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

When corn isn't safe for someone who's celiac or gluten-sensitive

Corn

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you need to know when to watch out for corn products. Whether you're allergic to corn or have issues with corn along with sensitivity to gluten, you'll want to know what to look for when shopping for corn-free and gluten-free products.

That said, you don't want to avoid corn unnecessarily. 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 the ears of corn yourself and cooking them 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 (including cream-style corn, which is usually made with cornstarch and sugar) 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 Ingredients May Not Be Safe

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.

If you're shopping for products or dishes made with corn, don't assume that they're free from gluten. For example, most recipes for commercially made corn muffins call for more wheat flour than cornmeal, meaning they're most certainly not gluten-free.

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.

Is Cream Corn Gluten-Free?

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

Corn Cross-Reactivity

Disinformation periodically circulates within the gluten-free community claiming 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.

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 there are several caveats.

First, it's important to know how your corn was prepared. If you buy fresh corn on the cob and prepare it at home in your gluten-free kitchen, you won't have to worry about gluten or cross-contamination.

With dishes made with corn and other corn products, remember that they often have additional ingredients (which may contain gluten) and that there is a risk of cross-contamination in the process of manufacturing and packaging.

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.

If you're only beginning to navigate a diet free of gluten, check out our ultimate gluten-free food list for some quick pointers.

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Article Sources
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