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More Than a Kernel of Truth: Corn Can Add a Healthy Crunch to Your Cookout

By Kayla Jackson

Stroll past the seasonal aisle at any grocery store this time of year and you'll find a shelf piled with plastic flip-flops, a box sprouting colorful pool noodles and a "sizzling sale" on grilling accessories.

But when it comes to food, a true mark of summer is a staple of the classic American cookout: corn on the cob.

In many parts of the world, corn is called maize. It's the name for the entire plant, which traces back nearly 10,000 years to southern Mexico.

The type of maize on your shopping list is likely sweet corn. Dent corn, named for the dimples that form on the top of kernels, is primarily used for livestock feed and ethanol production. Flint corn, with its colorful kernels that have a hard outer layer, is often used for fall decorations and for foods such as popcorn and hominy.

Corn can be a vegetable or a grain depending on when it's harvested. When the kernels are soft and full of liquid, as you'll find in the grocery store, corn is considered a starchy vegetable. If corn is harvested when fully mature and dry, it's a grain. That's why popcorn is a whole grain.

Corn kernels can be white, yellow, blue, red, purple or black. Natural compounds called phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their various colors and may offer heart-protective benefits.

"Deeply colored fruits and vegetables tend to be richer in certain phytochemicals," said Maya Vadiveloo, an associate professor in the department of nutrition and food services at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. But if it comes down to choosing between white and yellow sweet corn, Vadiveloo said to go with taste preference rather than worry about one being "better for you."

Crunching on corn may even help keep your eyes healthy thanks to carotenoids – a phytochemical that gives yellow corn its pigment.

However, the nutrient quality of corn does differ based on other variables.

"Sometimes fresh isn't best, especially if it's been transported over longer periods where some of the water-soluble vitamins might be lost," Vadiveloo said. "Frozen is probably the most consistent because it's picked at peak freshness and nutrient quality."

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