Cornstarch: Facts, Nutrition, And Potential Substitutes

While this household ingredient has a lot to offer, overconsumption can do more harm than good.

Medically reviewed by Jesse Feder, RDN, CPT Jesse Feder Jesse FederRDN, CPT linkedin_iconinsta_icon
Written by , Senior Health & Wellness Writer Sindhu Koganti Senior Health & Wellness Writer Experience: 6 years
Edited by , Senior Editor Ravi Teja Tadimalla Senior Editor Experience: 8 years
Fact-checked by , Senior Health & Wellness Writer Payal Karnik Senior Health & Wellness Writer Experience: 2.5 years
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Cornstarch is one of the most widely used ingredients in the food industry and in most households. It comes to mind when you think of making thick gravies and soups. It is used in many industries, including health and bioplastics, for its adhesive properties. However, extensive use of cornstarch may have negative effects on health.

This article discusses the positives of cornstarch consumption, the risks, and other important information. Keep reading to find out.

protip_icon Know Your Ingredient: Cornstarch

What Is It?
A fine, white powder obtained from corn kernels.

What Are Its Benefits?
It may stabilize blood sugar levels.

Who Can Consume It?
It is safe for all individuals, especially people with gluten intolerance.

How Often?
You can use 1 to 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for cooking daily.

Caution
Excessive consumption may cause swelling, hives, weight gain and increase the risk of hypertension and heart blockage.

What Is Cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a fine powder derived from the endosperm of corn kernels.

The food processing industry uses it as a dairy substitute. It is also used to coat fried foods due to the crispy texture. It is also commonly used to thicken gravies, soups, sauces, and casseroles.

protip_icon Trivia
Cornstarch companies would include trading cards along with tips and recipes in their cornstarch packaging in the 1800s as a form of advertising.

Nutrition Profile of Cornstarch

Cornstarch does not possess a great nutrition profile as the corn kernels lose most nutrients while being processed to make cornstarch. The nutritional content in 100 g of cornstarch includes (1):

NutrientAmount
Energy381 kcal
Protein0.26 g
Total fat0.05 g
Carbohydrates91.3 g

Cornstarch contains less amount of iron, selenium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, sodium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins. So, is cornstarch bad for you? Well, excess use of cornstarch can cause side effects. We have discussed them in the next section.

Side Effects

Cornstarch is high in carbohydrates and energy, but it lacks essential nutrients. Using cornstarch in the diet is not advisable as it may cause the following side effects.

1. May Harm The Cardiovascular System

Cornstarch contains a good amount of carbohydrates and has a high glycemic index. It negatively affects cardiovascular health. Consuming ingredients with a high glycemic index may even lead to hypertension and blockages in the heart (2).

2. May Spike Blood Sugar Levels

The high glycemic level of carbohydrates and low fiber may increase blood sugar levels. A high glycemic index reduces insulin resistance, which results in the conversion of carbohydrates to glucose. Thus, blood sugar levels rise (2).

The fiber in the gut promotes good gut bacteria. It helps maintain proper glucose absorption into the bloodstream. Cornstarch does not contain good fiber. It gets easily digested and can spike blood glucose levels (3).

Tahlia, a blogger, shared a downside to using cornstarch while cooking. She writes, “Sometimes the moment I add the cornstarch into my gravy, it seizes up into large lumpy flakes (i).” She adds that there is not much one can do about it except spooning out the lumps. She recommends using the old butter/flour technique instead, especially if you are a beginner.

These are the major adverse effects of cornstarch. But cornstarch may also have certain advantages. Let’s explore them in the next section.

Benefits Of Cornstarch

1. Natural Cornstarch Is Gluten-free

Corn is naturally gluten-free. Since no other ingredient is added in its making, cornstarch is also gluten-free (4). It may help in preparing foods for those with gluten allergies.

protip_icon Did You Know?
It is believed that Thomas Kingsford from the Colgate company discovered cornstarch in 1842 when he discovered a way to isolate endosperms from corn kernels.

2. May Help Improve Low Sugar Levels

Cornstarch may help improve low sugar levels
Image: Shutterstock

Cornstarch contains carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. These could be good for those with low sugar levels. The carbs may help stabilize low sugar levels.

Note:  Corn syrup is made from cornstarch. It also can stabilize low sugar levels (5). However, corn syrup (or cornstarch) alone may not exhibit this effect. One must also follow a diet containing the right nutrients to get the desired results.

Can Cornstarch Help In Reducing Weight?

No, cornstarch does not seem to help reduce weight. In fact, only slowly-digestible starches may help reduce weight (6). Cornstarch, especially when consumed in excess, may lead to weight gain in the long run.

While cornstarch can be a good addition to thickening broths or soups, frequent and high use of cornstarch must be avoided.

6 Healthier Substitutes For Cornstarch

A few healthier substitutes that can replace cornstarch as a thickening agent are:

1. Arrowroot Powder

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Arrowroot powder is the most commonly used substitute for cornstarch. It has medicinal properties. It contains dietary fiber that helps ease the gut and improve the digestive system. In addition, it also has nutrients like folate, potassium, and calcium, which can promote one’s overall health (7).

2. All-Purpose Wheat Flour (Unrefined)

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All-purpose wheat flour is rich in carbohydrates and nutrients like protein, calcium, nitrogen, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. In addition, wheat flour also has vitamins such as folate, riboflavin, thiamin, and niacin, which are required for many metabolic functions (8).

For example, folate is a very important vitamin that has a role in making genetic material and in the reproduction of cells. It is also essential for the proper growth and development of fetuses during pregnancy. Thus, it improves the health of both the mother and the baby (9).

