Corn allergy is not one of the most common food allergens but it can cause severe symptoms just the same. This is a guide to help those with corn allergies live a safe, corn-free life.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), about 32 million people in the United States have food allergies.
While 90% of food allergies are to the Top 9 most common allergens, it is possible to be allergic to virtually any food. An allergy to corn is rare but can be very difficult to manage for people who do suffer from this allergy.
What is a corn allergy?
Food allergies are caused when an overly active immune system reacts to a food protein (allergen) as though it is a threat to the body . For those who have a corn allergy, this immune response is to corn protein or corn pollen.
Symptoms of a corn allergy can include vomiting, itching, diarrhea, wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and anaphylaxis. These symptoms can vary from person to person so if you are feeling uneasy after consuming corn, it is best to call your doctor or 911 depending on the severity of your reaction.
Corn allergy diagnosis
If you experience any of the symptoms above after consuming corn products, you should consider speaking to an allergist to help diagnose a food allergy. An allergist might perform a blood test, skin test, or an elimination diet to help diagnose a food allergy.
Foods to Avoid
Avoiding corn likely means eating fewer processed foods as many ingredients found in highly processed foods are derived from corn.
If you have a corn allergy, the ingredients below are some to avoid. As a basic rule of thumb, any ingredient that contains the word “corn” in it, should be avoided. Please note, this is not an exhaustive list.
- Baking powder (may contain corn)
- Caramel (may contain corn)
- Citric acid (may be derived from corn)
- Corn Flour
- Corn Oil
- Corn syrup
- Glucose and Glucose Syrup
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
- Modified food starch
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Sodium Erythorbate
- Vanilla extract
- Vegetable Oil (not all vegetable oil is made with corn)
- Xanthan gum (often derived from corn but may be from wheat or soy)
Foods that definitely contain corn:
- Cereals - Corn Flakes, Kix, Cheerios
- Tortilla chips made with corn
- Tortillas made with corn
Foods that might contain corn
These foods may contain corn, especially in the form of high fructose corn syrup or vegetable oil:
- Barbecue sauce and other sauces
- Canned vegetables
- Fast food french fries
- Fast food fried chicken
- Meats such as hot dogs and deli meats
- Pasta (some are made with corn)
- Peanut Butter if not just peanuts
- Salad dressings
- Snack foods (chips, crackers, etc)
- Spaghetti sauce
Food labeling laws
Unfortunately, corn is not included in the top 9 most common allergens and does not have to be clearly identified on food labels in the U.S.
If you have a corn allergy, becoming familiar with the corn-derived ingredient names will be helpful in label reading. Also, contacting manufacturers to determine if an ingredient is derived from corn may be necessary.
You can read more about food labeling laws for food allergens at FDA.gov.
Substitutes for Corn Free Cooking
An allergy to corn doesn't mean that you can't enjoy your favorite foods. Below are some substitutes for corn that are safe and delicious.
- Cassava Flour
- Cereals- Rice cereal, shredded wheat, bran
- Chips/Crackers- Siete “grain-free” products (tortillas, chips), rice, potato, some vegetable chips, rice cakes
- Condiments that do not contain HFCS or distilled vinegar
- Oils- Avocado, Olive, Rice, Sunflower
- Nut and seed butter without added corn syrup
- Pure cane sugar soda
- Rice syrup
- Starch- Arrowroot, Potato, Tapioca
- Corn-free baking powder
- Pasta made with legumes and whole grains
Many dishes can be made with alternations or omitting certain ingredients. For example, this turkey stroganoff recipe can be made without the mustard which may contain corn-derived ingredients.
This Instant Pot Pasta can be made with homemade spaghetti sauce or a prepared sauce without corn-derived ingredients.
And this Red Beans and Rice Skillet is corn free as long as you choose a sausage that does not have corn-derived ingredients.
Good nutrition without corn
When you're managing a corn allergy, it might feel like there is nothing "safe" to eat. This is because, as mentioned above, so many prepared foods contain ingredients derived from corn.
You can eat a healthy diet with a corn allergy, however. It just takes more food preparation and planning. A corn-free diet can actually be very healthy if you're willing to put in the effort of cooking more from scratch.
Read this article for tips on how to plan balanced meals and save time with meal planning and prep.
Following are some recipes that can be made corn free. Be sure to choose ingredients that do not contain corn-derived ingredients. For example, use corn-free sauces in main dishes and corn-free baking powder in baked goods.
For breads, be sure to find a corn free baking powder or make your own.