veggie of the month sweet corn

July Vegetable of the Month: Corn

Did you know there are three types of corn? Sweet Corn, Field Corn, and Popcorn

Sweet corn represents just 1% of the corn grown in South Dakota. The rest is field corn. About 50% of field corn becomes animal feed while 10% becomes food ingredients. The raw materials of corn – starch, protein, fiber and oil – are extremely versatile. That’s why corn is an ingredient in so many foods – from cereal to fruit juice, from potato chips to peanut butter and from bread to beer.

Is corn a grain or a vegetable? The answer is…it depends on the type of corn!

Jen Haugen, RDN with states, “Fresh corn, like sweet corn, is a vegetable. You can find it in the produce aisle in the summer when sweet corn season is in full swing, as well as canned and frozen year-round. Sweet corn is picked at an immature state, which is known as the milk stage. Because of this, sweet corn is sweet, rather than starchy, which reflects a higher percentage of sugar. Yet, this quickly reverses to more starch than sugar after it is harvested from the stalk, which is why eating sweet corn soon after it is picked is necessary for the best flavor.

Field corn, the primary corn planted in the United States, is also known as “dent corn” because a dent forms in the top of the kernel as it begins to dry on the stalk. Field corn is primarily used for animal feed. We also consume it in the forms of corn meal, corn starch and corn syrup. If you use corn meal, corn flour, grits or polenta, make sure it says “whole corn” or “whole grain corn” on the label to ensure it is a whole grain. Otherwise, it has just been “degermed,” which means the germ portion of the grain has been removed and therefore is no longer a whole grain.

Popcorn is yet another variety of corn that has a hard, moisture-resistant hull that surrounds a dense pocket of starch that will pop when heated. Popcorn is a whole grain.”

Are there health benefits from corn?

Haugen: “Corn is generally known for its vitamin A content, having more than 10 times the vitamin A when compared to other grains. It is also a major component in gluten-free products, because corn is gluten free. And recent research has found the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin in corn to be beneficial for eye health. In one ear of sweet corn, you will find about 90 calories, 18 grams of carbohydrate and 2 grams of fiber.”

Can corn become unhealthy?

Haugen: “Corn is the most consumed grain in the world. It is filled with nourishing nutrients, whether you consume it as a whole grain or as a vegetable. And there are a lot of myths that may persuade one to think that corn is unhealthy. Yet, whether you are trying provide healthy meals for your family, maintain a healthy weight, manage your blood sugars for diabetes or take care of your heart, corn is a healthy choice.

You may wonder about corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup – very simply, these are both sugar sweeteners made from corn. You might be surprised to know that our bodies process and metabolize corn syrup in the same way we process sugar or honey. And there is no difference in calories when comparing corn syrup and table sugar. As with all sweeteners, it is best to consume them in moderation and in conjunction with a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy.”

Learn more about corn and get the Roasted Sweet Corn recipe created by Chef Brandon Lambert of Sioux Falls’ Rowdy Hog Smokin’ BBQ with this Pick It! Try It! Like It! Fact Sheet. And check out this video from SDSU Extension to make Boiled Corn on the Cob with Dried Herb Blend.

Sources: article Sweet corn. Field corn. Popcorn. What’s the difference?; South Dakota Corn Association;  Sioux Falls Food Council Eat Well, Live Well Campaign; SDSU Extension

Can’t get enough fruits and veggies? Be sure to check out Harvest of the Month, a downloadable educational program designed to make learning about fruits and veggies easy, tasty, and fun!

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