Monday, February 18, 2013

Strategies for Coping with a Corn Allergy

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Since finding out that I was allergic to corn over the summer, my diet has changed significantly. Corn and its many derivatives are hidden ingredients in so many food items and packagings that finding things that I can eat has been a daily challenge. (For me the difficulty is compounded by the fact that corn is just one of my many allergies as I have blogged about in the past.) It is also a serious allergy in my case; my corn allergy is considered by my doctors as a trigger of my developing angioedema. But that's for another post. In short, food and my body are not on the best of terms and I LOVE food and eating.

Those of us with corn allergies know it is a particular challenge  Corn is not considered a top eight food allergen so food items that often come from corn, such as citric acid and dextrose, are not listed as such on labels.  Fruits in the supermarket? Can have a waxy coating derived from corn.  Medicines?  Often contain corn starch as a binder.  Eco-friendly plastic cups?  Made of corn derivatives. I could go on and on but that hopefully gives a sense of what it means when I describe corn as pervasive in our lives. 

I have come up with a few discoveries and lifestyle changes which have helped me significantly reduce my corn reactions. I do admit that I wish that I did not have to spend so much time procuring the foods I can eat and then making them because it is pretty time and energy consuming! I thought I would share them and would love to hear any solutions others have come up with. 

Farmer's Market Shopping. By shopping at the farmer's market, I can talk to directly to farmers about how they grow their fruits and vegetables and make sure they are pesticide and corn free. I have learned that organic does not mean corn free so it is not as simple as just looking for organic labels. For example, corn gluten meal is sometimes used as a natural herbicide.  Who would have thought?!! I also find the produce there more delicious, but that's a side benefit.

Eating Whole Foods. Eating whole foods is pretty straight forward.  I don't buy things that are processed.  If I want to eat cherries, I buy whole cherries without any sort of sauce or sugar already added.  This is probably a healthier way to eat anyway, but also more time consuming.  

Washing and Peeling. And washing again.  When I do buy fruits and vegetables, I try to stick to ones that can be peeled like apples, oranges, and carrots. (This is especially important for me during the winter when I have to do more shopping at the grocery store.) Getting rid of the peel and washing everything thoroughly has really helped decrease my allergic reactions.  I also avoid pre-washed vegetables and salads because the wash used for these can include citric acid. 

Along similar lines, I wash meat before I cook it.  While it might seem a little strange, the FDA allows citric acid and lactic acid to be used in the processing of meat and poultry. Places that don't use citric acid sometimes use vinegar for the same purpose which can be made from corn alcohol.

Packaging Matters. While I am a big proponent of reducing waste, many eco friendly and biodegradable cups and wrappings are made from corn.   My general rule is when anything is labeled as coming from plant materials, I don't use it to be safe. If a coffee shop has biodegradable cups, I bring my own mug. If a butcher counter wraps meats in plant based packaging, I bring my own such as a simple ziplock bag. 

Home Cooking. Cooking my own foods greatly decreases the risk that I have an allergic reaction. Now, cooking and particularly the clean up afterward are not in my top five favorite activities and I am not a chef by any means.  I have, however, found and invented some fairly simple allergy friendly recipes that I wanted to start sharing. I'll include these in another post. 

Well, that's where I've started. It's made a difference but I still have a long way to go to stop my reactions.  It would be so helpful if corn was labeled the way dairy and gluten are, but I am not sure this will change soon.  I'd be really curious if any non-US readers with a corn allergy have an easier time and if they find it less pervasive in their foods.


  1. Great ideas. Generally most of those are good/healthy things to be doing anyway. :o)

    1. Very good point. It would be great if eating this way helped my AI diseases too!!