Many celiacs are unable to tolerate corn because it causes a gluten-like reaction in their system. If you’ve been eating gluten free, but you’re still struggling with low energy levels, digestive distress, depression, etc., you may want to try going corn free for a few weeks and see what impact it has on your health.
Additionally, corn and corn-based foods are often made from genetically modified corn which can be a factor in causing or furthering leaky gut.
Unfortunately corn is like gluten—it’s in EVERYTHING. So going corn free can be pretty tricky. I’m going to touch on the big offenders here, assuming that trace amounts and cross-contamination aren’t something you need to worry about.
If you want to try this to see how it effects your health, just do your best—you don’t have to be perfect. Trying to be tee-totally corn free will just overwhelm you. If you remove corn, in large part, from your diet it will be enough of a difference for you to tell if corn is impacting your health or not.
1. AVOID INGREDIENTS WITH THE WORD “CORN”
Duh…right? But many people aren’t in the habit of reading labels. If you’re using anything that’s in a package, bottle, can, etc., read the ingredients. Corn starch, corn syrup, corn meal, and many other corn ingredients are pretty common in processed foods.
2. AVOID MOST PROCESSED OILS
Processed oils wreck me! And I’m talking gluten free oils. Canola oil will cause a gluten-like reaction for me every time. And it’s frustrating because this usually includes anything at a restaurant that has been fried or cooked on the grill.
Canola (rapeseed) oil in particular is the least safe processed oil. It’s processed with citric acid (often corn-based) and in addition, citric acid is often used as a degumming agent. This is often true for safflower, flax, sunflower, and soy oils as well.
For cooking oils in general, if the oil is bottled in plastic, the plastic can be derived from corn and contaminate the oil. Oils can also contain corn from an anti-foaming agent, from the refining process, or from the extraction process.
One of the safer oils for a corn free diet is pure butter. Of course dairy is not usually a “go-to” choice for celiacs (myself included), but ghee is a great alternative.
3. VINEGAR – KNOW THE SOURCE
White vinegar is made by fermenting grain alcohol. Guess what the cheapest source of grain is? Yep, corn. And if you’re super sensitive or think you might have a corn allergy, don’t assume apple cider is safe as it may be cross contaminated—many companies make both white and apple cider vinegar.
4. AVOID IODIZED SALT
In iodized salt, corn (specifically dextrose) is the glue that makes the iodine stick to the salt crystals. For the more sensitive, non-iodized salt will often have an anti-caking agent in it that can be problematic, cardboard packaging is often dusted with corn starch, and cross-contamination is common during processing.
5. MEDICINE – KNOW THE INGREDIENTS
As with gluten, corn is often included in the inactive ingredients of medication. If you’re taking prescription medication or over the counter drugs, make sure you know what the inactive ingredients are. This goes for both a gluten free and corn free diet.
6. TRY NOT TO USE PLASTIC
Plastic can be made directly from corn. Not only that, but corn is sometimes added to plastic so it’s more bio-degradable. Even if the plastic is corn free, it may be lined with cornstarch. Last but not least, corn is also used in adhesives.
7. BE CAREFUL OF NATURAL COLORS & FLAVORS
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) requires manufacturers to specify if one of the eight major allergens is in a natural flavor. For example, the label may say “natural flavoring (egg)” or it may say “Contains: egg.”
But this only includes milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and crustacean shellfish. Corn isn’t one of these, so there’s no way to know if corn is in the ingredients or not.
8. BE SMART ABOUT FRUITS & VEGETABLES
SAY WHAT??? If you’re not extremely sensitive to corn, this may not be something you have to worry bout. So, if you have celiac disease, don’t freak out. This level of diligence is typically only necessary for people with a corn allergy.
Many fruits and vegetables are coated with corn wax or corn oil, or washed with water and citric acid (a corn derivative). Even if the wax doesn’t contain corn, typically another ingredient that’s used to make the wax sprayable does.
Also, many fertilizers, pesticides, and even certified organic sprays have corn derivatives in them. So organic doesn’t mean corn free.
But wait, it gets better! The wax and carriers for the pesticides can infiltrate the skin of the fruit, thus contaminating the flesh inside.
9. FIND RELIABLE CORN FREE SOURCES FOR DAIRY, MEAT, & EGGS
Again, if you aren’t overly-sensitive, you may not need to worry about this. Most celiacs shouldn’t have to consider this level of exposure. But here’s a very brief overview just in case.
Vitamins. Vitamin enriched milk uses a corn derivative to help the vitamins stick to the milk. Also, corn can enter an animal’s diet via vitamin and mineral supplements provided by the farmer.
Corn-fed. 1) If the animals are fed corn, it does pass through to the milk, eggs, and meat with the corn protein intact. 2) Animal bedding is sometimes made from corn fodder, and the animals may eat some of it. 3) Corn oil is sometimes rubbed on the shells of eggs (to replace the natural barrier removed during cleaning—often with a corn derived detergent), which are porous.
Slaughter. 1) Chickens are often plucked with an application of hot wax. The wax may contain corn. 2) Beef and pork (or any equipment) may be washed/sprayed with lactic acid, citric acid, white vinegar, and an antibacterial (any/all could be corn derived).
Packaging. You know the cuts of meat you buy in the grocery store that are in a styrofoam base wrapped in plastic? There’s a soaker pad under the meat (think chicken breasts) that contains additives (citric acid is one) to help preserve the meat.
10. BE CAREFUL WITH FOOD PACKAGING
Just like gluten, corn is used as an anti-caking agent in many foods and is frequently used to coat things so they don’t stick to the wrapper or container. If you find out you’re very sensitive to corn, you may need to be careful with paper plates, cups, and bowls, ice cream cartons, milk cartons, butcher paper, stretch plastic wrap for meat, etc.
11. TRY SOME HOME COOKIN’!
If you’re struggling with your health, I highly recommend cooking all your meals at home with whole ingredients for a few weeks and see what kind of relief you get. I know when I did this, my health improvement was profound.
12. KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL
This is helpful any time you’re trying to narrow down a cause and effect relationship with your food. Even if you’re eating whole foods you cook yourself, sometimes you can only see patterns when you review what you’ve eaten for several days or a week or longer.
Going totally corn free is actually harder than going gluten free! I never thought I’d say anything like that. I’m actually glad I have celiac disease as opposed to a corn allergy. Corn is sneaky stufff that’s made its way into almost every single aspect of food processing.
The above tips address some major offenders for a corn free diet, but it’s by no means comprehensive. If you find you need to avoid corn in even trace amounts, do additional research—the list of ingredients that can be derived from corn is looong.
If you’re celiac and avoiding corn gives you some relief but you still have lingering health concerns, you may want to try going entirely grain free.
If you want additional information on dealing with a corn allergy, there’s a fantastic website here.
RESEARCH ON CELIAC DISEASE & CORN
Here are some articles for your reference, if you want to learn more on the celiac response to corn:
- Transglutaminase Treatment of Wheat and Maize Prolamins of Bread Increases the Serum IgA Reactivity of Celiac Disease Patients (2008)
- Maize prolamins resistant to peptic-tryptic digestion maintain immune-recognition by IgA from some celiac disease patients (2012)
- Maize Prolamins Could Induce a Gluten-Like Cellular Immune Response in Some Celiac Disease Patients (2013)
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice or attention of a heath-care professional. This information is for educational purposes only. All information is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for medical treatment.