I’m going to talk about a corn free diet. If you’re reading this page, it’s likely that you are new to a corn intolerance or allergy. You might be internally screaming from the overwhelming amount of information of what foods to avoid. Or have no idea where to start. And that’s okay! You are not alone. There’s a surprising amount of people who have a sensitivity to corn.
This post is going to talk about what you CAN eat on a corn free diet. I’ll explain how to do that, by giving suggestions on where the corn might be in products. I will try to avoid going into too much detail on avoiding corn in all aspects of life, because corn isn’t just in food. It’s in cosmetics, medicine, clothing, etc. But starting with a diet free from corn is the place to start. I know when I started researching, all I saw were these huge lists of ingredients to avoid (like this one). Nothing was said about what I could eat. It was overwhelming.
In this article, I want to talk about what you CAN eat, and how to modify your diet (hint: it requires cooking a lot more than you’re probably used to). I’ll also link specific brands (mostly found in the USA) if there are some that are more trusted for being corn free. If you happen to live in New Zealand, check out my page of brands I eat and where to buy them.
Things to note:
I want to mention – there is a wide range of corn allergies and intolerances, from only having issues if you eat specifically popcorn, to not being able to go outside because even going near someone wearing perfume will cause anaphylaxis. Where am I? Somewhere in the middle. I have stomach reactions to almost all corn derivatives when ingested, but don’t really have any problem with touching corn or smelling corn derivatives (unless my bucket is full)
Looking for something specific? Press down the buttons Ctrl and F at the same time to search just this page for a topic/phrase. This also does not need to be read in order, so feel free to scroll to find what you’re looking for. I’m starting with some of the simpler items, then ending with more complicated, at least in my mind.
If you already have the basics of avoiding corn down and are looking for recipes to make, you can look through my recipes for new ideas.
I’ll update this page periodically as ingredients change (which they often do) or as I learn more.
Let’s head into what you CAN eat with a corn-free diet, where I’ll discuss what to look for and alternatives for snacks. *Most of these suggestions will be at my level of sensitivity, so trial cautiously, but this is a good starting point.
The Basics of Eating a Corn Free Diet
This is a starting point, with ideas of what to start mentally preparing yourself for eating corn free.
- If it becomes overwhelming, take a break, go for a walk, try and get out of your head for a bit. Then come back to it (I still occasionally get overwhelmed 8 years into a corn intolerance).
- Give yourself more time to cook every week.
- Start from scratch for meals – use simple ingredients, like fresh produce.
- Start with simple recipes, ones with only a few ingredients required (don’t try and make a gourmet meal right away).
- Rather than buying a store-bought prepared meal, try making something simple, like grilling meat with only salt and pepper, or stir fry vegetables with rice.
- Make your own food – stop going out to eat. Going out to eat means there are ingredients that you cannot control.
- Look for local farmers markets and local shops to start buying items from.
- If shopping at a grocery store, for the most part, avoid the “middle” section of the store – focus mainly on the sides and back (i.e. avoid the highly processed foods).
- Reading labels becomes really important, as many ingredients are made from corn without outright stating “corn” (see list linked above).
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics of eating with a corn allergy, let’s delve into different types of foods and what to buy/look for.
Can I eat fresh fruit and vegetables with a corn allergy? Yes! Having a corn allergy, you can still eat fresh produce. In fact, it is one of the main things to purchase. Here are some tips for what to buy, fruit and vegetable wise, and depending on sensitivity:
- Try to buy local, at farmers markets. Talk to the farmers, and ask if they spray the produce with anything (likely any insecticides or other sprays will contain corn).
- Clean your produce thoroughly after purchase with an unscented soap or just hot water before eating.
- Starting out with a corn allergy, you can buy produce at a store, but be wary of this:
- Most produce is cleaned before it is delivered to the grocery store, which could be a corny cleanse. This doesn’t bother me, but keep that in mind.
- Check the bags you are putting the produce in. A lot of shops are switching from plastic to biodegradable corn-based bags.
- Be careful with bananas, as they are ripened with ethylene gas (made from corn). This doesn’t bother me personally, but keep that in mind.
- Try to avoid store-bought apples. Apples, along with some other produce, have a wax coating on them (made from corn). If you really want apples, try soaking them in boiling water for a minute, then peel the skin. Or buy them from a local farmer.
