Two 〈Foo〉s Walk into a 〈Bar〉: Featuring the Highest Angle Bracket–to–Word Ratio Among Site Titles

Too Much Corn

How much is too much?

I'm not fully convinced that it's possible to eat "too much" of certain foods (barring forced overfeeding), but it's clearly true of many foods, even some very healthy ones. One staple food that was sometimes overconsumed was corn. Setting aside the question of whether corn is "very healthy" on net, we can say that eating too much (at least, without traditional preparation methods) can cause pellagra. With modern, niacin‐fortified diets, we can eat corn without fear of pellagra, but presumably the level of safe consumption still has some upper bound.

In a trivial sense, you're eating "too much corn" if you eat so much that there's no room for other foods needed to supply nutrients lacked by corn. But let's suppose that corn had no calories so that you could eat as much other food as you needed to avoid basic deficiencies. Still, I propose that it's probably possible to eat too much corn. Maybe it has trace amounts of poisons (like mercury in fish?). How much would you need to eat before they (or some other constituents) cause problems?

We'll suppose that you eat corn every day. How many ears sounds like too many? ten a day? twenty? thirty, day in and day out, every day of your life? Let's go with thirty and see where that leads us.

One ear of corn contains 213 mg of omega‐6 fatty acids and 2.3 g of sugar. It contains a lot of other things, but let's focus on those two because they are frequently demonized. That demonization is partly on the basis that both are regarded as "empty calories" added to many foods, but we're discounting calories, so we'll focus on the idea that the substances themselves are blamed for various ills (inflammation, tooth decay, etc.). Perhaps some of our assumed negative effects would be produced by these two substances.

Luckily, none of us eat thirty ears of corn per day. Probably none of us have eaten thirty ears of corn in a single day even once. So we're out of the woods.

Thirty ears of corn

...unless we eat anything with corn in it. But even if we count the chicken‐corn soup from lunch, we're nowhere near thirty ears. If we want to hit our "goal," we're going to need to refine the corn.

1 T of corn oil contains 7224 mg of omega‐6 fatty acids. 1 T isn't that much in the context of a meal: It's about 120 calories. Using corn oil in your daily cooking could easily get you many times that, not even counting what's added to prepared foods you purchase.

A 32‐oz Coke contains 85.4 g of sugar. Not everyone drinks a 32‐oz Coke every day, but the average amount of added sugar in the US diet is usually estimated in this range, so most of us are getting that amount in some form (plus, of course, whatever sugar we get in whole foods).

Now for the math: Let's assume that we can extract every bit of sugar and fat from an ear of corn. (Modern extractors use hexane to harvest about 95 percent of the oil. I couldn't find numbers for the sugar extraction process, but the linked page quotes a 90% number for beet molasses, so it's at least plausible that the percentage is similarly high for corn.) How many ears of corn had to die for my tablespoon of oil and my large Coke?

  • Omega‐6: 7224 ÷ 213 = 33.9 ears of corn
  • Sugar: 85.4 ÷ 2.3 = 37.1 ears of corn

That's over thirty ears of corn for either of the two. In the case of the Coke, this comes out to more than one ear of corn per ounce.


We can only guess what part of our thirty ears of corn a day would kill us. Omega‐6 and sugar sound like decent guesses, and it would't help if we stripped out most of the vitamins and minerals (oil retains some but only a small amount), converted some of the fat to trans fat, and oxidized the oil by heating it during cooking.

Fortunately, nobody eats thirty ears of corn a day, much less under those conditions....