Is Corn Keto? Your Guide to Corn on a Ketogenic Diet
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Is Corn Keto? Your Guide to Corn on a Ketogenic Diet

If you're eating a keto diet, corn may be a real problem. Here's how this popular grain may sabotage your low-carb diet and what you can do about it.

Is Corn Keto Friendly?

When you commit to a keto diet, you have to rethink many of your favorite foods. As such, you may be asking “Is corn keto?”

If you grew up around rural areas, chances are you could tell what time of year it was simply from the height of the corn stalks in the field.

For others, maybe you get a nostalgic feeling when you take a big bite from your crunchy corn on the cob slathered with butter and salt.

Corn is found in many food products on the market today, making it much more common in the average American’s diet than you might think. 

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Unfortunately, the type of corn found in products such as corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn flour, fried corn tortillas and other packaged goods are processed and can be harmful to your health.

Below, you’ll learn about where corn originated, the nutrition facts of corn (including how many carbs are in corn), and whether it holds a place in the keto diet.

What Is Corn?

Corn, also called maize in Spanish, has been around for 10,000 years. While it originated in South and Central America, corn is now included in dishes all around the world. Corn is found in many artificial and packaged food products, but it can also be found in dishes including tacos, burritos, polenta, fritters, soups, and sauces.

How Corn Is Grown

Corn is a grain grown throughout the summer season. While traditionally thought of as being a yellow vegetable, corn is grown in an assortment of colors.

If acres upon acres are being produced, yellow corn can be planted via a corn planter. If you’re growing sweet corn in your backyard garden, you can plant it by hand using a hoe. The demand for corn in the United States is so high that more corn is produced each year than any other grain.

Another use of corn is its ability to provide a source of food for farm-raised animals. However, corn has gotten a bad rap due to the practice in some poor GMO farming systems within the United States. 

It’s often used to feed cows, pigs, and other animals that are consumed for meat. This means it not only affects the health of the animals, but it affects the health of the people ingesting this animal meat. 

How Many Carbs Are in Corn?

Corn, like starchy vegetables and whole grains, is a high-carb food. When it comes to macronutrients, one ear of corn (or a 3/4 cup serving size) comes to about 123 total calories including 2 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein, 27 grams of total carbohydrates, 24 grams of net carbs, 4 grams of sugar, and only 3 grams of fiber. It only contains 1.5 grams of total fat and 4 grams of protein[*].

Corn contains different vitamins and minerals such as folate, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. It also contains 6% of your percent daily values of vitamin A, 12% of your vitamin C, 4% of vitamin B-6, and 17% of thiamin (vitamin B1)[*]. 

Although corn is gluten-free, it’s considered a grain. Therefore, it may cause some allergies you’re not even aware of. For some individuals, grains (even whole grains) create a serious amount of discomfort and increase stress to the gastrointestinal tract[*].

Eating grains can also cause skin irritations such as a rash or hives, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, headaches, asthma, and more.

Is Corn Keto or Low-Carb?

Don’t let its abundant amount of micronutrients fool you. Sure, corn may have some health benefits, but you may want to be cautious if you’re trying to fit it into your ketogenic diet.

With 23 grams of net carbs per serving, the chances of you fitting an ear of corn into your daily carb intake for the day are slim to none. 

You are much better off building a meal plan based on healthy fats (such as olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, and nuts and seeds), leafy greens and non-starchy veggies, and high-quality protein.

The standard ketogenic diet (SKD) recommends a diet consisting of high fat, low-carb, and moderate protein intake in order to enter a ketogenic state and maintain it. Low-carb means a carb intake of no more than 50 grams of net carbs per day — and oftentimes much less.

However, this isn’t the only type of keto diet. If you’re really craving corn, one of the following options may suit you best.

When Corn Might Have a Place in the Keto Diet 

There are a couple different keto diets that allow you to have more carbs than the SKD. Two of these diets being the targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) and the cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD). 

While they are both meant for more active individuals, they do differ in when you consume your carbs.

The TKD is meant for individuals that live a more active lifestyle that need a little more carbs around their workouts. This type of ketogenic diet allows an additional 20 to 50 grams of carbs both before and after your designated workout window. This is just enough carbs to fuel your workout without “kicking” you out of ketosis for long, if at all.

The CKD is meant for athletes, bodybuilders, or another individuals that train at such a high level that they need more carbs in order to perform at their desired intensity. 

The CKD follows a STD template for five or six days of the week, with the other day or two being a full on carb backloading period. Carb backloading gives you the opportunity to consume up to 600 grams of carbs in a 24 to 48 hour time period in order to completely refill your muscle glycogen stores.

When to Avoid Corn

Corn is abundant in carbs, but this isn’t the only reason to avoid it on a ketogenic diet. One of the biggest benefits of switching to a ketogenic diet in the first place is to reduce inflammation. 

Along with reducing inflammation, the keto diet has the ability to stabilize blood sugar, reduce hunger, improve skin, and the overall health of your digestive system.

Unfortunately, corn may carry toxic compounds. Corn in the United States tends to accumulate aflatoxins, which are produced by a specific type of fungi found primarily in corn and peanuts[*].

Aflatoxins are toxic to the human system, and have been implicated as a potential cause of liver cancer[*]. In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that aflatoxins may be genotoxic (damage DNA), cause birth defects, and act as immunosuppressants — reducing resistance to infectious disease[*].

As a GMO crop, there is some concern that the corn eaten today is causing issues that you wouldn’t have seen one hundred years ago[*]. While research is not definitive in either direction, health authorities still cannot guarantee that there are no long-term effects of GMOs[*].

The Bottom Line on Corn and Keto

The carbs in corn are too high to hold a place in a low-carb diet or keto meal plan. While it does offer some health benefits and is a good source of fiber, you may want to skip the corn.

Once you consider the poor food system practices of today, this grain also has the ability to negatively impact your health with possible allergies. Corn would be considered keto-friendly if (and only if):

  • You are following the targeted ketogenic diet and have a small amount of corn pre- or post-workout.
  • You are following the cyclical ketogenic diet and are consuming the corn on your carb backloading day(s).
  • Your carb intake for the day (including the corn) is below 50 grams — depending on your ability to handle carbs and enter in and out of ketosis.

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