Does Corn Make You Fat?
In one word, yes.
In a world of constant scrutiny about weight gain and BMI (Body Mass Index), should you forego your favorite movie snack and maybe your eye shadow, too (oh yes, there’s corn in there?)
Corn is in everything and many experts (including me…and Harvard) agree that is likely to make you fat.
Don’t believe me?
Read this insightful article about the history of corn, why it’s everywhere, and why it’s bad for your health (and your weight).
The Question: Does Corn Make You Fat?
Picture the following scenario. Your hand is wrist deep in a delicious vat of buttered popcorn. You’re watching the evening news that is suddenly telling you this favorite snack is making you fat-even without the six cups of butter.
In fact, the six cups of butter might be the healthiest part of it (assuming it’s actually butter). But should you believe it?
Scientists and talking heads are always coming out with new reasons to avoid the tastiest foods.
The History of Corn
Let’s back up first. Where did this delicious food, this corn, come from? Somewhere around 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, indigenous Mexicans began growing the ancestor of our corn, an ancient grass called teosinte.
From there it traveled with those who ate it through the Americas and eventually to the Europeans through the likes of explorers such as Christopher Columbus.
While the grain is available elsewhere (mostly exported from the Americas), its greatest foothold remained the Americas.
Latin Americans, Mexicans, and many other cultures feature it in their cultural dishes (mmmm tamales).
The United States of America has really taken embracing corn to a new level (the last year on record shows a growth of nearly 14.5 billion bushels) by including it in everything we can think of.
The story of corn is even more complicated in the last century. It has become a kitchen, garage, and factory farm staple in less than 100 years because it is cheap, easy to grow, and easy to genetically manipulate.
It is also the byproduct of the historic farming industry and governmental changes.
How History Affected Corn
When weather, overzealous growing practices, and a rapidly growing population led to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, the government stepped in with new agricultural policies and programs.
Among them, policies that paid farmers to plant particular crops. These policies, collectively known as the Farm Bill, now provide for both farmers to grow whatever crops will make the most money and additional income for growers of particular crops.
Recognizing a profitable opportunity, scientists have been paid to find more ways to use corn and more ways to make corn useful.
Unfortunately, the lessons learned regarding monocrop farming and overusing soil during the 30s were lost on the corn industry.
Monocropping, or growing the same crop on the same land year after year, depletes the nutrients of the soil. Scientists work overtime to create strains of corn that grow with fertilizer in the genetic makeup.
This genetic modification may lead to resistant insects which then leads to genetically modified strains of corn that resist the insects. The proverbial vicious cycle is evident.
Corn is Everywhere!
Corn is now in almost every processed food in the American grocery store, not to mention cosmetics, cleaners, and condiments.
It is also heavily used to feed animals that become meat and is required to be in nearly all the fuel that transports the food products to said store. Eating has become all about corn. There’s almost no corn-free diet.
What is corn?
Nutritionally, corn is not the vegetable it is often represented to be. Instead, this starchy grain masquerades as a vegetable when eaten as corn on the cob, but is frequently found in cereals, chips, oils, syrups or in that tub of buttered popcorn you’ve nearly finished.
While it does contain some vitamins and minerals, it is very high in sugar and carbohydrates. It’s no wonder many experts are arguing for a distinction between starchy pseudo-vegetables like corn and nutrient-packed foods like leafy greens.
In its most whole form, the carbohydrates in corn may be paired with enough fiber to allow the body to gain from the B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese found in corn.
Whatever benefit you may receive nutritionally from eating a fresh ear of corn is far exceeded by carbohydrate and fructose content, particularly after eating many times the nutritionally valuable quantity of the “vegetable.”
The body makes energy by burning carbohydrates you consume. However, if you reduce your carbohydrate intake and instead eat a high amount of protein and fat, the body will burn your stored fat for energy.
Conversely, if your diet is full of carbohydrates (like our friend, corn) the body stores energy as fat (yes, the stuff that jiggles and makes your jeans fit too tightly).
With low carbohydrate, high protein and fat diets such as the ketogenic diet, the liver burns fats consumed and fat within your body instead of storing fat produced by carbohydrates.
Is Corn Oil Healthy?
One of the sneakiest forms of corn is corn oil. Corn oil is 100% fat and contains no proteins or carbohydrates. Surely this form of corn won’t make us fat!
The most sinister aspect of corn oil is not its potential to increase our waistline, but the effects of linoleic acid contained in the oil. Linoleic acid has been linked to cancer, heart disease, joint pain, and metabolic disorders.
It Will Make You Sick
Many metabolic diseases such as type II diabetes and fatty liver disease are also caused by eating too much fructose (sugar) and carbohydrates such as corn.
Corn is what producers of foie gras feed geese to make their liver fatty because of the high fructose level. Corn and high fructose corn syrup in particular create insulin spikes when consumed.
It also can create leptin resistance – the hormone that tells us we are full and to stop eating already, fatty. So corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup absolutely is linked to type ii diabetes and weight gain.
My own fatty liver disease has greatly improved from my time on the ketogenic diet. My weight loss over the last year is primarily due to following that diet and cutting out starches and carbs like corn. I rarely eat corn now.
In addition, my family’s diet contains drastically less processed food which often contains corn in other forms. We do still consume a lot of corn in our cars via ethanol, but I’m fairly certain it won’t make us fat.
But Does It Make You Fat?
This brings us back to our original question: Will corn make you fat? The answer is…..yes.
In addition to being full of carbohydrates and fructose that make your body store additional energy as fat, it also is in every processed food you eat. Any bit of health you might receive from eating corn is cancelled by its sugary ubiquity.
In fact, a Harvard study found that adding just one serving of corn resulted in a weight gain of two pounds every four years.
While consumption of corn is also likely to make you very sick with heart disease, joint pain, fatty liver, type II diabetes, cancer, and a variety of other ailments, obesity is very often a symptom and warning sign of these sicknesses.
And let’s not forget that obesity was one of the deadliest comorbidities for Covid-19; if you have a BMI over 30, you’re at higher risk of dying should you contract the virus.
There is Hope
However, this ancient grain can offer us some hope, yet. It is used as a medium in which to grow penicillin, to make glue, in whiskey, for corncob pipes, and my autumnal favorite – corn mazes!
Let’s not forget the humorous value of corn. The word alone is used to describe cliche or low-hanging jokes (corny jokes) and its similarity to another English word has sparked some satirical homages to a famous website and to the erstwhile veggie.
It is even loathed in candy form (which will incidentally also cause a myriad of health problems and likely make you fat) as one of the least sought after Halloween candies.
Looking to the future, one can only imagine the possibilities for corn, especially given the myriad of uses for it already existing! Maybe flying cars will be powered by corn! Maybe the next pandemic will be cured or prevented by corn.
But anything is possible as the one thing scientists are researching for corn more than anything else is how to make more of it.
But Not Much Hope
If you’re like many Americans (or the roughly 30% or more of Americans with metabolic syndrome), you will watch the evening news story about the danger of corn only to return to your tub of popcorn.
It turns out the real butter (a fat) you soaked it in is actually healthier for you.