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Why Corn Is So Hard to Digest – Explained

Corn... it was first domesticated in southern Mexico somewhere around 7,000 - 10,000 years ago, it's a great food for a cookout, and it is has become the second most consumed cereal grain in the world.

But we're not talking about corn chips and Corn Flakes here... we're talking about whole corn.

Anyone who has eaten corn likely knows that it sometimes can come out whole, or what looks like whole, in their poop. But why is this?

Why is corn so hard to digest? And should you be concerned? 

The answer to the second question is probably not, but we'll talk about when it is a reason for concern in a bit.

The Science Behind It

All organisms strive to survive, including plants like corn. And while corn is a highly domesticated crop and can't even reproduce on it's own (dependent on man), it still retains basic evolutionary adaptations to survive.

The hull, bran, or more scientifically, the pericarp, refers to the outer shell that covers a seed. This is the outermost part of the corn kernel and is there to protect the embryo.

[Source: psu.edu]

Every organism wants to protect their future offspring... and so corn evolved to have a protective pericarp, which is mostly made up of cellulose.

Cellulose is not able to be digested by animals and this this is the reason you see corn in your poop... because the body cannot digest the outer layer.

This is the same reason you might find that you poop out whole flaxseed and chia seeds, if eaten whole.

The Solution = Chew More

If you simply swallow corn kernels without chewing at all, then there is a good chance they will come out completely whole.

However, this isn't the case most of the time. Unless you are a newborn baby eating corn, you probably chew... and what you see in your poop is just the outer corn layer made of cellulose, kind of like little empty plastic bags with nothing in them.

If you don't want to see any undigested corn in your stool then the solution is to simply chew more. 

While our digestive systems can't break down the cellulose in the outer layer, our teeth certainly can.

If you chew more there will still be undigested fragments of the cellulose-made pericarp in your stool, it just won't be noticeable.

Undigested Corn Is a Good Thing

Yes, that's right... according to Dr Joanne Slavin, a professor from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at University of Minnesota, the more undigested corn the better... stating that "the lack of digestibility of corn would be considered a positive rather than a negative, generally" [Source: BestFoodFacts.org].

Why is this? Well, it's because of the fiber. 

That cellulose pericarp that corn has is a good source of dietary fiber, and American's don't get nearly enough of it... with the average fiber intake in the US being only about 15 g per day when it should be close to twice that much. 

Additionally, corn also is a good source of resistant starch, another type of dietary fiber. All in all, corn fiber comprises about 9% of a corn kernel and 91% of the pericarp.

Of course eating too much can be a bad thing, but generally speaking Americans should be eating more corn. 

When to Be Concerned

Now we know why corn doesn't digest entirely and we know that this is completely normal.

So, for most people there is no reason for concern here.

However, if the occurrences of undigested corn are accompanied with diarrhea and/or weight-loss, then there is something more serious going on here and you should seek professional advice from a doctor. 

Corn & IBS

There is some controversy surrounding the matter of corn and IBS, while some say it is not a problem at all, others claim it does cause flareups.

Our best advice would be to simply monitor corns affects on your IBS symptoms personally.

Corn is high in fiber and also contains sorbitol, a sweetener... both of which can cause problems for IBS sufferers.

Conclusion - Eat More Corn

Overall, corn is a good and healthy food that you shouldn't avoid. Corn in your poop is a good thing, and besides the fiber that it provides, you also get good amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

According to NutritionValue.org, one 100 g serving of yellow corn (about 2/3 cup) will supply:

  • 9.4 g of protein (19% of the DV)
  • 7.3 g of dietary fiber (26%)
  • 4% of the DV for vitamin A
  • 15% of the DV for iron
  • 48% of the DV for vitamin B6
  • 35% of the DV for copper
  • 32% of the DV for magnesium
  • and good amounts of selenium, zinc, phosphorus, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin

That said, the calories can get pretty high... all of this from a 100 g serving of yellow corn comes with 365 calories.

So don't go out and fill yourself up with corn. A healthy diet is all about balance and eating in moderation.

Now It's Your Turn:  What has your story with corn been like? Let us know in the comment section below!

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Starting his writing career in 2015, Kyle is a leading contributor here at GutAdvisor, and for good reason. Having a passion for health and the awareness that proper digestion plays a key role one's overall well-being, he regularly keeps the community informed with valuable information regarding gut health.

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