Meat and other Animal Products
Can I still eat meat on a corn free diet? Yes! Keep in mind, your sensitivity may vary. Some people are okay with store-bought meat. This is where I suggest starting if you feel overwhelmed with all of the foods to avoid. What kinds of meat can I buy?
- Look for grass-fed beef or free range chickens, because most animals eat corn. These animals might be eating some corn, but it’ll be less than the animals on a feed lot.
- Pre-packaged meat – check that the container is made from styrofoam and it doesn’t have a soaking pad inside. You don’t want anything corn made touching the meat.
- If you want to make hamburgers, ask behind the counter at the deli to grind fresh meat for you. This way you have fresher meat and fewer processing ingredients to worry for. This way there is less chance of added spices or other corn ingredients.
- Avoid sausages and most deli-meats, because they tend to have a lot of additives that can be made from corn.
- For highly allergic to corn people:
- Often during meat processing, they use a cleaning agent in that is made from corn. In this case, you will want to talk to a local butcher about how they clean and process the meat.
- You might have to find local farmers and ask specifically what the animals are fed to ensure there is no corn in the feed.
What about fish? Can I eat fish with a corn allergy? Definitely! Fish is a great source of protein.
- Buy wild-caught fish.
- Avoid farm raised fish – their feed is more likely to have a corn component.
- When buying items like salmon or shrimp, check to make sure no coloring has been added.
- Only buy fish, nothing that has been breaded or marinated.
Can I still consume dairy products? Yes! A few things to make sure of before buying something dairy:
- In the USA, most milks are fortified with vitamins, due to FDA requirements. Those added vitamins and minerals can have corn in them. An example is Vitamin A, made with corn oil.
- Buy natural cheese – make sure there are no colors added or flavorings.
- The same concern as meats apply with dairy – over whether the animal ate corn or not and if that impacts you personally.
- Bacteria to make cheeses and yogurts can be grown in a lab on a petri dish filled with corn products; just keep that in mind.
- Looking at yogurts, make sure you are buying ones only with ingredients of milk and bacteria, no added flavorings or thickeners- you can add in your own sugar and fruit at home!
- Ice cream – one of the more tolerated brands for people low in corn sensitivity is Haagen-Dazs. This is where you have to look at the ingredient label, comparing ingredients to one of those scary sheets that has all of the ingredients that can be made from corn.
- Non-dairy milk – typically these are filled with corny ingredients to make the texture and flavor right. It’s easy to make these at home and then you can control what goes into them!
What about things like flour? Or rice and quinoa? How about bread or bagels? Can I still eat these if I have a corn allergy? Sure! Here’s some advice on buying (or making) those:
Whole and Milled Grains
- AVOID BOB’S RED MILL – they are huge with cross contamination, and makes a lot of people with a corn allergy or intolerance sick, regardless of their level of sensitivity.
- Flour – buy wholemeal or unbleached – the bleaching process can be corny.
- Starches and gums – tapioca starch, guar gum, and arrowroot powder are some that are safe. Xanthan gum and cornstarch are made from corn – so avoid those.
- Arrowroot powder is a good substitute in recipes for corn starch, acting similarly.
- Gluten free flours – avoid buying “gluten free flour” mixes because those typically have corn starch in them. Buy individual ingredients and mix together yourself
- Cassava flour is an easy alternative to flour, in my opinion. Otto’s Cassava Flour is the most trusted for being corn free as they have 15 pound bags that are hand filled in an area that has no corn contamination. This is important for extremely severe corn allergies. Sometimes their 15 pound packages of Cassava Flour on Amazon are the hand packed, but you might want to email the company first.
- Oats – the biggest issue is cross contamination with this one, where the line packaging oats is shared by a corn product and corn particles enter. Trader Joe’s Gluten Free Oats are the safest that I’ve heard about recently.
- Rice – rice should be okay to start. The only concern really is cross contamination. Rinse the rice before using.
- The same goes for many other grains – the primary concern is cross contamination in the factory.
- Bread (and bread like products) are something you might have to learn to make. Red Star Yeast in the small packets is the best tolerated yeast on the market.
- The other option (with luck) is to find a local bakery for fresh bread that you can ask about ingredients.
- Often times the cheaper breads in grocery stores have a lot of added ingredients to make them last longer. These additives are typically made from corn. There could also be corn starch on the bottom of the product to keep it from sticking.
- Pasta – make sure the pasta only has one ingredient in it (and that ingredient isn’t corn).
- A lot of grain products and cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals (like milk) so make sure what you’re buying isn’t fortified. Those additives are likely corn based.
