A long hot dry summer has passed and we finally have the rains. The earth smells wonderful, the green trees sway and little children (and some adults like me) go out to dance in the rain. One of my cherished memories are those of long walks in the rains in Mumbai; back then we used to get soaked to the bones, have a cup of hot chai and eat a ‘ bhutta ‘ or freshly roasted corn on the cob drizzled with fresh lime juice, salt and spices. Fresh sweet corn or ‘bhutta’ as we commonly know it, is a popular snack across the world. In a season where you don’t have much choice in terms of vegetables or fruits, tender corn makes for an excellent snack.
A small ear of fresh corn has just about as many calories (90 cal) as an apple, is loaded with B-complex vitamins (vitamin B1 and B5), contains a healthy dose of fiber (2 g) and also provides potassium and antioxidants in the form of vitamin C and vitamin A. However, it is essential to eat the corn as fresh as possible, for if the corn is older, the sugars in it get converted to starch much faster. Fresh corn also makes for a good carbohydrate source for people with gluten intolerance. A big myth surrounding fresh corn is that its consumption will make you fat or will increase your blood glucose levels. The truth is that with a glycemic index of about 55, a fresh corn cob has a lesser chance of increasing your blood sugar levels than say, a hot,fried samosa (another favorite monsoon snack). Plus, the 2 grams of fiber in the corn make you feel full and prevent your craving for other high calorie foods.
Corn flakes, the most popular breakfast cereal, provides good carbohydrates and when consumed in combination with milk and fruit gives a good nutrient balance; but, one needs to stay away from the frosted, chocolate flavored or honey coated corn flakes as they not only provide excess empty calories in the form of the sugar coating but are also most likely to contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Another important point is that if you are consuming iron-fortified corn flakes with milk, more often than not, the calcium in the milk will inhibit the iron from getting absorbed into the blood. So it is advisable to also add in another iron-rich food to your breakfast–like watermelon or pineapple–to rule out a deficit.
Does that mean that all corn is healthy and low in sugars? The answer is a big NO. One of the most warned-about bad boys on the global health scene is HFCS, which is a derivative of field corn. HFCS is added as a cheap sugar substitute to colas, juices, instant foods, frosted breakfast cereals, ice creams, ready-to-eat desserts etc. Consumption of high levels of HFCS can contribute to obesity, increased risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Salted, caramel or other flavored popcorn is another favorite movie-time snack that one needs to be careful about. While plain popcorn is a good low cal option, the same cannot be said for the flavored variants because of the high levels of sodium and sugars present in it. Besides, the very fact that it is consumed mechanically while watching a movie poses the risk of large quantities being consumed. A tub of popcorn can disappear in no time as you get involved in the goings-on on screen! Nachos and tortilla chips are also made of corn but are most often deep fried and hence, provide empty calories and no real health benefits.
Overall, the thumb rule of consumption in moderation stands true for corn and its products as well. Adding fresh corn to your diet in the form of a roasted/boiled/baked dish or as a salad or soup has considerable merit but one must be aware of the pitfalls of other not-so-healthy corn products.
For now, go grab some bhutta!
This article first appeared on the Gourmet Table.