How Safe Is Corn When You're Gluten-Free?

Corn is not a gluten grain, but not all corn products are gluten-safe

Corn

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Corn does not have gluten; it is not one of the gluten grains. But if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you need to know when to use caution with corn products.

If you follow a gluten-free diet, you don't want to avoid corn unnecessarily. Sometimes it makes a great substitute for gluten grains. Most people with gluten sensitivity can safely enjoy corn long as they avoid products made with gluten-containing ingredients and those at risk for cross-contamination.

Plain Corn Is (Usually) Gluten-Free

Plain corn—the kind you eat right off the cob—is always gluten-free. Corn is usually free of gluten in other forms, too, but there are some important caveats.

As long as the corn was protected from cross-contamination with gluten while it was being processed and prepared, corn dishes that contain no other ingredients (such as corn on the cob or sweet corn niblets) shouldn't contain any gluten.

If you're shucking corn yourself and cooking it in your gluten-free kitchen, you shouldn't have any issues. Even if you aren't using fresh corn, you'll find that most frozen and canned corn doesn't contain gluten ingredients.

That said, you'll still want to carefully check the label and ingredients list on any corn product. Unless clearly certified and labeled as such, you can't assume a product is gluten-free.

Depending on how sensitive you are to trace gluten, you may need to contact the manufacturer to determine if corn has been processed on equipment or in a factory where gluten is present. Research has shown that cross-contamination of gluten occurs in both industrialized and non-industrialized products.

Processed Corn Products

If you're shopping for products or dishes made with corn, don't assume that they're free from gluten. Cornmeal should be safe, but again, it's always a good idea to ask the company if the product could have been cross-contaminated in processing.

The same goes for other commercial products made with cornmeal or other corn-based ingredients: unless it's specifically labeled gluten-free, you'll need to confirm the product's gluten-free status with the manufacturer.

For example, most recipes for commercially made corn muffins call for more wheat flour than cornmeal, meaning they're most certainly not gluten-free.

Is Creamed Corn Gluten-Free?

Creamed corn (the type that comes in a can) is not necessarily gluten-free. While your homemade creamed corn is probably made with real cream, canned versions get their "cream" from food starch. The canned recipes also often use other ingredients, like salt and sugar (or another sweetener), which may contain gluten.

While most manufacturers use corn starch (which also acts as a thickener), it's never safe to assume. In addition to the type and source of the food starch used, canned cream corned may experience gluten cross-contamination during processing.

Is Popcorn Gluten-Free?

Regular whole-kernel unpopped popcorn is naturally gluten-free. If you pop your own popcorn at home, you can help keep the snack gluten-free. Microwave popcorn is also gluten-free.

Most brands of popped bagged popped popcorn at the grocery store will also be gluten-free, but always make sure to check packaging.

Movie theater popcorn, while not always labeled gluten-free, is likely safe from gluten. However, reach out to the theater to confirm, especially if you have a serious gluten intolerance.

Corn Cross-Reactivity

Advice periodically circulates in the gluten-free community suggesting that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to avoid corn. Corn is a type of grain, as are wheat, barley, and rye. However, corn is from a different branch of the grain family than the gluten grains wheat, barley, and rye.

Corn contains a substance known as "corn gluten," but this is not the same gluten that people with celiac or gluten sensitivity need to avoid.

Some researchers have proposed that corn gluten affects the body in ways similar to how gluten protein in wheat, barley, and rye does. However, studies on the subject remain limited and few have demonstrated evidence in support of the theory.

A Word From Verywell

In general, eating corn should not pose a problem for those on a gluten-free diet, but it's important to know how your corn was prepared and whether there is a risk of cross-contamination. Carefully reading the label and ingredients list will help, but you may need to contact the manufacturer of a corn product directly. 

People who are allergic to corn need to exercise caution, but the extra consideration is separate from concerns related to gluten sensitivity. Contrary to popular myths, corn gluten is not typically a problem for people who can't have gluten.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does maize have gluten?

    Maize, also known as corn, is naturally gluten-free. Corn on the cob, canned corn, and corn flour are all gluten-free, but always make sure to check the label.

  • Does cornbread have gluten?

    Most cornbread recipes include wheat flour, which means the cornbread includes gluten. However, if you prepare your own cornbread using gluten-free flour, you can keep the dish gluten-free.

  • What are the symptoms of corn intolerance?

    If you're allergic to corn, symptoms will appear approximately two hours after consuming food with corn. Symptoms include stomach nausea, discomfort, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, or vomiting. You may also experience hives and skin rashes, difficulty breathing, asthma, or bodily and face swelling.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson is a medical journalist and an expert in celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and the gluten-free diet.