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If you or a loved one suspect or have been diagnosed with a corn allergy, going corn free is not as simple as giving up obvious sources of corn. Many hidden sources and corn derivatives can be extremely problematic.
Allergies and sensitivities often demand you give up your favorite foods. They interfere with your current lifestyle and require an enormous amount of research, detective work, and phone calls to find safe things to eat. That can feel overwhelming since corn is so prevalent in our food supply. Although the task of removing corn from your diet is huge, don’t give up. This beginner’s guide to corn allergies and intolerance will help you get started.
Begin By Going Corn Light
Going corn free is a difficult task. We live in a corn-saturated world. It’s in our food, medications, cleaning supplies, personal care products, adhesives, scents, plastics, paper, and even cigarettes. For that reason, going corn free is generally done in stages because there’s too much to learn all at once.
Begin by reading labels when shopping and try to eliminate all obvious sources. This won’t be easy because corn is not considered a major allergen. You won’t find a warning on the package that says the item contains it. There are several corn allergen lists available online you can print out to make the process of discovering hidden sources easier. Corn has a variety of different names you'll need to learn, and these lists can help you do that. Initially, watch for words such as starch, modified starch, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, cornmeal and dextrose, which is corn sugar.
Don’t skip a product label just because you don’t think the item contains corn. You will need to become familiar with the ingredients of the products you currently use as well as those you’d like to try. Most brands of baking powder and powdered sugar contain cornstarch. Iodized salt contains up to 50 percent dextrose. You can use plain salt without iodine, but a non-iodized sea salt is better. Many people who avoid corn use Redmond’s Real Salt, which is available locally in many areas. It's also sold at Amazon.
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Eliminating obvious sources is called going corn light. This corn reduction will enable your body to begin healing from the damage that corn is causing. While it doesn’t eliminate everything, it does get rid of most of the major offenders. As your body heals, it will regain its ability to detect smaller amounts. At that time, additional foods and products will need to be eliminated from your diet.
It's a good idea to begin researching hidden sources of corn before you start having symptoms again. If you wait until you start reacting, you won't feel like doing the necessary research.
Corn Allergy Difficulties
While a can of corn, cornstarch, corn syrup and corn meal might be obvious sources of corn, there are many additional sources that go undetected by many consumers. Much of the corn that’s grown in the U.S. is also genetically modified and created to become its own insecticide. That results in wide variations in the way each individual reacts to corn.
Going corn free is further complicated by the fact that it doesn't always behave like a typical allergy. A true allergy occurs when you react to the proteins in a food, but those who have problems with corn often react to its starches and sugars, as well as the protein. Many allergists don’t accept sensitivities that are not true allergies. That makes finding reliable information difficult.
The following areas, tips and suggestions are those I've collected and used over the past few months. They come from various allergy and corn-avoidance forums, blogs, and personal research.
Meat and Eggs
Some individuals react to animals that have been fed a corn-based diet prior to slaughter but not everyone does. To receive USDA certification, meat processors spray the carcass with corn-based antibacterial solutions that contain citric acid or lactic acid. Both of these processing aids are derived from corn. Unfortunately, processing aids or the ingredients used in a food's packaging do not have to be listed on the label. Corn oil, cornstarch, and citric acid are the most popular processing and packaging aids in the U.S. Many plastics and plastic wraps also contain corn.
In addition, the trays that meats sit on can be made from corn. Meat can also sit on a pad soaked in citric acid, or eggs can be washed in a cornstarch solution. Meat cutters may use corny products to clean their machine, or they may use cornstarch on their slicer for deli meats. They might use powered gloves or plastic packaging and wraps coated with cornstarch. Most supermarket meat and dairy products are not safe for the corn intolerant. In fact, what appears to be dairy sensitivity can actually be corn intolerance.
The best way to handle the problem is to find a local farmer who will sell you eggs, chicken, beef, or lamb. If that isn’t possible, whole chickens and game hens don’t have corn-soaked pads, so they will be less contaminated. Another thing to watch out for is repackaging. For example, Laura’s Grass-Fed Ground Beef in the white tray comes straight from the company. They don’t use corn in processing, but grocery stores often open up the packages, treat the ground beef with dye and corny ingredients, and repackage it in different containers. My local Smith's grocery store sells Laura's Ground Beef, but it's in a black tray.
All canned tuna, including salt-free varieties, will be corn light due to the way fish is handled and iced on the boat. Since the ice used can contain corny ingredients, fresh fish at supermarkets may also be further contaminated. Even frozen wild caught salmon isn't safe because the boat might have dipped the fish into a corny glaze before flash freezing it.
Fruits and Vegetables
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While moving to a whole foods diet is always best, produce shipped long distance probably contains some form of corn. Most produce is picked green and then gassed with ethylene to help it ripen at the right time. Bananas, avocados, pineapple, tomatoes, citrus fruits, mangoes, melons, kiwi, papaya, pears, nectarines, peaches, and plums are the most likely to be gassed.
In addition, fruits and vegetables might be washed with a cornstarch-based solution or receive a corn-based wax to help them stay fresh longer. This is particularly true for bagged and pre-cut produce, but is also true for organic products. Tomatoes, apples, peppers, rutabaga, citrus fruits, cucumbers and eggplant are the most likely to be waxed, but anything shiny and slick should be suspect. In addition, the pesticides used on apples, even from organic sources, can also be problematic.