3. Sorghum Flour

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Sorghum flour is another great substitute for cornstarch as it is richer in protein. It also has antioxidants essential for fighting oxidative stress in the body’s cells, tissues, and organs (10). Sorghum flour also contains other minerals like iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It has vitamins C and B6, thiamin, pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin too (11). Magnesium is a very important mineral needed for calcium uptake by cells.

4. Tapioca Flour

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Tapioca or cassava root flour is an excellent replacement for cornstarch. Tapioca in itself is filled with carbohydrates (approx. 88.7 g per 100 g of tapioca), nutrients, and has a small amount of dietary fiber (0.9 g per 100 g of tapioca).

In addition, the presence of essential nutrients like calcium (20 mg), iron (1.58 mg), potassium (11 mg), phosphorus, zinc, and selenium (in trace amounts) makes tapioca flour a healthy addition to the diet (12).

Carbohydrates in tapioca flour have a low glycemic index. Tapioca may help regulate the sugar levels in people with diabetes. It may help in weight loss, too, as the fiber promotes good gut bacteria. The bacteria promote the proper digestion of carbohydrates. Hence, tapioca can help reduce the storage of undigested carbohydrates in the body’s fatty tissues (13).

5. Rice Flour

Rice flour is often used as a substitute for cornstarch in many Asian countries. Besides being a staple in these countries, rice also has many essential nutrients.

Unenriched, white rice flour has phosphorus (94 mg), potassium (75 mg), magnesium (22.9 mg), and calcium (6 mg). It also has vitamins B1, B3, B6, B9, and B12, along with riboflavin.

Riboflavin is essential for producing red blood cells in the body and releasing energy from proteins (14). It also acts as an antioxidant in the immune system and helps in reducing oxidative stress on cells.

6. Potato Starch

Potato starch, like cornstarch, is gluten-free. It imparts a smoother texture to dishes compared to the gel-like consistency of cornstarch. Potato starch is a good source of dietary fiber as well as a resistant starch, making it beneficial for digestive health (15). Resistant starch does not break down during the digestion process and gets fermented in the large intestine to provide food for good bacteria, thus promoting gut health (16). It may also improve insulin sensitivity, reduce the risk of obesity, and aid in managing high blood glucose levels. All in all, potato starch makes a great substitute for cornstarch.

Conclusion

Cornstarch is a good thickening agent but does not carry any significant nutritional value. It could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease if consumed in excess. In addition, it is not good for people with diabetes because of its high glycemic index.

If you think of replacing cornstarch with another plant-based thickener, you may consider arrowroot, sorghum, rice, wheat, or tapioca flours. Let the thickener you choose also add some nutritional value to your dish.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is cornstarch Keto-friendly?

No, cornstarch has a good amount of carbs to be considered keto-friendly.

Can I use almond flour instead of cornstarch?

Yes, almond flour makes for a good low-carb, gluten-free substitute for cornstarch. You can substitute it in equal measures.

Can cornstarch be used as a substitute for talcum powder?

Cornstarch is a fantastic natural and eco-friendly substitute for talcum powder that works just as well to absorb moisture, which lacks the strong chemical aroma often found in talcum powder.

Can cornstarch be harmful if inhaled?

When inhaled, starch can cause breathing trouble, fast breathing, shallow breathing, and even chest pain.

Can we eat corn flour daily?

Corn flour can enhance the flavor of your food, but too much of it is unhealthy. If used in large quantities, it can cause high blood pressure. So, proceed with caution!

Is cornstarch safe to use on hair?

Cornstarch is an excellent ingredient for your hair! Moisturizing properties: Because of its hygroscopic properties, it will nourish the hair by making it soft and smooth, shinier, and silkier.

Is cornstarch good for oily hair?

Corn starch absorbs the grease and condensation, keeping your scalp and hair smelling and looking clean. Additionally, unlike other powders, it feels silky smooth rather than thick or cakey.

Key Takeaways

  • Cornstarch does not have a great nutritional profile as most nutrients are lost during processing.
  • It may harm the cardiovascular system and increase blood sugar levels.
  • Cornstarch consumed in excess may lead to weight gain.
  • The benefits of cornstarch include improving low sugar levels and being gluten-free.
is cornstarch bad for you

Image: Stable Diffusion/StyleCraze Design Team

Curious to know more about the effects of corn starch on your health? Watch this insightful video on the potential risks of eating too much corn starch.

Personal Experience: Source

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Cornstarch
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169698/nutrients
  2. Dietary Carbohydrates and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in the Framingham Offspring Cohort
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5062606/
  3. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257631/
  4. Starch Characteristics Linked to Gluten-Free Products
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409317/
  5. Low Blood Glucose (Hypoglycemia)
    https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/low-blood-glucose-hypoglycemia
  6. Starches, Sugars and Obesity
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257742/
  7. Arrowroot Flour
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170684/nutrients
  8. Flour, wheat, all-purpose, enriched, unbleached
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/789951/nutrients
  9. Folate
    https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-Consumer/
  10. Effect of sorghum consumption on health outcomes: a systematic review
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27694643/
  11. Sorghum flour, refined, unenriched
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173262/nutrients
  12. Tapioca, pearl, dry
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169717/nutrients
  13. Attenuation of glycaemic and insulin responses following tapioca resistant maltodextrin consumption in healthy subjects: a randomised cross-over controlled trial
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7372190/
  14. Riboflavin
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002411.htm#:~:text=Riboflavin%20(vitamin%20B2)%20works%20withrelease%20of%20energy%20from%20proteins.
  15. Resistant Starch: Promise for Improving Human Health
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3823506/
  16. Role of Resistant Starch in Improving Gut Health, Adiposity, and Insulin Resistance
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4352178/
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