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Ask Dr. Gourmet

Is corn a starch or a vegetable?

I just read your article about corn comparing it to other grains. So how about comparing it to vegetables. School lunches, senior center lunches, etc. serve corn as a vegetable. Granted many people will eat corn when they will not eat broccolli. So should it be counted as a vegetable or a starch as many people count potatoes?

Dr. Gourmet Says...

Fresh ears of corn with their husks

Corn is a whole grain and is similar to the species of rice, oats and millet (see diagram below).

diagram of the species and family classification of corn and other whole grains

You are correct that folks often confuse corn and think of it as a vegetable like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. People often confuse tomatoes, eggplant, and avocados as being vegetables in much the same way (they are actually fruit).

In some ways these are minor points, as what we really want is for people to eat more plant based foods, whether that means they are fruits & nuts, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, or legumes. The key with corn, like other grains, is to consume them in the less refined forms. For example, just as whole wheat flour is better for you than white flour, "grits" (or polenta), made from whole grain yellow corn meal, has about 30% more fiber than its more refined cousin, white grits.

Corn is "starchier" than other plant based ingredients, and whole grains do usually have more complex carbohydrates, but one can't really count on a vegetable to be less starchy. Sweet potatoes are a vegetable, for example, but they are higher in starches than, say, broccoli or asparagus.

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP
Dr. Gourmet