Potatoes can be sprayed or gassed to keep them from sprouting. The safest potatoes are the dirty, loose potatoes found in large bins, not the ones that come bagged. Baby carrots list only carrots on the package, but because they are actually regular-sized carrots trimmed and sanded into their cute little shape, they contain citric acid for freshness. When it comes to produce, the dirtier the better because you don't know how it was washed.
A better choice would be to use your local Farmer’s Market as it reduces the risk for waxed and gassed produce. You can sometimes find corn-free produce at private markets or health food stores that get their stock from local growers.
Despite what some people say, wax doesn’t wash off. It soaks into the pores and contaminates the fruits and vegetables. If you aren’t that sensitive, you can remove some of the wax by using a baking soda and water paste to wash the produce. Washing before peeling reduces the risk of transferring corn residues to the edible portion of the fruit or vegetable.
Finding safe frozen or canned varieties can be just as difficult. Corn contamination can be found in the plastic packaging, how the produce was washed, or the type of salt or sugar used as a preservative. Cornstarch is also used to keep frozen vegetables such as peas from sticking together. This is a common practice among vegetable blends. The packaging used for microwave steamer-bag varieties is definitely made from corn. Canned tomatoes often have citric acid that is not required to be listed on the label. In addition, BPA-free can linings can also contain corn.
One of the major practices within the processed foods industry is vitamin fortification and enrichment. Almost all of these vitamin enrichments contain some form of corn. Most brands of wheat flour, white rice, milk, and juice are off limits to those allergic to corn. In the case of enriched white flour, the contamination comes from cornstarch. While there are brands of rice that are not fortified, some use cornstarch in the packaging to keep the rice from sticking.
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Many commercial milks use safflower oil or corn oil to suspend the vitamins in the milk. Vitamin D fortified milk may also contain propylene glycol or polysorbate 80, both derived from corn. All refined oils use corn-based additives such as citric acid as a defoamer. Refined oils are the vegetable oils you generally find on supermarket shelves such as soybean, canola, and safflower oils. Better choices are extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, and peanut oils.
Additives that are usually corn-derived or contain traces of corn include distilled white vinegar, carageenan, xanthan gum, guar gum, or pectin. Because extracts are generally made from ethanol, vanilla extract can also be a problem. In addition to substances that suspend them, vitamins themselves are often derived from corn. Vitamin C is one example. These additives might not be listed on the label.
Additional Things to Watch Out For
There are several additional things to watch out for when you first go corn free. A common practice among food manufacturers is to use generic terms on the label, so they can take advantage of current prices and vary the ingredients without redoing the label. You’ll often find simple terms such as “starch” or “sugar” on a label without telling you where those starches and sugars came from. While all starch in the U.S. currently comes from cornstarch, imported products may be from wheat.
Sugar can be from beets, sugar cane, or corn. According to John H. Boyles, Jr. in his journal article, "Allergy Problems From 'Hidden' Corn," the most common form of sugar used commerically is corn sugar. Since manufacturers are only required to list "sugar" on the label, he advises those with corn allergies to be careful when using such products because manufacturers commonly vary the type of sugar they use throughout the year.
Soy lecithin also contains corn as well as all artificial flavorings. Caramel coloring can be from cane sugar or dextrose. Ground spices may have cornstarch or wheat added to prevent clumping without it being listed on the label. Quaker Oats in the cardboard cylinder uses cornstarch on the film that’s attached to the safety seal, but oats also come with their own set of problems. Just as oats can be contaminated with wheat due to adjacent fields, transportation, or manufacturing processes, they can also be contaminated with corn. In addition, the plastic bottles that filtered water and juices come in are often made from corn as well.
Food is not the only place you’ll find corn. Almost all scents, perfumes, and colognes come from ethanol. That means fabric softener, air freshener, lotion, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner. Anything that has a scent such as kitchen trash bags or cleaning supplies contain corn. Washing soaps, chlorine bleach, dishwasher soaps, shower gels, and hand soap also need to be scrutinized. So does toothpaste, makeup, toilet paper, paper towels, paper plates, and cups. If you’re partial to essential oils, they have to be steam distilled. In essence, you have to change almost everything you now use to something fragrance free.
Smells result from particulates in the product being suspended in the air. When you inhale these particles, it’s the same as if you ate them. Since flour dust can stay in the air for up to three days, you can accidentally ingest corn by simply going to a party or bakery even if you don’t eat anything. These air-borne particles can also be absorbed through the skin.
Going Corn Free is a Major Lifestyle Change
With corn so prevalent in American society, going corn free will be a major lifestyle change. Corn-free food is expensive, and withdrawing from the products and foods you’re used to eating and using won’t be easy. Most people discover they are addicted to the foods and products that contain a lot of corn. Corny foods can also make you hungry. This can make pinpointing corn sources easier. It can also take a while for your taste buds to adjust after giving it up because most processed foods contain additives that alter our sense of taste.
Many people go through different states where they believe they are corn free only to discover they are not. Just the act of removing major sources of wheat and corn, will make you more sensitive to their presence. The more gluten and corn you remove from your diet, the more sensitive you will become. Things you previously thought were safe, will now cause you to react.
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One of the best ways to keep on top of your allergy or sensitivity is to keep a food journal or notebook handy to record the foods you experiment with and your reaction to them. Allergens can take up to four days to leave the body, so a record can be handy when watching for patterns and reactions you didn’t realize you were having. You will also need to know which foods are always safe for you. Although our current corn-saturated society makes going totally corn free almost impossible, the goal is always to get rid of as much of it as you can.