Is Corn Gluten-Free? (Learn When It's Not!)

In most cases, corn is safe for those with celiac or gluten sensitivity

corn cobs grilling
This corn should be perfectly gluten-free. Deasy Buwana / EyeEm / Getty Images

Plain corn — the kind you eat right off the cob — always is gluten-free. Corn in most other forms usually is gluten-free, too, but not always. When you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you need to know when to watch out for corn products.

Yes, corn is a type of grain, but it's from a different branch of the grain family than the gluten grains wheat, barley and rye.

Corn contains a substance known as "corn gluten," which sounds scary, but isn't the same gluten that bothers people with celiac or gluten sensitivity.

 You can learn more about different types of gluten in What Is Gluten?.

Plain Corn Is Perfectly Gluten-Free (Usually)

Corn dishes that contain no other ingredients — i.e., corn on the cob or sweet corn niblets — shouldn't contain any gluten, as long as the corn was protected from cross contamination with gluten while it was being processed and prepared.

If you're shucking the ears of corn yourself and cooking them in your gluten-free kitchen, you shouldn't have any issues. In addition, most frozen canned products, even creamed-style corn (which most companies make with corn starch and sugar), won't contain any gluten ingredients.

But you can't necessarily count on all canned or frozen corn to be perfectly safe. Always read the label to check on the ingredients. In addition, depending on how sensitive you are to trace gluten, you may want to contact the manufacturer to determine if the corn is processed on equipment or in a factory where there's gluten present.

You'd be surprised at how often this is the case.

Processed Corn Ingredients May Not Be Safe

Corn meal should be safe, but again, you'll need to check with the company to determine if it could have been cross-contaminated in processing. Bob's Red Mill is one company that produces corn meal that's processed in a gluten-free facility.

Arrowhead Mills also produces gluten-free corn meal from both yellow corn and blue corn.

Don't assume commercially made corn muffins are gluten-free — they most likely are not. Unfortunately, most recipes for "corn" muffins include more wheat flour than corn meal!

The same goes for other commercial products made with corn meal 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 Corn Cross-Reactivity Possible?

There are some clinicians who believe corn gluten affects the body in ways similar to how the gluten protein in wheat, barley and rye affects the body. Although most mainstream researchers don't buy into this theory, a 2012 study found some evidence for it.

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