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Cooking Increases Corn Carotenoids

Corn — America’s most bountiful crop and much-munched dietary staple — is earning new nutrition respect. Oft dismissed as a starchy nutrition zero, corn provides a good source of thiamin, folate, and vitamin C. More eye-opening, a large cob of corn supplies a significant source of phytochemicals such as lutein and zeaxanthin that may support eye health — and new research suggests cooked corn has higher carotenoid content than raw!

Cornell University researchers found that while heat akin to commercial processing diminished vitamin C content by 25%, corn’s total carotenoid content actually increased 44%. Why might this be? Cooking liberates the carotenoids from the corn plant cell walls, while deactivating enzymes that would otherwise inhibit their activity.

Corn’s not the only food that defies “raw” dogma about the nutritional superiority of all things uncooked: Cooked tomatoes have 80% more vitamin C and 18% more lycopene than raw. Cooked spinach has 12% more beta-carotene than raw and cooked red bell peppers have 34% more vitamin C than uncooked. So don’t ignore processed fruit and vegetables because you think they are less nutritious -– often they can be at least as good, and as we see now, sometimes better.

Corn comes in a variety of colors. While yellow is more nutritious than white, blue corn has double the polyphenol content of blueberries, according to preliminary testing. If you like your corn popped, take heart: New dietary data shows that popcorn eaters have a 250% higher intake of whole grains and a 22% higher fiber intake compared to popcorn avoiders. Needless to say, be mindful of preparation and portion size, as the fat and sodium loaded onto microwave and movie popcorn can overwhelm any grain-healthy benefits.

Published November 1, 2008

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