- Tortillas – tortillas are hard to find in the store. Make sure to look for flour tortillas, and that they don’t have baking powder or corn starch in them. The alternative is to make them yourself!
- Granola bars – these are something you will probably have to make for yourself. The only store-bought bars that I’ve done okay with are Larabars.
- Cereal – all of the highly processed cereals are going to have corn in them. I typically combine single ingredient puffed rice with homemade granola for breakfast.
Cooking and Baking Ingredients
What about the cooking and basic baking ingredients like sugar and spices? Can I eat those on a corn free diet? Definitely! These will become your best friend with making meals and desserts.
- Pure cane sugar is okay to use – if you’re in the USA, the best 2 brands for corn allergic people are C&H (found mostly on the west coast) and Zulka Morena Pure Cane Sugar (found primarily on the east coast).
- Molasses – molasses should be okay too! The recommended brand is Plantation Blackstrap Molasses.
- Brown sugar – brown sugar can have corny ingredients or coloring in it, so instead make your own by combining molasses and sugar in a blender. Simple! Or, skip altogether and substitute white sugar in the recipe.
- Powdered (or Confectioners) sugar typically has corn starch to keep it from clumping. It’s fairly easy to make at home, by blending or processing cane sugar until it is finely ground. I’ve heard that a coffee grinder actually works the best for making your own.
- Maple syrup – there is one step in making maple syrup (the de-foaming process) that can use corn and not be labeled on the container. Sugar Maple Farm doesn’t use a defoamer, and is the most tolerated brand.
- Honey – look for local honey. Ideally at a farmers market where you can ask what the bees are fed during the winter – sometimes the bees get fed corn syrup during the winter months.
- Sugar-free/ sugar alternatives – I suggest staying away from them, since they likely are made from corn or have a processing step that includes corn.
- Savory spices – these should be okay on their own. Avoid “spice blends” and always check the ingredients to ensure the ingredients don’t include anti-caking agents (anti-caking is typically corn). It’s really easy to make your own spice blends if you want them.
- The safest spice companies for severe corn allergies are: Frontier and Penzeys .
- Check the packaging carefully – lately I’ve been finding spices packaged in a corn-compostable bag, which means the spices are not safe to eat.
- Salt – Use sea salt or kosher. Salt is tricky, because most salt has iodine added to it, as well as an anti-caking agent to make sure it doesn’t clump together in humid environments. So most table salt is going to have corn in it.
Ingredients for baking
- Baking soda – should be fairly safe, Karlin’s is the most recommended for people with severe allergies.
- Baking powder typically has corn starch in it. Instead, use a ratio of baking soda and cream of tartar – for 3 tsp baking powder, use 2 tsp cream of tartar and 1 tsp baking soda.
- Vanilla extract (or any other extracts): these are not safe, because the alcohol typically used to extract the flavor is made from corn. Luckily, vanilla extract is really easy to make if you have safe alcohol (the only downside is it requires 3 months of patience)
- Cocoa powder – it is an essential item in my pantry; it should be fairly safe.
- Vinegar – look for apple cider vinegar (except Heinz!) instead. White or “distilled” vinegar is usually made from corn.
- Oil – the safest oils seem to be coconut, avocado, olive, (or I typically do sunflower oil but it’s not safe for everyone). Avoid corn oil, “vegetable” oil, and canola oil (making canola oil requires a corny step).
- Soy sauce – there are a few substitutes for soy sauce on the market, such as Braggs Liquid Aminos, which has fewer ingredients than soy sauce. Can’t do soy? There’s Coconut Aminos as an alternative.
- Vegetable broth – this is an item you will have to make at home, or learn to live without, because usually there’s corn itself in it, corn starch for thickening, or flavoring added. I use salt water in place of vegetable broth as an easy fix.
Desserts and Sweets
Ahh! I love sugar and confectionery desserts and cake! How do I eat that when I have a corn allergy? Well, you have to be very selective with what you buy and might have to learn to love baking.
- Baking ingredients listed above are a selection of items you can use to make many types of desserts.
- Almost anything you can buy can be made! Or something similar. Cinnamon rolls, cake, fudge, cookies… It just requires using the right, corn free, ingredients.
- But what about confectionery sweets? Try to avoid that section of the store at all costs. That way a feeling of longing won’t come over you.
- I’ve heard grapes dipped in lemon tastes similar to sour patch kids…
- Depending on sensitivity, there are some chocolate bars you can buy. These can be eaten as is, chopped to become chips for cookies, or melted to make chocolate covered raisins.
