Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Corn: Just Say No, Part II

In Part I, I talked about how prolific corn in our diet has become. Now I want to tell you a little more about the health consequences of eating corn. Corn on its own contains one set of problems; corn as a bi-product contains yet another.

While most people think of corn as a vegetable, it is in fact a grain. As a grain, corn comes complete with lectins, phytic acid, and enzyme inhibitors. These anti-nutrients bind to many of corn's nutrients making them unavailable for use by the body, cause digestive distress, intestinal villi damage and inflammation. Corn is unique in that it also binds to niacin, or vitamin B3, and a deficiency in niacin causes the disease pellagra. Traditional techniques call for corn to be soaked in a lime-water solution in order to release the niacin, which otherwise remains bound up in the grain (1). Corn is in so much of our food, yet it is not being prepared in a way that makes it safe for consumption. Corn also contains gluten, and like wheat gluten and dairy casein, it can irritate the digestive tract and lead to inflammatory bowel disease and trigger the onset of allergies.

It is estimated that 10 million Americans have an allergy to corn. When one considers that 75 percent of processed foods and close to 50 percent of sweeteners contain corn bi-products, it is no easy task avoiding corn in one's diet (2). Secondary food intolerance is also a real issue. People who are allergic to corn may also react if they eat meat from an animal that consumes corn (3), and since 74 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. ends up as livestock feed, avoidance becomes an even bigger problem (4). Choosing grass-fed, grass finished meat, pastured poultry and wild fish is really the only way to avoid corn protein carryover in meat.

The corn sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), has been getting a lot of attention lately for it's role in obesity of six month olds, as well as in children and adults. HFCS represents over 40 percent of sweeteners used in food and beverages and is the sole sweetener in soft drinks in the U.S. It is estimated that HFCS constitutes 16 percent of total caloric intake for Americans aged two and over (5). However, HFCS is nothing more than a toxin. Dr. Lustig, MD in, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, explains to us that our bodies are unable to be break HFCS down, which means that it must be passed through the liver for excretion. The liver processes HFCS in exactly the same way it does ethanol - or alcohol. Like alcohol, HFCS cannot be metabolized, and so the body creates new fat cells in which to dump the HFCS waste product into. Add to that corn's impact on insulin, and you can see how this sweetener might be contributing to more than just obesity, but also Type 2 diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome (6). The more HFCS we consume, the more insulin resistance we develop, the more fat cells we create, and the more liver damage accumulates. HFCS has also been shown to raise triglyceride levels and contribute to heart disease.

HFCS is found in many foods because it is a cheap sweetener, but most worrisome is that it is a common ingredient in infant formula (6). Early exposure to this corn bi-product shapes a child's taste preferences for a high level of sweetness. Since HFCS is said to be 75 percent sweeter than regular sugar, it can lead to problems down the road in getting a child to like normal, healthy foods such as apples and pears.

One last consideration with corn is aflatoxin contamination. You may have heard about the toxin produced by a fungus in peanuts, but it is also a real threat in large scale corn production - especially with corn stored in damp conditions. Drought, nitrogen deficiency and other stresses are thought to exacerbate the proliferation of airborne spores. Alfatoxin is dangerous because it is both carcinogenic and can lead to liver damage, and is a major factor in livestock disease. The acceptable limit of aflatoxin on corn in the U.S. is 200 parts per billion (ppb), however, tested levels have exceeded that - in one instance up to 600 ppb (7). While I would like to believe that contaminated crops are destroyed, I wonder how often it is being tested for and how often it slips through the cracks?

I've covered a lot of reasons to consider removing corn from your diet. Here is one more: the majority of corn in the market is likely contaminated as a genetically modified organism. I'll talk more about what that means for your health in Part III. If you want to start limiting consumption of corn in your diet, a lengthy list of products, ingredients and additives that include corn can be found here. Start reading the food labels in your pantry to find out just how much corn might be hiding there.

(1) Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon
(2) http://dogtorj.com/?page_id=3429
(3) http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/editor/2008/09/corn-allergies.html
(4) Syngenta, Kernels of Gold: The facts about Bt corn
(5) http://www.ajcn.org/content/79/4/537.full
(6) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM 
(7) Aflatoxins in food a#914c60.pdf

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