Blue corn on the cob

Is Blue Corn Really Healthy?

Published: March 2021

Feeling blue? That's sometimes a good thing, especially when it comes to your food.

Blue foods contain anthocyanins, a type of plant-based antioxidant found in abundance, and not exclusively in berries and red wine.

Take, for instance, blue corn. Blue corn is actually regular yellow corn with a high level of anthocyanins, which gives it a bluish hue.

Blue corn is botanically identical to yellow corn—but with one important difference. Its deep blue-purple color is the result of its rich anthocyanin content—with a concentration equal to or greater than the anthocyanin concentration of blueberries and a higher antioxidant capacity.

What is blue corn?

Blue corn has an anthocyanin content equal to blueberries

Blue corn is one of the oldest varieties of corn. The Pueblo indigenous American tribe in the southwestern United States had been feasting on this variety as far back as 1540, when Spanish explorers discovered the region.

Blue corn is open-pollinated, so its growth is not as easily regulated as that of commercial hybrid yellow or white corn. It is a floury corn, and it has about 30 percent more protein than the average hybrid corn. It is still widely used in the Southwest and Mexico, where it is a staple food.

The health benefits of blue corn

Blue corn is one of the oldest varieties of corn

The anthocyanin in blue corn and other similarly colored foods has multiple health benefits, including potentially improving memory and fighting cancer and diabetes! This flavonoid has been shown to reduce the proliferation of several cancer cell lines, and improve memory in animal studies.

There's also evidence that the anthocyanin in blue corn can help protect against diabetes. In animal studies, anthocyanins were shown to regulate the breakdown of carbohydrates and release of insulin and prevent the development of diabetes.

Anthocyanins are good for you for other reasons, too! In addition to the anti-cancer and heart health benefits, other studies suggest that this nutrient reduces inflammation. Clearly, there's a lot to love about anthocyanins. So who's hungry for blue corn?

Non-GMO blue corn for the win!

Most of the corn available today is genetically modified, and some of us are trying to avoid GMOs. It's actually easier to find non-GMO blue corn than a non-GMO yellow or white variety.

But because the United States Department of Agriculture doesn't require GMO labeling, it is impossible to be 100 percent certain that you're eating non-GMO blue corn. Trusting the source of the corn is very important.

Recipe: Blue Corn Tortilla Soup

Blue corn tortilla soup

One of my favorite recipes is for tortilla soup but made with blue tortilla chips. Before you judge me for enjoying a soup made from chips, take a look at the ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of real butter or a butter spread made with olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons crushed fresh garlic
  • 2 cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes 1 cup green chilies, both undrained
  • 1 can vegetarian chili
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 60 blue corn tortilla chips
  • 6 lime wedges

Directions:

  1. Heat butter or butter spread in large saucepan over medium-high heat; add onions and garlic; cook 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Add broth, undrained tomatoes and chilies, chili and cilantro. Bring to a boil.
  2. Break 4 chips into the bottom of each serving bowl. Ladle soup over chips. Squeeze lime over soup.
  3. Divide and arrange remaining tortilla chips equally around rim of each soup bowl to create a sundial effect; serve.
  4. Calories: 353 per serving (1-1/2 cups each).

Full disclosure: the amount of anthocyanins in the blue tortilla chips is minimal, at best. So if you really want to benefit from blue corn, recipes using minimally processed blue corn—instead, maybe just eat the ear, steamed—are probably your best bet. That being said, this really IS a delicious soup. Try it, and enjoy!

But do think twice if you're tempted to go back for second or third servings. Eating too much corn can result in post-meal sugar spikes and insulin dysfunction down the line. So it's probably best to eat corn in moderation.

References

  • Cevallos-Casals BA, Cisneros-Zevallos L. Stoichiometric and kinetic studies of phenolic antioxidants from Andean purple corn and red-fleshed sweetpotato. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2003;51(11):3313-3319.
  • Herrera-Sotero MY, Cruz-Hernández CD, Trujillo-Carretero C, et al. Antioxidant and antiproliferative activity of blue corn and tortilla from native maize. Chem Cent J. 2017;11(1):110.
  • Aguirre López LO, Chávez Servia JL, Gómez Rodiles CC, Beltrán Ramírez JR, Bañuelos Pineda J. Blue Corn Tortillas: Effects on Learning and Spatial Memory in Rats. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands). 2017;72(4):448-450.
  • Różańska D, Regulska-Ilow B. The significance of anthocyanins in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Advances in clinical and experimental medicine : official organ Wroclaw Medical University. 2018;27(1):135-142.

By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Dr. Michael A. Smith received his medical doctorate from the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, and he practiced Internal Medicine and Radiology in Dallas, Texas in the early 2000s. Dr. Smith is the author of The Supplement Pyramid: How to Build your Personalized Nutritional Regimen. He is also the host of Live FOREVERish, a podcast and Facebook Live show for Life Extension.