- Marshmallows – there are some marshmallows that can be purchased. I’ll update when I remember which those are. Otherwise, they can be made at home!
Drinks – caffeine, alcohol, and other
I hate water! I drink soda all day, aside from coffee and booze. What do I do? Is any of that corn free? You might have to cut out soda, but some of the other items can stay.
- Water – if you genuinely hate the taste of water, try adding bits of fruit to it. Then you have a little bit of flavor
- Tea – invest in a tea ball or infuser, and buy loose-leaf. Ones that state all the ingredients, and don’t have any nonsense of “natural flavors.”
- The bags tea comes in can be made from corn, or have a corny aspect to it. It’s easier to just avoid
- Coffee – buy beans and grind them yourself. Use a french press or any method that doesn’t require a filter (it usually is made with corn or has something corn-derived in it). Avoid decaf, because an aspect of the process is corny.
- Energy drinks – these, like soda, are usually filled with corn. Try switching to coffee or tea instead.
- Soda – the main brand people having luck with is Maine Root, so many others have corn syrup or flavorings in it made from corn.
- Alcohol – a lot of alcohol is made from corn (like bourbon). Or there’s flavoring added into it. Research online looking for ingredients before buying any. Patron tequila is a brand a lot of people with a corn allergy suggest.
- Juice and smoothies – these are better making your own. Store bought likely has citric acid or flavorings, made from corn.
Condiments, Dips, and Spreads
- Peanut butter and other nut butters can be eaten with a corn allergy! Look for the ones that have peanuts as their only ingredient. Every other ingredient added can be corny.
- Jam is most likely something you will have to make. Even if there are only a few ingredients in the list, you won’t know what the pectin is made from, and it could be corny.
- Most condiments unfortunately have corn ingredients, because of distilled vinegar, flavorings, or corn syrup. You can make them, but I would recommend only once you have other aspects of a corn free diet down.
- Same thing with dips – looking for salsa or guacamole? Those are items to look for recipes and learn how to make from scratch.
I grew up on canned goods! Can I still eat them now? Beans or tuna? What about SpaghettiOs and soup with a corn allergy?
- Some canned items are still okay. Canned vegetables, if they are only in a water brine.
- If anything is in a salt water brine, skip it – you don’t know what kind of salt they used.
- Check the ingredients – if there’s anything like citric acid or flavoring, or salt, avoid those products.
- Canned beans and tuna should be okay, as long as you follow the same rules as above.
- Things like SpaghettiOs or soups are items to avoid buying pre-made. Usually they will have corn starch as a thickening agent, or flavorings made from corn in the recipe. They’re fairly easy to make at home.
Man, I wish I could eat: popcorn, grits, tortilla chips, cheetos, etc… Are these safe for a corn free diet? I hope by now, you’ll know the answer to that. No. These are all almost inherently made from corn. But here are some tasty alternatives.
- Popcorn – a great substitute for popcorn is popped sorghum. It looks just like popcorn, but tiny. *Some people with food allergies might react the same way to sorghum as corn, so trial carefully.
- Another option is rice cakes, with oil/butter and salt drizzled on. This one might take a bit more imagination to believe it’s a popcorn substitute.
- Grits – I haven’t found a great substitute for grits yet. Some suggested alternatives are millet and buckwheat.
- Tortilla chips – Here are 2 options for tortilla chips not made from corn:
- Corn bread – have you heard of millet bread? It’s the closest I’ve ever made to a corn free corn bread. This you’ll have to make.
Are you sensing a theme? If not, I’ll point it out: find a few staple ingredients, and then make everything you possibly can from those ingredients. Prepare food in advance, so that if you want a snack, you don’t have to spend hours cooking while hungry. Start slowly – if you’re overwhelmed, take a break. Or talk to someone about it.
There is a grieving process with learning about a corn intolerance or allergy. It’s okay to feel sad, as long as you can work through it. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll recognize how much better your body feels without corn in it. *I’m only saying/suggesting this for people with corn allergies or intolerances, not for everyone.
If you’ve read all the way through this and think something important is missing, it’s likely that the item is something you will have to make yourself, rather than buy in stores.
Unfortunately, a corn allergy does take over many aspects of your life. If this has helped and you want more tips and tricks for how to survive and have fun with a corn allergy, read more here!
Have something to add or your experience? Leave a comment below.