shopping tips for a corn allergy
With the long list of foods my son is allergic to, corn is by far the hardest to avoid because it is in almost everything and the FDA does not require manufacturers to clearly list it on products.
Avoiding corn isn’t as simple as ruling out corn on the cob and cornbread and things sweetened with corn syrup. The problem is that corn is in almost every food manufactured in America today and the label doesn’t have to say corn on it.
I think the most important rule to follow is to assume something has corn in it unless it explicitly says, no corn or does not contain corn. If it doesn’t say that, then you won’t know whether it contains corn unless you understand what absolutely everything is or what it is derived from. Some labels are easy to read. Some have chemical names and are not easy to read unless you’re a chemist or a food scientist.
corn goes by a thousand different names
Read the label. If it has any ingredient ending in ose, assume that ingredient is derived from corn. Call the manufacturer or e-mail them and ask them if their product contains corn. (I have often called a company while standing in a store with package in hand.) If they say no, then ask them the source of such and such an ingredient. Often that mystery ose item is derived from cottonwood instead of corn, so you’re good to go. Sometimes the answer is vegetable. This answer has been quite annoying, but sometimes that is the only answer readily available. For a corn allergy, one must assume that vegetable really means corn, because usually it does.
Starch or food starch most likely means corn. You need to ask what the source is. Citric acid is often derived from corn (sounds like it would be from citrus, doesn’t it?)
corn is in many vitamins and medications
Look at all medications and vitamins. Most vitamins (except oils) are grown in corn. There are a few companies dedicated to making corn free vitamins. Corn is used in both over the counter and prescription medications. Depending on the severity of your corn allergy, perhaps taking the corn product outweighs your allergic reaction. For others who have severe breakouts, hives or anaphalactic shock, it’s necessary to avoid corn no matter what. Zyrtec, Claritin, ibuprofin, aspirin, etc. all contain corn.
corn is added to meats
Read your beef, pork and chicken labels. You need to look for contains up to 4% retained water (or similar percentage). Most chicken is enhanced with or contains 12% natural chicken broth. This natural broth usually contains corn. Avoid it! Don’t go by the word “natural” on the label. Look for the teeny weeny fine print that says what has been added or retained.
You’ll probably need to stay away from deli meats and pickled items as these all could contain corn. Unless you verify with the manufacturer, you must assume that corn was used in the pickling or aging process. Here’s an interesting page all about curing agents.
corn is often added to fresh produce
That beautiful shiny apple at your grocery store could contain corn. Just yesterday, my son turned all red and splotchy from an apple he ate even though I scrubbed it like crazy to remove any waxy coating. So watch your fresh fruits and vegetables. Sometimes buying organic is necessary (but don’t assume because something is organic that it is safe).
corn is in table salt
Yes — believe it not, corn is used in the iodization process in common table salt. That means that anything that contains salt at the store could contain trace amounts of corn. Because my son’s corn allergy is so severe and he reacts to trace amounts of corn, I look for products that contain sea salt or that are salt free. Use sea salt in your cooking. You can find this right next to the iodized salt at the grocery store, but read your label. Some sea salt contains anti-caking agents that (I’m not sure) could contain corn. I buy mine from the bulk bins at Whole Foods or the Good Foods Market.
so what can I buy and where do I shop?
- Whole Foods has removed products containing high fructose corn syrup from their shelves. That helps a lot: It doesn’t mean that all corn has been removed from the store, but it does mean that you can find more safe products. I buy a lot of their 365 store-brand products, especially oils (but I’m shopping to avoid a lot more allergens than just corn.)
- Trader Joe’s (I don’t have one) is a good place to shop.
- the natural foods section of your regular grocery store
- the perimeter of your regular grocery store. Remember that all packaged food from most manufacturers — cereal, crackers, granola bars, etc. — likely contains corn, and those products are all in the aisles.
- look for organic on bottled, boxed, and canned food. Organic doesn’t guarantee corn free, but it does usually mean it’s sweetened with something other than corn syrup or HFCS. I buy things like organic ketchup. Some stores are coming up with their own organic labels which are cheaper than other organic lines. Meijer has its own organic label, for example.
- Look in the markdown area of your store. I often find products that have been discontinued and drastically reduced (priced twice as much as other stores, so that’s why they haven’t sold).
This thorough website has extensive lists of corn ingredients and advice in living with a corn allergy. Check it out, you may find it helpful.
What are your tips for shopping and cooking corn free?