, until charred and cooked through, about 10 minutes. You can also wrap shucked corn in aluminum foil and cook directly on the grill or hot coals.

Naturally sweet, corn doesn’t need much – or anything at all – to make it taste delicious. If you want extra flavour, add a squeeze of lime juice and sprinkle with chili powder or smoked paprika.

Or, add chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme, cilantro or mint to softened butter and brush over corn. Dried herbs work well, too.

Go easy on the butter, though. Consider that one tablespoon adds 120 calories and seven g of saturated fat to your cob of corn.

Instead of butter, you may prefer to baste corn with a teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for fewer calories and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

There are more ways to enjoy fresh corn this summer than eating it on the cob. Bake cooked corn into savoury muffins, toss into salads, make into salsas and stir into soups.

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